If you measure the social activity inside enterprise-class networks, it may look like LinkedIn has a lock on the market. But if you study how employees actually connect with each other every day, Facebook is almost always the platform of choice. But because it's not really geared for businesses, it may be vulnerable to services that address needs tied specifically to the workplace. And SAP - of all companies - feels it may have the keys to the enterprise social space, including a supremely fast database and a way for employees to maintain a social profile based on her or his talents.
"The cloud is the ultimate fabric where all the data resides," says Dinesh Sharma, SAP's vice president for cloud marketing, speaking with ReadWriteWeb, "whether it's data we own, or aggregations of data from other places that all come together through Web APIs - that drives a volume of data. You have access to it, and because applications are so easy to consume, it's a perfect fit for the real-time insights that HANA can produce."
Sharma is outlining a strategy based on the success (which has yet to be proven, of course) of two key factors. One is HANA, which utilizes surprisingly ordinary database management schemes, but whose tables and schemas are arranged in large pools of memory rather than storage devices. That relocation of the proverbial operation table can, statistics indeed show, accelerate certain aspects of database applications by six orders of magnitude.
That's at the cloud end of the SAP strategy spectrum. At the other end - the part that faces the user directly - is SuccessFactors, the human capital management service that SAP acquired last December. If you think of Facebook as the caretaker of people's personal social affairs, consider SuccessFactors (along with competitors like talent management service Taleo, recently acquired by Oracle) as competing to be the caretaker of their personal business portfolios, their online curriculum vitae.
Now that Monster.com's development appears to have calcified, LinkedIn has pointed the way toward the need for people to not only build but demonstrate their skills, using tools that go way beyond resumes. SuccessFactors is designed to be mined by talent scouts, looking not just for folks whose work history contains key phrases, but for opportunities to build the skill sets of interested and interesting people into the perfect fit for key positions long-term. (By "long-term," I mean longer than six months.)
Picture if you will a talent management worker in the human resources department of a major enterprise. On her tablet is a tool that would let her search for multiple people throughout the workforce who would be best suited to work together as a team on a collective project, sorted in order by their estimated availability and proximity to the place of business. The tool would have to judge these workers' interest and attitudes based on such factors as what they tweet, what products they've liked on Facebook and what tech news stories they've commented on. Even with the best database management schemes in the world, it would be quite a considerable query, consuming tremendous resources and time.
It's the sort of job that could use being accelerated by six orders of magnitude. And there you see the connection.
SAP's Sharma points out that the common usage model for applications preferred by folks in college or emerging from it today is tremendously different from the usage model of 2000 - the key difference being the social component. Any new functionality delivered to that customer - the ones entering the workforce with the skills that talent managers want most - must be geared toward interoperability and shareability. It cannot sit on a hard drive.
"If you're a major company, you probably run your infrastructure on SAP already today. We're providing these applications with these capabilities, and then also giving a level of openness so that you add them at a time and pace of your choosing," says Sharma. "It's not monolithic... Monolithic applications, even those in the cloud, start to morph toward a collection of thousands of services, that are pulled together on an as-needed basis to solve one problem, but then combine in a different way to solve a different problem. It's an intriguing option."
Photo of Syracuse University campus by Scott Fulton