Let’s talk about Social Business

Hey there, welcome back to "Tech-Rant & Co"! In a previous post i talked about (or ranted about) collaboration services open source style. A seriously good, free alternative for businesses, companies or organisations, whilst compared to those from IBM or Microsoft. One that... well click here to read/see it.

In this post I will talk (or rant) about ...

Social Business

Whether a concept or ideology or technology/technology solution, both are relevant, and becoming a trend. One could argue they're inseparable twins, and should be treated as such. In a modern business context you may need the technology to execute the ideology, and you need the ideology to build a culture.

Thoughts/ideas, combined with action/solution. 

Social business is about two-way communication, improving efficiency, business relationships and as such will or might have a direct impact on the bottom line, the results. But to work properly such a concept depends on a business that is willing to change, willing to try new ideas to change, or try old ideas that failed, again. 

Just don't expect miracles overnight, as Gartner projects, "80 percent of social business efforts will not achieve the intended benefits in 2015". I'd like to add, maybe not 2016 either. The reason being Gartner further adds, due to "inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology". 

Without using those very words, Gartner is right. Leadership and management buy-in is critical for the success of such a project. In fact it is critical for almost any IT/IS project. If they don't get it well, then perhaps they need advisers who can help them understand. Someone who has credibility, and their trust.

What to do? Start a pilot, dare to spend some resources, time and money on exploring potentials. Good concepts and ideas are best conceived in a real life context. And sometimes a well executed pilot is the fastest and cheapest way to find out what, where, how and when.

There's nothing new under the sun?

We know this for a fact, Social Business is as old as business itself. As old as trade, human commerce interaction even if accompanied by grunts and hand signs, or body language. Business was and still also is about communication (in some form or another), social interaction, new knowledge, exchange of knowledge, exchange of ideas, culture and so forth. 

If you've ever worked as a sales person or in a store you know this to be true. Happy customers who feel engagement and get attention plus good service, returns more often than not. 

Social Business technology (licensed/commercial)

Have been around for a while now but as often is the case with new ideas, approaches and technology, it takes a while before things sink in. Or pick up. We are still (partially) stuck in the email era, however things are changing.

Facebook and other social media have shown the way, there is little doubt that these technologies have had a serious impact on the development of social business tools.

So what is there of products and frameworks, well... you have IBM Connections, Microsoft Yammer, Cisco had WebEx Social but decided to kill it and instead partner up with Jive. This year Facebook launched their corporate version and now is a contender, if you dig deeper I am sure you'll find many more.

Now, I got experience with the aforementioned platforms. Have a lot to say actually but as this blog already can be wrapped around equator and would be slightly besides the point let me just say that I have my clear favorite among them. 

But... if you put too much emphasis on technology and too little on people, culture, cultural development, content and aspire to sense of ownership it won't make much difference whichever you choose. All have potential to end up as a very costly project and not quite as successful an implementation as intended. So then, facing these possibilities and alternatives outcomes, perhaps it might be sensible to look at...

Social Business, Open Source style

One in particular attracted my attention, called Drupal Commons. Bred and built on Drupal which I (somewhat subjectively) consider to be one of the most versatile and flexible CMS frameworks available. This might be the reason why so many different solutions have been built on Drupal. And why so many larger corporates have decided it'll do the job.

Because, it can, it will, it does.

Once you have it in place you quickly realize this platform can really do a whole lot of things for you. And what it cannot do or doesn't out of the box you can either download, install a module or pay someone to customize a module or widget. Anyhow....

Drupal Commons has an appealing architecture, all the basics that makes it look and function like a Facebook clone. They have even reconstructed the entire administration area and structure, to make it better fit in with overall scheme of things. That too is very well done, yet not so different that a person with Drupal experience won't find all the basics (and/or extensions) within a few seconds or minutes. 

Out of the box you get Activity streams, the possibility to organize streams in categories, follow functions, discussion threads, events, internal messaging from person to person, fully customizable forms and functions. And more.. a lot more. 

The standard design is fully responsive and as easy to use from a cell phone or tablet as a PC. No app, a browser does the job fine. Styling is easy, if you know your way around CSS3. And, as Commons utilizes Panopoly you can easily add new or re-arrange existing panels on any page. Or develop your own, A couple of clicks and it's done.

Being built on Drupal you can go on adding modules and functions ad nauseum. This however will require good understanding of the architecture of Drupal. But with a community extending beyond tens of thousands of highly skilled developers getting something done is not too difficult, costly or time consuming.

You do well to make sure that whoever leads a implementation or development project have above average understanding of web architecture, and good understanding of Drupal. But this solution you can have up and running and start using almost out of the box. 

I've not yet tried it but being Drupal it should be reasonably straight forward to integrate a Drupal Commons solution using either LDAP, Microsoft Active Directory, OpenID or a combination. There are some standard approaches that, as they work with Drupal standards and other distributions, also should work with Commons. 

No Social Business tech? Try Commons!

Yep, I mean really. All it takes is some hours worth of fiddling by someone who knows the basics, knows Drupal and can setup/install it. Then you'll have a working Pilot and can invite people to let creativity unfold. I floated this solution to the surface for a company that had very little experience with such, yet they understood they needed something to simplify and improve customer interaction. We ended up with two pilots, one based on Open Atrium (see this blog) and one based on Drupal Commons.

Time will show what they end up choosing, I have no difficulties whatsoever with recommending both. I'll return to and post more about Commons later.