No single Web technology has survived longer on life support than the intranet - the broader goal of employee intercommunication and content management, to which enterprises still aspire. Despite an over-abundance of very capable tools over the years, including content management systems and collaboration platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint, the element that companies have lacked to date has been inspiration. It's as if a construction firm had dumped all the best building materials into one big pit: With that much treasure in one place, how come no one builds houses with it?
This year's version of the spark for inspiration comes from social media, and the realization that while a low percentage of employees uses the company intranet, a higher percentage uses Facebook. Coinciding with this week's Gartner Symposium/ITExpo in Orlando, Florida, where "the social organization" is a principal topic, CMS market share leader OpenText's latest Social Communities 8.1 upgrade adds a curious new feature that's sure to get businesses talking: social data mining.
In fairness, and certainly out of necessity, OpenText has been turning the corporate CMS inside-out, tending to more of the customer-facing needs of its customers. It's difficult to have a social organization without customers to be social with.
But the nucleus of the OpenText system is the same one used to foster employee relationships with each other. As an online brochure published this morning reads, one of the company's goals for Social Communities is "Building a more Social Intranet: Encouraging employees, customers, and partners to collaborate on a platform that enables two-way communication can help increase bottom-up conversations so all users can discuss their ideas in social forums and communities."
An OpenText executive brief on the 2010 version of Social Communities (PDF available here) points to the product's basic purpose in fostering enhanced employee intercommunication and collaboration. But in promoting enhanced support for customer-facing social services as well, the document also made this prophetic statement: "The ability to monitor, react, and respond to what is happening on the Web is a requirement in today's social business environment. An increasing number of businesses are looking for ways to interact with their customers, using conversations to garner feedback and to improve insight into customer preferences and needs. By making the Web more engaging, organizations can foster community, encourage collaboration, increase customer loyalty, and drive increased revenue."
That's the use case which this latest version addresses directly. An OpenText company statement this morning for Social Communities 8.1 reads, "By analyzing real-time visitor and social interaction information, organizations can optimize online initiatives and identify actionable trends within their visitor base, and capture user events that are specific to business goals."
OpenText points to recent Gartner data forecasting that 15% of businesses will deploy some sort of "horizontal social technology layer" by 2016. To help the business world meet those numbers, this week Gartner is promoting a new book authored by two of its executives, Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald, entitled The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees. An excerpt from Chapter 1 of that book, which Gartner is previewing this week (PDF available here), identifies exactly the customer base that OpenText has in mind:
A social organization is one that strategically applies mass collaboration to address significant business challenges and opportunities. Its leaders recognize that becoming a social enterprise is not about incremental improvement. They know it demands a new way of thinking, and so they're moving beyond tactical, one-time grass-roots efforts and pushing for greater business impact through a thoughtful, planned approach to applying social media. As a result, a social organization is able to be more agile, produce better outcomes, and even develop entirely new ways of operating that are only achievable through mobilizing the collective talent, energy, ideas, and efforts of communities.
If only for lack of inspiration. In a brilliant December 2009 assessment of the failure of intranets to achieve their intended purpose, CMS consultant Janus Boye pointed to five principal, recurring causes: 1) lack of support from management; 2) lousy usability models which make CMS systems less preferable than Facebook itself; 3) lack of any collaboration among the collaborators to begin with; 4) no one in absolute control of the operation; 5) vendors that tend to confuse one type of product with one another. It was like an assessment of why there are no cars traveling between points on a map, and receiving the ingenious answer, "There's no motor, no wheels, no roads, no drivers, and no manufacturers."
Well, here at last comes one approach that aims to connect the dots. OpenText describes its new analytics tools as giving businesses insights into how its products and services are being discussed, how often, and by whom. We can presume this means both inside and outside the organization, since after all, it's the same platform.