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Cracking The Nut With Jam, SAP Moves Social Tools Out Of The Silo And Into Business Apps

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SAP is rebuilding its social tools with a service called Jam that it will launch in November. It will combine social networking, real-time updates, and the ability to build apps that are “purpose built” for people who need to communicate with people inside and outside the corporate walls.

Instead of Jam’s collaboration tools existing in a silo, SAP is instead focusing on integrating them into a suite of business apps through what it calls “social glue” designed to bind social networking with its CRM, HCM, Finance, and other apps.

If SAP pulls this off, then it will have cracked the nut on what is missing at the moment with social networking offerings in the enterprise space. It’s not about social for the sake of social. It’s instead about decreasing the friction so people can simply do a better job in getting their work done.

Jam was the informal learning product that was connected to Succsess Factor’s learning management service (LMS). The “new” Jam is showing results. Five million people have registered and 1.5 million have signed up to pay for the subscription service.

Jam will integrate with SAP’s on-premise and cloud offerings. Before being acquired by SAP, Success Factors bought CubeTree, an activity stream technology. Success Factors integrated CubeTree into its learning management applications. In Jam, it is now part of an “informal” LMS, which combines formal training with user-generated, peer-focused content, such as videos from YouTube. For example, someone might go through an LMS course and then also have access to videos made by a peer. It’s that service that has helped Jam get such a large base of paying customers.

It’s the second inning for enterprise social networking, says SAP General Manager Sameer Patel, who I met with recently at the company’s offices in Palo Alto. In the first inning, social tools have worked without integrating into the ways people work. With most tools, you have to jump from app to app to get relevant updates. Not surprisingly, adoption remains slow.

Patel said the second inning means three things for SAP:

  1. For social to be useful, it has to be where you work. People want to collaborate and get information in real-time, not go someplace else to work together or to check multiple applications for status updates (just one example).
  2. Users really don’t want behavior change. Social has to be part of the flow of the work that you’re doing – in a business process to deal with exceptions that come up or to deal with the interactions and collaboration typically addressed “offline.”
  3. Social is not just about people, but also about the processes people follow, the data that provides context, and the relevant content that is part of the everyday work week.

The new SAP tools Patel recently showed me combine the activity stream service it acquired from CubeTree and the Streamworks service that provides ways to fit social technologies in the workflow with structured collaboration. It brings together the social networking from the new Jam, previously known as Project Robus. It combines that with the structured collaboration that consists of social workflow, task management, and decision-making tools. SAP then pairs these with applications, data, and content as needed by each customer, employee or partner process.

At its core is what Patel says is a secure foundation that IT can be comfortable with. He said this in an email:

For example, a new sales person joins a company. As part of her onboarding, she’s introduced to the company’s learning management system to get her formal training started. At the same time, she also participates in the informal or social learning process. While she’s completing required training, she can also learn tips and tricks, or competitive positioning about the product she’s going to sell from what colleagues say via social learning. This process could only be supported with collaborative and social capabilities tied into formal learning processes. Once she’s working with customers, she encounters a hot prospect. Then she engages with her CRM application to enter the lead. From there she needs to gather a team from inside and outside the company (sales, product management, and a partner) to analyze the sales situation, perform a stakeholder analysis, and define a sales strategy for the first meeting. Again, she needs social and collaborative capabilities to right there in the application to find experts and bring a team together, and with the relevant business data available in the social environment.

I agree with Patel who says social needs to be part of core business activity to drive any meaningful outcome. It has to decrease that friction by shortening deal cycles, increasing customer engagement to drive repeat business, etc.

The market became enamored with microblogging and activity stream technology over the past few years. But customers need more than updates. They need context.

SAP has had its challenges with its cloud strategy. But this is such a fresh look that it has more chance of success than other efforts we’ve seen SAP embark upon. But as you can tell by the naming structure, it is confusing, too. SAP has this great flow of ideas that often remind me of a “chop,” that place where ocean currents and tides converge. Like a chop, SAP’s multiple offerings are a powerful combination. But it takes careful steering and understanding to get through it.

The news should also serve notice that customers now have a bona fide selection of competitive service to pick from. Services like VMware’s Socialcast, Chatter from Salesforce, Yammer, and Tibco Tibbr will continue to strengthen and may even begin to consume the more traditional apps in the enterprise.

The next step is to make social something that is invisible. Something that is not even noticed. And that’s what I like about Jam. It is not social for the sake of social. It just helps people get the job done.