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Making Connections: the Social Object

Originally posted on The Dachis Group Collaboratory. Reposted here just so I have my own record.

There seems to be almost a collective deja vu among some of the social business commentators of late, with lots of talk about a sense of having been here before, for some more than once. For example, Andrew Gilroy, Oracle’s EMEA Enterprise 2.0 spokesperson, even though attending our forward-looking Social Business Summit in London, still found himself wondering if we’d all been here before: Is Social Media Groundhog day 2.0?

So what is creating this uncanny sense of a recurrent History, if not actually repeating itself, at least having a particular resonance today? Let’s start with IBM’s Collaboration evangelist Luis Suarez, who posted a blog called KM, Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business: One and The Same. What Luis contends is that when we look at the issues facing firstly Enterprise 2.0 and now more latterly with Social Business, we’ve been here before with Knowledge Management. But not only that, Luis sees a clear legacy between them all:

“In fact, if folks have stated how Enterprise 2.0 is the father of Social Business I would venture to say that KM is the father and grandfather of E2.0 and Social Business, respectively.”

What Luis hopes is that those of us working with enterprise 2.0 tools and social business transformation will learn from the experiences of knowledge management, but he also notes a point of at least potential tension between the two disciplines. Putting Luis’ argument simply, knowledge management wants to manage knowledge, social business wants to socialise it. One looks at structure and order and managing the ‘unstructured chaos’ of social data; the other side says ‘you cannot and should not ever try this!’

How do we reconcile the two, which is the right course to take?

Now Luis is very canny. He says that both are right. How can this be?

The answer to this I think can be found in one of the Social Business Summit speakers, namely Salesforce’s Chief Scientist JP Rangaswami’s and the writings in his blog ‘Confused of Calcutta‘, especially those around the ‘social object’.

Simply put, the social object refers to the all the social implications embodied in objects, that if actually not introducing, the internet has certainly accelerated. Whilst the social object is a very nuanced object, there’s one important core element that’s relevant for this discussion:

“An object becomes social only when it is shared; it is the sharing that makes the object social, not the object per se.” Thinking more about social objects in the enterprise

Why is this important? The reason is this -as we all know in the traditional 1.0 enterprise the vast amount of objects are not shared much at all, they are stored, sorted away in filestores, e-mail folders, even in filing cabinets. That they are not social at all for most their existence means that they are essentially lifeless, moribund documents gathering one form of dust or another.

In contrast to this, we have all the information that is generated by us as people. These are our conversations, both face to face and via all the communication channels at our disposal: “post, telegraph, telephone, email, IM, SMS, twitter, video calling…” These two systems JP describes as the System of Record and the System of Engagement.

Systems of Record: those tools, repositories, and systems upon which organizations have built their business processes for the last several decades.

Systems of Engagement: These tools overlay and complement organizations deep investments in systems of record by providing Web-based access, usability across a variety of hardware and software platforms, and cross-organizational collaboration. (see here for more on this).

The task ahead of us is how to connect these ‘tectonic’ systems up in meaningful and productive ways.

This is something of interest to Sameer Patel, who has been talking of the importance of the systems of record and Enterprise Content Management for some time. He is of course also acutely aware of the importance of social tools. In his latest post he talks of ways that these two systems can be practically connected up with a ‘social connector’: Jive , Alfresco and SolutionSet turn Content into a Social Object

In his post Sameer looks at Alfresco doing the ‘heavy lifting’ of content management and Jive providing the social functionality. Connecting these two spheres creates the social object, or perhaps rather releases it from the system of record into that of interaction and of people.

As Sameer points out there are many different ways to do this, Jive can be connected to SharePoint 2010, realising the social potential of all those documents in the Microsoft SharePoint repositories. The same process can be done with Oracle and with IBM Connections.

However, as we all know, and Sameer underlines too, the ‘devil is in the detail’ of connecting these two systems.  JP  also stresses some of the potential risks around security and data privacy: often materials in systems of record are locked away because they are private and confidential and thus we need to manage “the export of private objects from the systems of record into the public space of the systems of engagement.”

Managing this risk and managing the end-to-end process of creating not only social objects but in creating the social business is what Headshift and the wider Dachis Group are all about. We are in the business of helping others create social businesses.

Doing so means working with technology and getting that technology to ‘talk’ with other technology and with people. It’s about creating social objects to power the social business. If you would like to know more about how we can release all of that locked up content in your ‘systems of record’ – be they e-mail silos, SharePoint 2003, or even the filing cabinet, please get in touch.