Enterprise social networks - growing up inside and outside the firewall

Every year as part of the IDC enterprise collaboration and social solutions practice we run a survey to understand the social business landscape. We have a set of expectations in how the market should be progressing based on the IDC social...

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Every year as part of the IDC enterprise collaboration and social solutions practice we run a survey to understand the social business landscape. We have a set of expectations in how the market should be progressing based on the IDC social business maturity model but sometimes we get surprises in the data.

This year the presence of enterprise social networks (ESN’s) becomes evident as it represents a wider group of social applications that facilitate the connection of people inside and outside the firewall.

The most common deployment of an ESN is a tool that forms a relationship layer across the business and in some cases, extends outside the company firewall to partners and suppliers. The ESN can be a standalone tool or a set of applications tied together that coexist with other enterprise applications and collaborative technologies and in effect becomes its own process. Extending the technology sets that support social processes helps organisations shape cultural and behavioral changes inside the organisation, necessary for adoption.

ESN's increase productivity by making it easier to find information and people through connecting people, data and systems in a single system, facilitating ad hoc problem solving and more generally creating a place to work collaboratively.


The whole point of the ESN is getting work done in new and more productive ways and translating this notion to where the work happens is part of the change we have seen over the past year. The relationship layer that forms across the business facilitates knowledge sharing but is also essential to facilitate collaboration in the context of work processes.

In some cases the work is not associated with some system of transaction so collaborating inside the ESN is the natural place for this but work also needs the support of a system of decision. Organisations are now seeking solutions that are able to support not only internal knowledge sharing and information dissemination, but also build in customer, partner and supplier outreach to bring these constituents into a more externally focused and strategic decision making process.

With social software tools having moved beyond early use cases in marketing and customer support, the ESN now needs to support both tactical and strategic business processes and operations.


When speaking with a CIO recently we discussed how building a more social workflow impacts the future integration of systems and processes. Like many of its competitors, this company has a history of focus on systems and services that sought to optimise the customer engagement and management process but didn't include any internal business system or process changes.

The industry is heavily regulated and historically the company have built the business on supplier networks and reacted tactically to changes in the market. The IDC social business survey, 2012 notes that access to public social networks for marketing customer services and sales (59%), and some specific use cases like online communities (51%), have started to gain traction as their value is becoming more apparent in the feedback process.

Like this CIO, more and more companies looking to transition the reactive business focus to one that consolidates feedback from internal systems in order to include other constituents in the decision making process.

  • Collaborating in real time and supporting some work processes with social tools will be essential as companies aim to capture and consolidate feedback from external constituents. However, doing this with the overhead of legacy business processes and applications is a complex challenge. When making decisions on the approach, I have some advice on business impacts:
  • Businesses should be built on a foundation to connect people, data, content and systems. The ability for end users to surface and intelligently filter information, with system help, from inside and outside the firewall is required at a minimum.
  • Aggregating into a new user experience (UX) or augmenting an existing one requires social tools to be integrated with other enterprise systems and needs to be embedded inside the work processes to get the most value.
  • A growing number of enterprise applications will demand high data growth and high-performance requirements. The social tool targeted to support the ESN should be based on best fit with the future application roadmap and include the ability to include feedback from external customer, supplier and partner networks.
  • Successful implementation of social software with a view for it to become the backbone of an enterprise social network must include continued community management focused on adoption to help facilitate the accompanying culture shift, not just the initial project change management.
Posted by Vanessa Thompson, Research Manager, Enterprise Collaboration and Social Solutions
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