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TMCNet:  Enterprises Go Social [Information Today]

[March 10, 2012]

Enterprises Go Social [Information Today]

(Information Today Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) It's not the first time enterprises are taking a cue from the consumer world. From texting and using social networks in the office to providing tools for nontechnical businesspeople to create their own solutions, enterprises are going social.

"In business processes where accuracy and timeliness and real time across distributed teams is really important, [social] tools are replacing a lot of those older technologies" for entering and managing data, says Greg Collins, senior marketing manager for QuickBase, a part of Intuit, Inc.

Nigel Fenwick, vice president, principal analyst of Forrester Research, Inc., sees the emergence of social technology in the enterprise as evolutionary instead of revolutionary. Organizations and management "must be ready to accept and adopt social business and transform the way people in the organization work together." He says a successful, modern-day business model is customer-obsessed and delivers a high lifetime customer value while still meeting shareholder expectations.

"Every new business model takes the good from old models and introduces new elements, such as social media, to evolve the model," says Fenwick. Now, professionals can connect via social enterprise to overcome problems faster, to generate new ideas, and to share experience and expertise.

Many of the established social media and community vendors are trying to grab a greater slice of the internal collaboration market, says Fenwick, who cites Yammer as a prime example. Yammer originally started out as "Twitter for business," says Brian Murray, the company's head of implementation strategy. It has since evolved into "more of a Facebook or social enterprise application and more of an ecosystem for people to connect and leverage the power of social-networking-style communication inside businesses," he says.

Yammer lets colleagues exchange information and ideas in their dayto-day operations that enhance communication and collaboration beyond standard email. True to its microblogging roots, Yammer lets users feed their activity into a stream for their connections to see in real time. Users can create public and private groups, access a company directory to connect with employees in other departments, and send private messages to one or more co-workers. Additionally, events, polls, questions, and announcements provide more opportunities for professionals to connect with colleagues. Murray says Yammer is 'basically surfacing the expertise of your company very quickly and easily." Users can easily integrate an array of third-party applications and products into their Yammer networks, including Microsoft's SharePoint, Salesforce.com, and Twitter. Businesses can connect with one another and their customers via external networks, which are on an inviteonly basis to guarantee security in an organization. "We actually think [external networks are] going to be a huge priority for us as we move into 2012," Murray says. He adds that the significance of internal social networking and Yammer has become well-established, and the next logical step is to build Yammer's external networking capabilities. Fenwick notes that through social business, customers can help create new products and services, and business partners can help solve supply-chain challenges. "Yammer represents an upgrade into the way people communicate," Murray says, "just like 20 years ago when email came out, now Yammer or social networking is sort of the next evolution of communication." The Consumerization of Business Although email remains a convenient form of digital communication, "it's not necessarily the most timely," says Jason Kirshner, co-founder of Future Text, an application that lets a user program text messages to be sent at a later date. He notes that a text message "stands at the forefront of all our other communications as far as generating your immediate attention," and "you have to act upon it before you can do anything else." Future Text can arrange for a message to be sent as many as 30 days in advance on the free version and up to a year ahead on the premium version. Future Text goes beyond a calendar reminder. "You're actually precomposing all of your messages," Kirshner says. And when the messages pop up, you have options to either delete them or send them at the predetermined time. He says Future Text is "a way of making sure nothing falls through the cracks." Collins says that more consumer technologies are being chosen and brought into the workplace to help solve workplace problems. "There's this belief [among tech-sawy professionals] that they can solve their own problems using technology," he says. "When you do that, you get that solution creation at the front line." The proliferation of online solutions and development platforms that are easy to use has enabled the consumerization of IT. "Ease of use is paramount," he says, and QuickBase makes it "drop-dead easy for nontechnical users to find or create solutions that will make them more productive in the workforce." Enterprises can build customized solutions to meet their needs from a selection of ready-to-use database applications for project management, sales management, support queues, sales pipelines, and a long tail of other solutions, Collins says. "It's the fastest way that [professionals] can get there; it keeps them out of IT queues and keeps pressure out of internal development teams," he says. It also "helps reduce those backlogs at companies and allows the innovation to happen really at the front line," where people are meeting customer needs. They can do it themselves, and they can do it quickly, he says.

Full Steam Ahead For Collins, the speed of change at the business level is outpacing IT resources; it's becoming more challenging for IT departments to fulfill all the enterprise needs for application development or for technology. Murray adds that business demands are accelerating so quickly that it's impossible to keep up with those demands using a traditional model of software development, in which engineers work on a version of a software release once or twice a year. "That no longer works because people need things, they need new functionalities, [and] they need to meet the business needs that they have with the technology they have," he says. Because there is only one version of Yammer at any time, Murray says that not only do users share a cohesive experience, but Yammer "can continue to iterate and develop much faster than anybody else in the market." The connectivity landscape has changed because the office is simply more mobile. "We're no longer in the age where you can expect people to be at their computer at all times," Murray says. "People are moving around, they're using different applications, and for applications, really, to be successful, you need to be where the user is." Kirshner says that people have become truly dependent on their digital communications .

Since mobile and social business strategy are tied together, a successful social business strategy needs to have a mobile component. Kirshner says, "I think anytime you can bridge that gap between to make your work in the relationship with someone - whether it's a co-worker or customer or client - stronger, that just makes you both more profitable and more effective in your business." Fenwick says the enterprise can expect to see more changes in daily operations in the coming months, from an increased ability to connect across and outside the enterprise to solve problems to a more openness of information in the enterprise with reduced dependency on command and control structures. Enterprises are also likely to depend more on social technology on a daily basis and less on email to exchange information.

Ultimately, "we expect to be able to measure how social business significantly increases productivity," says Fenwick. As workers become more mobile and less tied to their desks, both "email and social activity streams will evolve, and we will adapt just as we adapted to email." Line 2: The Business of Texting * It's a sign of the times: As texting gains traction ("Pew: The Techs Who Text," November 2011 /7", p. 10), phone calls are becoming more of an imposition, especially among younger adults. After surveying 417 of its customers, Line2 discovered that 33% of business users rely on text messages to get quick answers, to arrange meetings, or to chat instead of emailing or calling.

"It's just really interesting how the psychology changes and how the etiquette changes with SMS," says Peter Sisson, CEO of Line2, the flagship product of Toktumi, Inc. However, Sisson says Line2 is the only business phone system that supports texting.

Line2 is a freemium, business-grade mobile VoIP provider that adds a fully functional phone line to the user's smartphone, iPad, or iPod touch. Line2 customers can sign on for basic cellphone plans and eliminate their textcarrier services entirely, Sisson says. In addition to separate voice mail, call forwarding, and international calling, Line2 also offers vanity numbers, special 800 numbers, and blocks of sequential numbers "for people who want to set up entire workforces," he says. Line2 can effectively replace a business' entire landline phone system. "You set up a master account, and then you can add extensions to that," he says. "There is no limit, although the Ul ... is really optimized for 80 lines." Line2 will soon offer multimedia service (MMS) support to U.S. and Canadian customers for sending pictures and videos. "Now, the carriers are blocking MMS, so Line2 to Line2 will workjust like regular MMS, and you'll see the image actually in the thread. When we send out-of-network to, say, AT&T and Verizon, we send a link, and you click that link to see the image," Sisson says. But right now, carriers are resistant. Line2 can already work on tablets powered by Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), but the company plans to create a tablet-optimized version for Android.

The emerging model will be the one where your data will move over Wi-Fi or from your carrier, and you're going to pick your communications provider, says Sisson. "That model's happening now in the consumer world, and increasingly, it's going to be happening in the business world," he says. "That's the model that we're building for. We're skating to where the puck is going, as they say." A.M.

Alexa Mantell is assistant editor at Information Today, Inc. and works on several publications. Send your comments about this article to itletters@infotoday.com.

(c) 2012 Information Today, Inc.

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