During the NetSuite conference, the company announced that it would partner with enterprise social platform provider Yammer to add Facebook-like, secure, internal microblogging to NetSuite's CRM, financials and online commerce offerings.
The move makes sense. Salesforce.com has Chatter (review, slideshow) and it's clear that secure, private social media tools have a place inside organizations large and small. As I see it there are a three implications that this announcement brings to the fore for enterprise IT managers.
The first is that IT is going to have to get a little more cozy with human resources. For private social media to work there need to be clear acceptable use guidelines. In some ways these guides will be similar to email usage. But social media isn't just email on steroids and the usage guidelines need to be adapted to meet the new situation.
For example, enterprise social media tools enable teams to quickly form and dissipate. Who gets to be in these teams? How do you handle telling an employee that their involvement in a social media group is either unwanted, unneeded or just plain problematic? When is group membership mandatory? How many groups can a single employee be expected to participate in? What kind of gatekeeping (if any) is needed to ensure a balance between sales requests for help on saving a big project and keeping engineers on task to push out the next version?
Second, enterprise social tools are jostling with email. The disruption can lead to a positive increase in information sharing and business productivity. I can see one school of thought that says entrenched IT and stodgy business managers should stay out of the way and let the wisdom of the organization sort out what communication should happen in email and what should be communicated in the social media activity stream. I can also see another school of thought that says the organization should be actively involved, using policy to dictate from the start what channel (email or social media) should be used for various message types.
I'm inclined toward the second school, with a heavy dose of flexibility in the mix.
Third, get ready for a more knowledgeable workforce. From my first entry into the IT industry in 1987 as a phone jockey on a tech support desk to the NetSuite announcement this morning, IT and business people have sought the holy grail of harnessing institutional knowledge. My fellow techies and I used IZE, a keyword-based "textbase" to capture data from our support calls in hopes that we could create a searchable knowledge base to help us get through our calls without reinventing the wheel each time. Google has come the closest to the successful realization of "the font of all knowledge" since then.
But neither Google nor Facebook can answer the question, "what is the best product deck to use to close a deal where we are competing with company XYZ?" Nor can these platforms supply this information, "Here are the latest guidelines for corporate travel and the best place to stay when you are calling on company XYZ for onsite visit." This type of information is so private, specialized and potentially damaging that it cannot be made available to the outside world.
It is also true that the universe of people who could use this information to best commercial success should be given full and immediate access. Social collaboration tools can turn raw data, i.e. "Our travel policy requires you to stay at one of these three hotel chains." into great, searchable information that only a person would know, i.e. "Stay at approved Hotel XYZ instead of approved Hotel ABC if you're meeting the manufacturing group because it's closer to their office and has better catering options."