Summary of 2012 Boston Enterprise 2.0

I was pleased to be back for my sixth Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. Here is a link to a summary listing of my 2012 Boston Enterprise 2.0 notes and here is a summary of my notes for 2011.

I found several themes with this year’s event. In this post I cover three of the most significant: communities, big data, and the integration of social applications and work.

Communities

First, there was a lot of discussion about online communities. As my Merced Group partner, Catherine Shinners noted in her session, “Building an Online Community from Strategy, Planning, and Launch to Effective Engagement and Adoption”, in 2007 there was only one session on communities and now it is a major theme. One reason for the increased interest is the rise in strategic importance of online communities.

In 1982 38% of assets within the S&P 500 companies were intangible. In 1999 84% of assets were intangible and I am sure it is higher now.  Enabling the sharing use of these intangible assets held within people’s minds is a significant driver of both social business, in general, and communities as a specific instance.

This is a major transformation. However, companies still relate to their workforce as though it was 1950 and focus on top down management build on running a company based on tangible assets. Now the value in companies lies in the ability to connect people to optimize their intangible assets but this is largely untapped. Communities are a major way to do this and there were a number of sessions on how to manage communities to this end.

Big Data

Andrew McAfree

Another theme was Big Data. In a conference keynote Andrew McAfee, explained how the rise of “Big Data” is not only changing the face of technology, but, he argues, the nature of human existence. He also noted that the topic has been a bit over hyped. While I would agree with the last statement, I also agree with comments on the impact on technology.  Today there is much more to consume and analyze, both in structured data and unstructured content.

However, I would not go so far are to say, as Andy does, that machines will be our new masters. Before we bow down too low to our new masters I would say “it depends.” As Don Norman argues in “Things That Make Us Smart” it is time for us to adopt a more human-centered perspective and to insist that informational technologies enhance and complement human cognitive capacities rather than undermine them.

One of the keys here is creating connections between systems so data can move easily from one application to another for better analysis and visualization. For example, as Jeff Schick notes, IBM looks at relevant content on Facebook and LinkedIn and brings it inside the enterprise to analyze it and develop responses. They also look to leverage social content with their business partners.

So the issue is not whether computers will outpace people but how the two can work together. Computers are very good at doing boring tedious, repetitive tasks that drive people crazy at a rate and scale far beyond what people can do. This frees people up to do the more complex and interesting tasks. Application connectors are one of the keys to enable humans to master Big Data.

Integration of Social Applications and Work

To provide business value social tools need to be embedded into workflow and they need to be able to communicate with each other around workflow issues.  Application integration is a major key to enterprise 2.0 success and there were a number of sessions that addressed this issue. Kashyap Kompella stated in his session, “Social as a Layer, Not a Place: Are We There Yet?”, that enterprises are making progress in connecting the social layer with enterprise applications but more needs to be done. He noted that the problem is that social software is often treated as another box in the enterprise tech stack.

How do we make social become a service or a layer and not a siloed box?  You can use APIs and custom connectors. Kashyap showed several examples, including JIRA linked to Socialcast and tibbr linked to Oracle Expense.

Another related session on designing social applications noted that enterprises face the challenge of adapting these tools to their environment and integrating applications that predate the social software era.

Mark Weitzel of Jive and President, OpenSocial Foundation called for the use of standards to help with this integration.

Mark said they wanted to invoke apps within Jive in an easy way wherever you are and put it into the flow within the activity stream and OpenSocial allows for this. I agree and think workflow integration is a major key to getting value form social tools.

A complementary approach is to build connectors between applications which is one of the significant themes of this blog. AppFusions’ CEO, Ellen Feaheny, said that what makes an app social is the notifications and things that capture your attention to create and pull engagement. The AppFusions team is working with Atlassian, IBM, Jive, and others on social business integrations.  Through first defining common pain points/use cases, they have been building integrations to cover these cases.

Mark stated that a good social app connects people and supports collaboration. You can understand the details within workflow so disconnected people can connect around common issues. It brings a new level of agility. You get dynamic realignments based on the transparency within the social apps.

Ellen added that the old world contained file servers and documents that were passed around. This is still the case for many organizations. To have the documents embedded in the workflow and activity stream puts them in your face. Things are done much faster and no one can hide and documents do not get hidden.

This transparency is one of the opportunities of social business (aka enterprise 2.0) that is still underutilized. Connectors are one way to enable this promise. All three of these themes have a common goal, getting people and content connected in a way that provides business value and realizes the promise of enterprise 2.0.

Review by Bill Ives of the Merced Group, and who also blogs at Portals and KM.

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