- If this year’s E2 Conference is any indicator of things to come, the idea of a universal ‘Facebook for the Enterprise’ is dead.
- Instead, industry leaders from the likes of SAP and IBM are touting a more engaged notion of transparency and context.
I always look forward to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference (or the E2 Conference, as it is now called), because it is one of the few general trade shows dedicated to the broader issue of enterprise collaboration. It’s also housed within the great city of Boston, which is always a pleasure to visit. Where else can you expect to find true rivals (Jive, SAP and IBM, for instance) openly discuss strategic issues such as the changing role of enterprise social networking? During one such panel comprised of these same companies, IBM’s Alistair Rennie addressed the importance of mobility, saying that having a mobile client for this or that platform shouldn’t be the prime objective. Rather, user engagement should be the top priority for vendors and customers alike.
Exactly what user engagement means is of course open to debate. For IBM, it translates to integration, the idea of weaving social capabilities into the very fabric of business workflows. This sort of dialog points to a significant shift in thinking among enterprise social networking vendors away from universal, unified access through a discrete user interface – in other words, one UI to rule them all. Speaking at the same panel, Sameer Patel, SAP’s Global VP and General Manager for all things enterprise social, agreed with this, going so far as to say that in his experience only a very small percentage of users ever log into a social user interface on a regular basis. Like IBM’s Rennie, Patel believes that customers should re-imagine their existing applications as being first and foremost about effective collaboration.
Does this mean that we should give up on our enterprise social networking platforms as destination points? Is the event stream destined to become irrelevant? I don’t think so. Instead, I think we will simply move to a more contextual and, most importantly, more transparent view of our beloved social event stream. You can see this beginning to play out within IBM’s efforts to deconstruct IBM Connections over the past couple of years, making it more of a collaborative architecture than just a destination app. It is easy to imagine that Alistair was suggesting products like Connections should play a more nuanced, multifaceted role as both a destination where users go to find one another and as an invisible, collaborative infrastructure that simply makes their workday world a bit more streamlined.
I suppose you could call this sort of UI a disappearing client, where the broader employee experience becomes the point of focus, not the visual bits and bobs that make up the collaborative experience itself. Whether we’re finalizing accounts receivable, taking an HR training course online, or brainstorming with sales, the many modes of communication and the many collaborative tools we have at our disposal should simply be there, right where we are at any given moment. Now that’s an engaging user experience.