Enterprise Social Software

Stefan Schulz works for Shai Agassi in what is loosely described as a special projects group. I’ve know Stefan for a long time and on one of his recent trips to Palo Alto he took the time to show me a system that his group had built for managing our employee alumni networks. Now what is interesting about this system is that it not intended to manage company alumni networks but rather our employee’s university alumni networks.

At first I  thought that it was  interesting but I couldn’t quite figure out what the value of it to SAP was, however then I had the ah-ah  moment when I started looking at the profiles of the people in the system. There is a lot of detail about not only where you went to school and what you studied, but the areas of research that they worked on or have interest in.

I can’t link to the system because it’s internal only, but I will give you this screenshot of it to give you a sense of what they are doing. Amazingly, they already have 5,087 profiles accumulated, about 16% of our total employee population.

In another corner of our SAP Labs group is a team called “Design Services” and they are working on a bunch of really interesting projects, but one in particular caught my attention. It’s called Harmony and it loosely described as a “Friendster or LinkedIn for enterprises”. I don’t know if this will ever be a product we offer but they are certainly intending to build it into our internal systems because one of the most significant challenges anyone in a large company faces is finding people who have worked on similar things as you, or have a background that is particularly relevant to a project or team.

On a related note, be sure to read this article about the work that SAP is doing in search technology.

I have said many times before that blogs, wikis, search, and social software are the new base platform for enterprise knowledge management. This isn’t an earth shaking prediction, it is rather obvious given the failures of traditional KM solutions, and also reflect a continuation of the trend of consumer technology crossing over into the enterprise.

All of this is exciting for me because it signals attention being devoted to improving the way that people work together – collaborate – as opposed to simply improving the way a business process functions. The easy group forming attributes of blogs and wikis, along with the information retrieval capabilities of good search are force multiplied when you can rapidly bring together people in your company based on project requirements, experience, academic backgrounds, and peer recomendations.

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19 thoughts on Enterprise Social Software

  1. Interesting work – as companies get bigger they will have to experiment with similar data sets/applications. I read about IBM doing something similar — they want to use those data and some algorithms to build better teams.

  2. new blog! You’ve been holding out on me! Great idea for a blog theme… I’m thinking about something around actual uses of off-the-shelf technology in real customer environments.

  3. This is cutting edge on SAP’s part and really attacks two fundamental costs to firms: lack of information sharing and the desire to work closer with people you choose as opposed to people you are assigned to work with. I had done a project a few years back showing that communication patterns at companies did not closely follow the org chart. It was clear that some of the best work was being done outside of the designed org structure. Although we could show this (using analytic tools like this: http://www.analytictech.com/) and recommend that it wasn’t a bad thing a lack of actionable tools kept us from monetizing it into a proactive product for customers. With these tools, SAP can now begin to direct some of this “potential energy”.

  4. BusinessWeek has a nice article this week about how social networks within companies are much more influential and add more to innovation than the power and authority we assign on formal org charts…corporate Xrays the article calls these networks…

  5. Interesting- I am impressed by the SAP initiative to internalize Wiki’s, Blogs and social networks. The RoI for these kind of efforts is always implicit- (1) improves everyday work experience for employees, (2) reduces time-to-market for new products/services, (3) creates a sense of community in today’s always connected but always apart world and (4) will allow the employees to internalize these concepts and without realizing it they may show up in some of the next generation products.

  6. Ok – so here’s a thought about the value of internal wikis – you can see how people’s social networks develop and change over time. Why would you do that? The next generation of employees are going to be checking you out on the basis of how well your internal social netwroks have been developed – because they know the value of these things already.

  7. That’s what we think as well, our ability to recruit talented people is proportional to our ability to give them the kinds of tools they are used to in the consumer world.

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