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Social Networking: Still Challenged by Enterprise Complexity

Social Networking: Still Challenged by Enterprise Complexity

While many companies see the value of social networking on a conceptual level, they're having trouble integrating it into their enterprise IT workflows, writes columnist Louis Columbus. Developers, however, are looking for ways to make it happen.

By Louis Columbus CRM Buyer ECT News Network
10/20/08 4:00 AM PT

Despite how quickly social networking is becoming integrated in enterprises, it still isn't scaling to meet the most complex problems faced today. The well-known success stories of customer service being made more accountable and responsive are emanating out of how @ComCastCares, @JetBlue, @SouthwestAir and other companies are using Twitter as a means to better solve customer problems.

Before social networking, these customers would be relegated to workflows that treated customers more like cattle than people who made paychecks possible. Twitter, like other social networking sites, has an instantaneous level of accountability to it, and is cutting through processes that got in the way of serving customers, creating a catalyst for process change.

Despite this initial contribution of social networking however, the really ugly process problems of an enterprise are still getting pushed back on IT project lists, and procrastinated on. What's needed is an infusion of accountability and customer insight to bring these process problems to light and deal with them.

Searching for Social Networking's Enterprise Groove

As I was getting ready to present at the SAP Configuration Workgroup Conference on the topic of Web 2.0 and its impact on sell-side processes and development tools and applications, the point of how far social networking needs to go became clear. The SAP CWG Conference is attended by developers, system engineers, managers and enterprise-level geeks.

Instead of giving them a Social Networking 101 presentation, I decided to take the more challenging route and attempt to explain how social networking's customer information could revolutionize sell-side processes, and how this also changing application development. Of the two points, the one of how social networking is changing app development resonated with this audience.

With the audience being SAP-centric, the focus on how transaction pipelines, specifically how their Internet Pricing & Configurator (IPC) and Variant Configurator-based workflows could be made more relevant to customers by the infusion of customer insight from social networking apps was presented. Making online ordering capable of anticipating the preferences and needs of customers through the analysis of social networking data, defining service and support plans that are as unique as each customer, and tailoring product customization strategies based on insights gained are all potential areas that could benefit. These workflows are beyond reliance on APIs and even XML.

Social Networking's' Impact on App Development

The more I worked through these process areas of transaction pipelines, online ordering, and stock-balancing service requests from resellers for example, the more it became clear that enterprise-based form development relying on Ajax had the potential to bring customer insights from social networking apps.

Imagine being able to have an enterprise form that had all relevant transaction data complete with real-time updates from Twitter, Facebook or any other social networking app regarding conversations with the customer? Or being able to see who cross-shopped and then purchased a customized product and what they had been promised in terms of delivery date? This is beyond a CRM system or an order management system; it is the ability to see how an enterprise makes and keeps commitments to customers and the real-time results of being accountable and transparent.

Despite this appearing to be futuristic, I did find examples of enterprise working diligently to integrate social networking data into these process areas. Toyota has done this on its hybrid new product development and introduction (NPDI) process workflows, in addition to another auto manufacturer working to resolve dealer complaints due to parts outages by using social networking feedback.

Key Take-Aways

From the conversations with the audience after the presentation last week, the following take-aways emerged. It's interesting to note that many SAP customers had sent their development and programming engineers there to learn more about using IPC and Variant configurators to support new selling strategies. Their insights are provided below:

  • The majority are relying on J2EE-based programming approaches with ABAP integration to support new selling strategies. A few had worked with Ajax for complex online forms. Ajax, even in this enterprise-centric audience, had lots of interest.
  • SAP's enterprise focus is to bring what it is calling "harmonization" to ERP data so that sales quotes can be produced directly from that system; previously CRM data had been used. Harmonization sounded a lot like integration, and it was great to see SAP product managers speak about social networking as a part of their future direction and their use of Wikis and other socnets internally.
  • Customers' perceptions of delivery performance and order accuracy as measured through social networking queries (Twitter) are getting attention by SAP developers. On this topic I found a dichotomy in this developer community. There are those developers who see social networking as necessary for bringing greater accuracy, accountability and immediacy to customer feedback and those who see existing e-mail systems as sufficient. Between the two groups, one developer on his own had attempted to build out an app that would give real-time customer satisfaction ratings with delivered products over time. This was a reverse-grading application that had the customer rate his company with every shipment that arrived. It's a great idea, using social networking to quantify every order delivered to every customer.

Personally, I like hanging out with developers and programmers at a conference like this. I learned quite a bit and also found that social networking's influence on application development, from tools and apps to code being written, is growing. The bottom line is that social networking has the potential to greatly impact these complex, ugly and often chaotic processes companies rely on. The lag time will be the development of app tools that give these developers the opportunity to architect entirely new approaches to solving these problems.


Louis Columbus is senior manager, enterprise systems at Cincom Systems and a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. He also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of 15 books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results from your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free. You can contact Louis on Twitter at @LouisColumbus.


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