Now that I've had a a few weeks since Salesforce.com's Dreamforce
conference to think more about Salesforce's new positioning around social enterprise I'm starting to put something together around enterprise platforms that hadn't occurred to me. Taking some of the assumptions that I've made and written about and putting them together, seems to support the need for a technical approach for the next generation enterprise that's beyond what is currently available, or maybe more accurately, supports the need to use available technology in a somewhat different way. First let me lay out my assumptions and then I'll look more specifically at the capabilities that would be required to provide a reasonable operational foundation. Assumptions, trends and observations:
- Current core enterprise applications deployed by many businesses have reached a level of functionality that is "good enough" for current enterprise requirements. Innovation is happening along the edges of the business, not in the core.
- The recession and the continuing economic pressures have created an environment of caution for businesses that makes them carefully prioritize IT spending for software that offers high return on investment (ROI) and is business critical. Core enterprise systems, while essential, are good enough and don't offer areas of high ROI for new investment and will increasingly be maintained for long periods of time without replacement. Other areas offer better competitive advantage and are increasingly getting more of the IT budget allocation.
- Many (most) currently deployed IT applications have outdated user interfaces and offer a sub-optimal user experience even though they do meet business requirements. This is increasingly a problem as employees get used to the modern, clean, simple UX provided in their personal use of the Internet, which is glaringly better than their experiences at work.
- The new business model that is evolving will be built on the concept of a business network, tying the traditional business resources closely with those of partners and suppliers. This connected model will also need to include much stronger connectivity to customers. Most currently deployed enterprise IT infrastructures and systems don't support and provide the required management capabilities for this close connected model.
- Hyper-connectivity has redefined competition and innovation. The new business landscape is increasingly global and changing at a very rapid pace. Innovation extends beyond products and services, although these are also radically impacted, to include business models. Rapidly innovating business models are considerably more challenging to defend against, particularly in businesses where rigid process and inflexible systems are difficult and slow to change.
- The new networked business is built on a foundation of people-centric collaboration. New "social" collaboration tools must connect people inside and outside the enterprise but do it in a way that provides real time communications and real time access to supporting content, data and systems in the context of the activity. More over this tool (or tools) must support ad hoc work groups that need to reach beyond traditional enterprise boundaries and at times include customers, partners and suppliers, which protecting enterprise intellectual property and providing flexible security. Contextual collaboration also implies that the tool resides inside employees workflow and thus inside current enterprise applications. --embedded, contextual, real time, ad hoc, people-centric collaboration--
- Business strategy, which for many businesses was a rigid set of approaches / processes reflected in rigid organizational structures and IT systems, is becoming something that needs to be organic and flexible in real time. What was once defined once and executed over long periods of time is becoming an ever morphing and evolving organism. The IT infrastructure to support this type of ongoing redefinition of strategy and business model, must also be ultra flexible, reconfigurable and support on going ad hoc work groups and processes. Think of it as short term throw away applications to support ad hoc (and throw away) organizational structures that can include employees across the business combined in various ways with customers, partners and suppliers.
- As business intelligence and business analytics tools improve, available data increases (dramatically increases, this is referred to as big data) and our ability to ensure data quality improves, systems will be required to automate more of the routine and mundane activities to free up employees to focus on higher value activities.
- Employees expect to interact with enterprise systems in a "any device, any time" paradigm. Current enterprise systems are not set up to support this philosophy of continuous connectivity. This trend is supported by two important technology trends, cloud computing and mobile.
- There is a long period of time where businesses will be forced due to the overwhelming cost of change, to operate in a model that maintains aging infrastructure at the core while providing new systems on the edges of the business that integrate with the core and provide the primary method of interacting with the old systems. Over time, and in a modular way, the core would be replaced with next generation apps that are built using the new paradigm / platform.
I'm sure I forgotten a few other trends and assumptions but these should provide a good foundation for the argument that there is a need to approach the overall enterprise evolution in a different technological way, particularly in a way that ties all of these things together. So what could possibly meet the requirements? Here's what I think is needed:
Cloud based (public or private) platform that:
- Is easy to integrate
- Supports rapid app development and deployment (ad hoc or composite apps).
- Serves as the foundation for the next generation of enterprise applications.
- Provides the ability to build a clean, simple UX while keeping complexity below the surface
- Has social collaboration embedded inside so that any app built on it is automatically social
- Supports widely accepted / available development tools (so that development resources are readily available at reasonable cost)
- Supports "any device, any time" connectivity
- Supports across the firewall connectivity and ad hoc collaboration with very granular control over IP protection and security
- Embedded analytic capabilities (I suppose there are a bunch of options for connecting to some type of big data analytics engine / appliance / service that provides the data as needed in context to the apps, the trick is to have apps that can make use of the delivered information). Analytics should also extent to socialytic apps, although these could also be external to the platform and simply provide information into the enterprise.
- A way to manage information flow with very granular filtering capabilities so that employees can use information to support work activities and decision making in real time and in context.
- Workflow and task automation that makes use of the growing fire hose of data
- Offer or integrate to other social applications like community management, sales intelligence, supplier networks, etc.
I'm sure there are more requirements but this at least this gives you some idea of what I think is required. The question then, is are there vendors that are moving towards this type of platform? First I should say that I'm not sure any vendor I'll mention has actually though about the platform in the way I mention above, although it's certainly possible that they have. But as I look at what Salesforce.com has done over the last few years and particularly this last year, I have to wonder if they aren't moving in a direction that would provide this next generation social business platform. The other vendor that I think might also have a similar vision is VMWare. I wrote about some of what they're doing here. There are of course, other vendors that could assemble this social business backbone, not the least of which is Oracle. Oracle has many of the component parts, although I don't think it is thinking about the problem in exactly this way yet. IBM is another key player, they're making a big push around social business and have many of the social applications that would be needed around the platform and well as a concept around integrating many of these components. Businesses are still early in the overall adoption of social business of course, but there are quite a few that are maturing in their use of social tools. The next step though, the move to the networked business model is still in its infancy but offers a lot of value upside for business and a lot of opportunity for enterprise software vendors.