Enterprise 2.0, Powered by SharePoint

“Web 2.0″ is old news now right? How about “Enterprise 2.0″?  What does technology and social interaction inside the enterprise look like when we start to leverage some of the concepts we’ve developed for public networks?  Perhaps even more important — What tools do we use to power social interaction within this new paradigm?  Are they the same tools we used on the web, or altogether different?

 

Let’s start by overcoming the buzz words.  First, “Enterprise 2.0″ refers to two thing, the corporate social network and collaboration.  The former being something relatively new (but known), and the latter being something we’ve been getting good at for quite some time.  Social Interaction through technology, or social networking, is something we are all very familiar with in our daily lives on FaceBook and Twitter.  But what does the Corporate Social Network look like?  What does it even mean? I took my best shot at defining it:

“A corporate social network focuses on building communities of people who share related responsibilities and goals, or who can increase productivity through awareness of the responsibilities and goals of others.”

So where our public social networks focus on building communities of people with similar interests, our corporate social network builds communities of people with similar responsibilities, and perhaps more importantly, communities of people who can benefit from the awareness of others responsibilities.

 

How do these people benefit from the network?  The primary benefits focus around the awareness factor –Awareness of who in the organization knows what and who knows whom.  For example, the sales division can have insight into exactly who is an expert on a particular product’s features, or who in the organization may have a personal contact inside a client organization.  Knowledge can be transferred and preserved with greater ease through wikis or blogs, and collaboration can be dramatically enhanced, even across geographical boundaries by connecting people based on their roles and needs within the enterprise, instead of their physical locations.

 

The other half of this equation, Collaboration, is equally important.  There is little use in my participating in a community with my coworkers if we are unable to create productive outputs, whether they be documents, clients, ideas, or anything else that is relevant to our organization.  SharePoint Server has clearly differentiated itself in being able to quickly solve the collaboration problem.  When used properly it enables users to find information quickly, collaboratively share information in workspaces, and track this collaboration.  But when you actually create one of these pieces of information, or find a relevant item, what other information do you most likely need next before you can act?  Most often you are now faced with contacting someone mentioned in the document to ask some type of question:

  • How was this information used?
  • Was it successful?
  • Who worked on creating this?
  • Why did they create this?

This is where Collaboration begins to benefit from the Corporate Social Network.


So what features do we need, and how does SharePoint help?

 

There are literally thousands of social networking patterns that have been implemented with various degrees of success, everything ranging from GeoTagging to Mobile Status-casting.  Every organization will benefit from different facets and interfaces that can be applied to the underlying data model.  Here I have pulled out some of the more common patterns that most organizations will benefit from.  Along with each I provide commentary on implementation ideas.  Hopefully these will spur ideas for you to leverage within your organization.

 

Feedback Mechanisms are perhaps one of the most valuable first steps in opening the two way communication channels that can truly influence change in the management of processes and an organization as a whole.   Feedback can be provided on documents, articles, pages, policies, or virtually any data stored in the portal.  This may include:

  • Comments
  • Reviews
  • Ratings

While most of these features are not native on the SharePoint platform, they are often trivial to create.  A related list and some creative data views are in many cases all that is required.  The Community Kit for SharePoint already has a blog and wiki with full-featured comments and discussions.  Ratings are available through the SharePoint Tool Basket on any list, issue, document, link, or calendar.

 

Collecting  refers to any features that allow a user to build a collection of items that they find interesting or useful within the organization.  This may be documents, links, how-to’s, or even people.  Examples are:

  • Savings content
  • Subscribing to alerts
  • Adding to a ‘favorites’ list
  • Subscribing to RSS

Frequently there will be custom collections based on the type of organization a user is working in.  An energy company may have “My Oil Rigs” collections and a sales organization may have “My Clients” lists to aggregate relevant entities that a user can benefit from tracking.

All of this functionality is native within SharePoint — RSS feeds can be generated on virtually any content, Search Alerts can be extremely powerful, especially when customized and recommended to users based on perceived audience type, and the “My Links” functionality can be re-branded as needed.  Additional collections can be created as part of a default My Site template.

 

Broadcasting information is a relatively simple concept, but an important way to empower individuals to share and document tribal knowledge, and spread relevant information to their peers. 

  • Blogs
  • Microblogging

Blogs are native within SharePoint Server and can be enhanced with various community tools.  Microblogging can be implemented in a variety of ways — Integration with Office Communicator, Twitter and Yammer are all becoming more popular.  Twitter and Yammer have such robust service models that they can be integrated to with nothing but SharePoint Designer and Data Views.

 

Circle of Connections or the concept of creating a network of other people, in which attributes can define differences in the types of relations, are critical to successful collaboration and broader awareness in the organization.  SharePoint natively provides some loose colleague information based on user profiles — But this can be vastly enhanced with small customizations.  Basic search queries can be used to recommend relevant people to the user while browsing the site based on any attributes in the profile.  A user can be prompted to add a user as a connection by simply inserting a row into a custom connections list in a My Site.  This topic alone merits a long article and we’ll dive into it in the near future.

 

Presence is a simple, and native feature of SharePoint, which shows when a user is online, and how they can be contacted.  If surfaced intelligently within the interface it can greatly ease the communication between users.   For example, a user may find a document and see immediately the author of the document is online and available for chat or a phone call with a single click.  Questions can be answered immediately and lost time is drastically reduced.

 

Integration is perhaps one of the easiest ways to quickly drive usage of a portal.  Every large organization is powered by a web of line of business applications ranging from CRM systems to accounting systems, HR systems to product databases.  In many cases only specific users have access to data in many systems.  Simply leveraging SharePoint’s Business Data Catalog to pull this data into Search, dashboard pages, and mashups for users can allow access to vital information that otherwise would be unavailable and reduce the workload on those individuals who have traditionally had access to the systems.  A byproduct of this is often a savings in license costs due to a reduce need to purchase client applications for line of business systems.

 

Measuring Success

Finishing implementation of an Enterprise 2.0 project is only the beginning of a long journey towards success.  We have to gain user adoption, create efficiencies, and in the longer term, have a definitive return on investment.  I stated earlier our goal was to “increase productivity through awareness of the responsibilities and goals of others” — So how can we measure if we have increased this awareness and what effect it has had?

 

There are a combination of hard and soft metrics we can track and analyze:

  • Portal Traffic 
  • User ratings on content
  • Search logs and the perceived relevancy of results
  • Collecting behavior — Quantities and usage of subscriptions/alerts/favorites
  • Traversal of networks — If implemented, the frequency of users finding content by traversing recommended networks of users and departments.
  • Interviews and Surveys to measure user satisfaction and awareness

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