Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Five pillars for a successful social enterprise

Within the last couple of years businesses have been looking seriously at the value social solutions can bring to the enterprise. The pervasive nature of social, its easy familiarity and the ability to draw together a wealth of data in the one environment all have obvious benefits for an organisation.  However, social solutions are not stand-alone applications.  By their very nature, they must be integrated with other business systems and tightly tied into the IT infrastructure.

Developing a social solution can be complex, but as many organisations are learning, design and deployment becomes much easier when the project is viewed from the perspective of the five essential pillars of social business infrastructure.


A social platform is about people. Therefore, at its heart, it must contain some concept of the individual.  It must contain the information that the business needs to represent a person.  This typically includes the name, title, department and contact information for an individual. It could also include a photo, description of the person, their location, interests, history, education, personal information, expertise and preferences. The richer the information, the greater the likely benefits.


The whole idea of social is to facilitate connections between people.  It brings together followers, colleagues, communities, friends and so on to communicate about topics or interests. 

Therefore, the system must be able to capture relationships, whether they are explicitly stated through reporting structures and preferences, or inferred through colleague or community recommendations, or the identification of frequent contributors.


Social happens around content. This could range from corporate mainstays such as documents, images and videos to the less traditional wikis, blogs, discussions, forums, tasks, bookmarks, hashtags, likes and more.


Social is data in motion. Messages pass back and forth between individuals and groups. Every comment or vote is new and valuable data.  The data generated by an answer on a forum must be captured and its association with the originating question noted.  The data may also need to feed into a task, workflow or calendar event.  All the data needs to be pulled together to provide a unified view of activity.

Security and compliance

It should go without saying that the enterprise social system has to be designed for tight security. Data must be protected against loss and competitive information kept safe from unauthorised eyes. This may mean something as simple as creating a user name for logging in, or more advanced identification measures combined with authentication. For compliance, companies need to consider records retention policies, policy enforcement and any requirement for legal audits.

Bringing it all together

Social success therefore, is predicated on the ability to integrate these five pillars of people, connections, content, activity and security into a coherent solution.

Most enterprises are already well-served with multiple systems that deal with these concepts. Few if any organisations don't have some kind of security measure in place and the concept of the person is well captured in systems such as SharePoint or the ERP.  Social isn't about buying an entirely new technology.  It's about adding a concept that bridges lots of different areas of your information systems. 

The ideal model to achieve this is to look at the different areas of your infrastructure and consider the responsibilities they should handle.

The core enterprise system will inevitably play a part in any social project. Typically, this is where the standard, authoritative representation of your user lives.  It holds peoples' names, titles, and other contact details. If there are additions required, or changes to details, they are entered once in the core system and should then flow through to all other areas.

Next, you need a primary social system capable of dealing with all the other people aspects not covered by your core system – for example, expertise, accomplishments and preference scores.  The selection of a primary platform allows you to concentrate your focus and minimise the risks associated with managing compliance, redundancy and complexity across many systems.

Finally, will information flow to and from all the other social systems within the enterprise.

For the second pillar, much of the content will come from the repository within the core system. However, there will be new content generated by social activity that is maintained in the social platform.

Activity should ideally be centralised in one platform, enabling the social site to pull in activity from multiple sources and present it in one simple place. The only rational place for this centralised information is the primary social platform.

Compliance and security sit most comfortably within the core system.  Establishing multiple kinds of security in different systems is too great a risk so the bulk of security, especially around identity and access to resources, is best managed in the core alongside existing security measures.  This may be supplemented by the social system managing specific problems, such as detecting and remediating issues in a social stream.

A big future

The goal of any social project is to create a rich platform that brings all five pillars together to solve real world problems.  The least risk, most efficient model for achieving this is to match concepts to infrastructure; to identify the functions that can be managed by your core system and those that should be the responsibility of your primary and other social platforms.  With this knowledge, you can begin to consider the social use cases that will deliver most value to the enterprise, design implementation of these use cases, and plot the evolution of a fully functioning social infrastructure.


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