Can The Social Enterprise Increase Value To The Business?

The “social enterprise” has the potential to create a comprehensive mechanism for business enablement – one that offers new ways of doing business and supporting the business, and empowers people inside the enterprise to connect with people on both the supply side and the customer side.

Let’s consider a few specific concepts implicit if that scenario is to become a real-world success: self-service, automation, and appropriate supervision.

How will we empower employees (and the people they’re conducting business with) to interact directly with systems that, behind the scenes, automatically keep track of what they’re doing and align that activity with corporate objectives? How can we elevate the roles of our employees from mere cogs in the machine to supervisors of the machine – perhaps even value innovators – by using social connections with customers and partners?

To begin with, we need to determine exactly which customers and partners we want to bring into our enterprise community at a level of one-on-one engagement that enables us to better support them. And then we have to figure out how to actually deliver on that promise.

The answer could be as simple as taking a different perspective on existing concepts like customer and partner portals, or perhaps even email and contact databases. The pre-social enterprise maintains an extensive distributed repository of partner information, but in an uncoordinated, application-specific, and often inaccurate and/or out-of-date manner. Sales people are notoriously reluctant stewards of CRM information, and the customer-service database relates only to existing customers requiring service.

And who maintains the partner data? Who authorises the addition of a new partner, grants them access and privileges, and assigns them credentials? In the social enterprise, some basic form of (supervised) partner access is granted by employee invitation; credentials and profiles are self-managed by the partner; and access to multiple applications is consolidated around a single partner ID.

Can these databases function as the seed that germinates into a true social network? Maybe. But however we enable this social-style connectivity between our employees and people on the outside, we’ll need to both facilitate and control the relevant business process by providing automated support and/or automated supervision.

This will almost certainly mean deploying data leak protection tools, but other technologies may also be warranted, depending on the type of exchange. For example, facilitating the exchange of a contract within a private workroom would likely demand technologies that provide structured analysis, automatic augmentation, and automated content management.

Without the right supervisory technology cocktail, the social infrastructure intended to support the value-added business process of accelerated contract negotiation could be subverted to allow the unauthorised disclosure of a customer list or top-secret product plans. Or the real-time chat designed to provide enhanced customer service could turn into a back-channel for unaudited sales conversations, leading to compliance violations and fines.

Equally important is the ability for employees to connect directly with resources critical to the business process they are shepherding. For example: If an employee is involved in a contract renegotiation process, but they don’t have automated access to the contract database, pricing and policy documents, or customer history (access to which is often granted on a one-off basis after back-and-forth negotiation), the value-added business process is completely undermined.

The bottom line is that the tradition of manually managed and gated information silos must end if the true value of the social enterprise is to be realised. Once we’re firmly behind this organisational shift, the specific capabilities I mentioned above – self-service, automation, and oversight – can be laced together into a single, unified concept: automated support of self-service processes with appropriate supervision.

This “matured” capability will enable us to bring new value, new channels of communication, and new high-value business-process models to the business. It will help us spare the CSO or CISO unnecessary worry, while keeping risk, regulations and compliance firmly top of mind when it comes to financial, consumer, employee, customer-privacy, healthcare, and PCI data.

BYOD, BYOA, and other BYO pressures conspire to drive us outside the corporate-supported mechanisms mentioned here, but we shouldn’t let this happen. Instead, let’s develop and deploy mechanisms that take into account the core premise of an enterprise social network from the start. And just in case any doubt remains, let’s identify once and for all, and for every stakeholder, the ultimate driver for an enterprise social network – increasing value to the business.

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John Thielens is Axway’s Chief Architect, Cloud Services. John oversees Axway’s advanced research and the architecture team’s activities related to cloud computing and deployment. He's active in Axway’s patent development program and works closely with the security office to develop new solutions. John's background in B2B and Managed File Transfer technologies started in the early nineties as corporations started to interconnect over X.400 and continued through the rapid conversion to the Internet, working with tools to manage the security of technologies like SMTP, S/MIME, FTP, PGP, SSH and AS2 as they gained enterprise adoption. John is a frequent speaker at local, national and international events, including RSA Conferences, Gartner ITxpo Symposium and InfoSecurity.