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The Social Enterprise

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There continues to be a misunderstanding of the enormous transitions enterprise software and IT are going through. While Web 2.0 technologies have substantial holes related to security, standards, and IT buyin, even those simple metrics are yielding data about accelerating adoption. According to Awareness, Inc. surveys, business acceptance of social media applications doubled from 37 % in 2007 to 69% in 2008.

The bleeding edge of social media applications is certainly epitomized by Twitter, yet enterprise clones of the platform are starting to go public with more in the pipeline. Future platform plays including Mesh and Google Chrome seem targeted at mining social graph dynamics, and more “traditional” social networks such as LinkedIn are adopting more consumerish features from Facebook and its ilk. Particularly significant is the increasing use of social networks as gated email platforms to reach out via socially vetted lists for lead gen and event marketing.

But perhaps the most obvious sign of the transformation of the enterprise is the very hostility emanating from some quarters about the resiliency and efficiency of social networks for business purposes. Companies such as Salesforce have always understood that virtualizing the middle layer of IT would produce efficiencies of scale and cross-selling opportunities for add-on modules to allow the company to start at the workgroup level and spread horizontally. The spread of the Force.com application framework takes social media into the developer space, an updating of Microsoft’s tools strategy as the glue for .Net.

With 75% of employees in the Awareness report allowed to use Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, the not so subtle message to IT is adapt or continue to be absorbed at the on-demand layer. Already security players are shifting their strategies off the desktop and LAN and into social site monitoring, where much of the vulnerabilities have concentrated. Chrome’s impact will be substantial, not just in its own right but also from its impact on the architecture of Firefox and most imprtantly the mobile space.

What many traditional enterprise practitioners miss in the wave of social media adoption is its impact on the business alliances made possible by aggregating social connections outside the firewall. By establishing a self-service quality to what is in effect cross-domain portal management, social networks enhance the ability to transition and migrate employees as companies acquire and are merged into streamlined business units. The recent wave of bank and insurance collapses will only serve to accelerate the migration of business process and personnel management to cloud solutions.

No wonder the reaction is fear and denial; the saving grace is that a new wave of middle management will not tolerate the arrogance of earlier times, when IT was the implementor of corporate policies designed to prevent employees from wasting time on the job. With the growing ubiquity of lightweight information channels typified by Twitter, job descriptions are broadening to value experience in social media strategies and facility with customer-facing help desks, marketing programs, and employee retention efforts. The sooner IT embraces those parts of the new platform that can be integrated with existing infrastructure, the more likely those who excel will keep and even extend their positions up the corporate ladder.

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