Balancing Requirements of an Enterprise Social Network: User, Community, and Enterprise Needs

Technology leaders are used to balancing requirements. Security versus ease of access is a classic balance that comes into play when implementing social collaboration. Users want to be able to collaborate anywhere, anytime, from any device, using nothing more complicated than a password. And many users think that the system should recognize them from the last time they accessed it and log them in automatically, without the need for a password.

On the opposite end, the security zealot on your staff wants to enforce 16-character passwords with a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols, which users should be forced to change every week. So, if your security measures are too Draconian, users won’t use the system, and you may as well not have bothered to implement it. On the other hand, if security is too lax, managers and responsible employees may be uncomfortable discussing important issues on the social platform. Again, why bother if you wind up with a platform that is only good for trivia?

To successfully implement a social collaboration system, you need to consider various requirements and needs throughout the enterprise. Then determine what system may work best for your organization. You probably want a web-based application that runs outside the firewall, either in the cloud or your own public-facing server, so users can access it without going through a VPN.

Another complication is that different business units may favor different social collaboration platforms. For instance, the sales team wants Chatter, marketing has been happily piloting something with Jive, and the employees of the startup you just acquired say they can’t live without Podio. So how important is it, really, to get them all on one common platform? If you don’t, you obviously lose the potential benefit of having one unified profile for every employee that shows all their social business activity. But does any single platform truly meet everyone’s needs?

On top of that, packaged applications of all sorts are sprouting activity streams, with the vendors often treating them simply as a new user interface element to jazz up software. Activity streams have popped up in software products for business intelligence, recruiting, training, social media monitoring, and other applications. How acceptable is it for them to create their own islands of social activity? Or should you insist on feed and profile integration with your broader social collaboration network?

And here’s another challenge: Perhaps your internal social collaboration gained momentum based on unsanctioned use of a freemium cloud product, meaning one like Yammer that makes a basic version of its cloud software available to use for free. Now that social collaboration is being turned into a program of record, the IT department recommends moving to an on-premises system based on Microsoft SharePoint. Should the technicians be allowed to force the issue? Is their justification compelling? Or will forcing active communities to migrate from one platform to another kill off something promising?

Something like this dilemma cropped up at the SuperValu grocery chain. The free version of Yammer had been adopted by one group within the company, but the cloud software would not have been the first choice of the IT staff. As CIO Wayne Shurts tells it, then-CEO Craig Herkert broke the tie by ruling in favor of keeping Yammer as the collaboration platform that was already proving itself through unofficial use. He wanted a tool to bring together otherwise fragmented operations within the business, which had growth through acquisitions, and he didn’t want to wait for IT to find and implement its idea of the perfect technical solution.

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