Enterprise collaboration has been on many business wish lists for a long time. But it is proving to be an unusually tough nut to crack.
Gartner last year predicted that half of large companies would use internal social networks by 2016 and that 30 percent of them would be considered as essential as email is today. It won't be easy getting there, however. The advisory firm also said that through 2015, 80 percent of social business efforts would not achieve the desired benefits.
Gartner faults inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology for enterprise collaboration's initially disappointing performance. Yet although corporate culture will clearly play a role in adoption of collaborative tools, technical shortcomings do present problems.
An Altimeter Group study found, for example, that social data is still mostly isolated from key enterprise applications, and a woman that once led an internal collaboration effort at Intel said that a lack of integration stymied her efforts. In a blog post, she wrote: "Lack of cultural change is not social business’s biggest failure. The biggest failure is the lack of workflow integration to drive culture change."
Given that, it's perhaps not a surprise that vendors continue to tweak their enterprise social offerings. Perhaps no one has done more tweaking – at least recently – than SAP.
SAP introduced a collaborative product called SAP Streamwork in the spring of 2010 that never saw widespread adoption. In December of 2011, it gained an enterprise social networking and document sharing solution called SuccessFactors Jam when it acquired human capital management provider SuccessFactors.
In March of 2012 it introduced a new platform called SAP Jam that incorporated some elements of both solutions. SuccessFactors' former CEO Lars Dalgaard, who then served on SAP's Executive Board and is now a partner with the influential Andreessen Horowitz venture capital firm, said Jam aimed to marry enterprise social networking with structured collaboration and business process integration.
Feeling that SAP Jam could be further improved, over the past year the software giant queried a group of customers to find out what they thought worked well – and what did not – in enterprise social software. SAP "took a step back," said Sameer Patel, senior vice president and general manager of SAP’s Enterprise Social Software division, to examine the everyday activities of sales people and other business roles.
"We didn't worry about social and just focused on a 'day in the life.' How much time did they spend in transaction systems versus collaborating with others versus working in unstructured information documents?" he said.
Based on the feedback, SAP "went back to the drawing board" and re-architected SAP Jam, Patel said. The result: At least half of the software's current code did not exist a year ago. The new solution allows users to collaborate within SAP Jam or inside key business applications and "doesn’t expect you to go running to some siloed collaboration application," he said.
The idea was to "build out very purposeful capabilities on the platform," Patel said. "For example, in sales you need to be in the CRM system perhaps 10 percent of time, while the rest of your time involves looking for prospects, collaborating with colleagues and responding to proposals. The value of social software should be that it shows up where you need it and provides collaborative capabilities when you need them."
Just a few months ago SAP introduced what it calls "Work Patterns." Writing on the SAP Community Network, Marketing Manager Mika Sissonen described a work pattern as "a pre-built collaborative process that combines expertise, content and best practices with real-time business data and applications."
Patel explained, "We not only have the ability to pull data from back-end systems but also to manipulate the data and understand the hierarchy. The data from those systems gives us a ton of context, so Jam presents objects associated with what you are doing." All data is dynamic, he added. "The minute it changes in CRM or wherever it is, it will also change in Jam."
During a product demonstration designed around a sales person being assigned a new account, Steve Hamrick, senior director of product management for SAP Jam, showed how the platform could understand metadata associated with an account and retrieve related service requests, opportunities and other information from the CRM system, then recommend work patterns based on what the sales rep is trying to accomplish.
The rep can initiate and participate in conversations, that are then tracked and captured in both CRM and SAP Jam, create a "workroom" to bring in others to strategize, conduct polls and more. Work Patterns templates are flexible in design, so users can customize them by swapping out suggested widgets for different ones, Hamrick said.
SAP Jam understands role-based permissions, so users are offered only information they are allowed to see. A single sign-on makes it possible for users to move easily from SAP Jam to other systems and back.
The platform is currently integrated with SuccessFactors' HCM Suite of applications, SAP CRM and SAP Cloud for Customer, SAP Cloud for Financials, the SAP Business Suite, BusinessObjects business intelligence apps and talent management and learning apps from both SAP and SuccessFactors, as well as various popular third-party applications such as email, Google Docs and Twitter. An API can be used to extend functionality to other third-party apps.
In the latest release, SAP integrated SAP Jam with Microsoft SharePoint so customers could use SharePoint as a content repository within SAP Jam. This means Jam users can collaborate around documents stored in SharePoint, Hamrick said. If a new document is uploaded to the SharePoint server, the new version is immediately available in Jam. SAP also rolled out a connector for SharePoint’s Federated Search capability so SharePoint users can search for public SAP Jam groups and content from within SharePoint.
"This moves us firmly in the direction where collaboration is not simply about social or about transactions but about assembling the right people, data and processes for the way I work," Patel said. "The idea is not to be presumptuous and say we can nail this 100 percent of the time. But we can assemble the 20 percent of the things you'll use 80 percent of the time in one place for you."
According to Patel, SAP currently has 10 million Jam subscribers, with TELUS and Marriott International among its marquee customers. The user base has grown 138 percent in the past year. While some subscribers use a basic free version of the software, Patel said 67 percent of them are paying for the full-featured product.
Email Killer: A Customer's Take
The Village of Schaumburg, Ill., a customer of SuccessFactors and now of SAP, has been using SAP Jam for two years. Initially Jam served as a cost-effective way to provide training and other information to staff without assembling employees for physical meetings, a necessity in austere times. "We were being asked to do more with less, and it was hard to spare money for training sessions or meetings," said Patty Hoppenstedt, director of Human Resources.
"intrigued" by the social elements of the product and interested in using it to boost employee collaboration, the village made SAP Jam the landing page for its intranet, replacing a homegrown portal, Hoppenstedt said. "We wanted it to be the one place that people knew where to go for all the information they needed throughout their work days to be efficient." In addition, she said, all employees were automatically opted into certain groups like one for an online newsletter, so they are "instantly aware and informed of news throughout village of Schaumburg."
SAP Jam has virtually replaced email, she said, noting that it is much simpler to gather feedback from coworkers via the platform rather than sending out an email and waiting for replies. "Especially with the mobile capabilities, you can connect with others more quickly and easily. You do not have to be at your desk and logged onto a system," she said, an especially important feature for employees that spend much of their time outside an office.
"You do not need to worry about whether you've left anyone off an email list or accidentally deleted them," she added. "Comments all get tracked. They won't be deleted or put into an Outlook folder that you cannot find."
The intuitive nature of the software was a benefit but also a challenge, Hoppenstedt said, as it initially led the village to downplay training.
"It was so user friendly we made the assumption everyone would jump on it and use it, so we did not offer training upfront," she said. "But there was still a population of employees that did not like change. We realized we needed to offer training and do more of a one-on-one with some people to better communicate the benefits. Once they gave it a chance and saw what was possible, they decided to use it."
As an added incentive, she said, the village required employees to use it for common processes such as requesting vacation time. The effort worked, as about 650 Village of Schaumburg employees now use SAP Jam.
Hoppenstedt said the village's IT organization is currently assessing the platform, with an eye toward improving performance by expanding usage – or in some cases, curtailing it. For example, she said many employees essentially use it as a content management system although that is not one of its intended functions. "You can upload and share documents, but it is not meant to be a repository. So we are taking a step back to re-evaluate and determine areas for improvement."
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.