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Understanding Social & Collaborative Business Intelligence: Part 1

Author: Christian Screen | 9 min read | January 25, 2013

As of the end of 2012 all major software vendors offer a full-fledged Enterprise Social Network (ESN) as part of their enterprise offerings. Oracle is currently the exception as their Oracle Social Network is currently only available with its Fusion Applications (specifically its HCM and CRM application offerings). These social networks are analogous to the well known public consumer social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, however, the focus is solely on the enterprise. The major software companies (Oracle, IBM, SAP, [add your fourth pick here]) clearly also have the leading Business Intelligence (BI) and Data Discovery tools on the market. This article, in a two part series seeks to increase your understanding about how socializing ideas within an Enterprise Business Intelligence tool with or without an ESN can create efficiencies and better overall decision making within an organization.  It will also seek to clarify terminology and hopefully persuade you to start taking a closer look at incorporating a collaborative BI strategy as part of your existing BI program.

If you haven’t noticed the terms Collaborative BI and Social BI getting tossed around over the last two years its probably because you’ve been blinded but the much larger publicized buzzwords “Big Data”, “Data Scientist”, “In-Memory Analytics”, etc.. That’s okay, because there has been enough conversation and development around all of these hot topics to keep IT professionals busy for years to come. Since Collaborative BI tools are essential to the decision making process and gaining ground in the world of analytics its always nice to shine some light on lesser-known, but equally impressive concepts.

Collaborative BI vs Social BI

Social collaboration in the enterprise is an old concept manifested via modern technological solutions forming a new approach giving organizations the ability to work as a team when making decisions. Social decision making during the last decade or so has typically been driven by email or instant messaging platforms.  But just as those forms of collaboration out-paced phone calls (of which I am still keen on), inter-company envelope exchanges, and hand-written letters, collaboration in applications will seek to become the new social collaboration successor. At a minimum collaboration in applications will compliment an existing application’s usefulness.

The two terms “Social” and “Collaborative” are often used interchangeably, however there are differences in the concepts that separately give each their own benefits and shortcomings. I’ll try to highlight these in this article. Ultimately the concepts are best when applied together, especially in Business Intelligence applications. The concepts of “collaborative” and “social” in technology can be applied to almost every software-based application an information worker (i.e.: business analyst, Joe the Bean Counter, etc.) may encounter in the enterprise work place. The big questions are How does an organization get started with the concept? And, At which point is the integration finished getting social and collaboration concepts implemented?. Organizations have several opportunities to capitalize on a uniform social or collaborative management system to handle decision making workflows and conversations.  These conversations can travel from comp controller to business analyst all the way up to the C-level folks and back down.  The idea is one of convenience, traceability, accountability, assignability, historical record, collective intelligence, and business without borders. These are clearly the pros.  The cons are much fewer, if any, partially due to the pros, especially the idea of accountability. Accountability is core to social collaboration in the enterprise because this ain’t Facebook and it’s not about sharing pictures of your cat eating peanuts while taking a bath with the dog. It’s about increasing the effectiveness of decision making using collective intelligence and reducing knowledge silos which are typically an unconscious by-product from key players on your team.

Here are definitions for Collaborative BI and Social BI the way we see it:

Collaborative Business Intelligence

Is an integrated function of the Business Intelligence tool that provides the ability for one or more information workers to analyze data and make decisions as a team by utilizing technology as the conduit for transmitting conversations and ancillary artifacts which support those conversations. Collaborative artifacts may include comments, links, screenshots, and bookmarks.

Social Business Intelligence

Is the ability for a networked group of people to individually have active or passive participation in conversations surrounding the analytics of an enterprise with the goal of selectively informing users about, and collectively aggregating, the best decisions for an organization through an Enterprise Social Network.

Social BI is more the act of sharing general ideas stemming from the Business Intelligence system into an Enterprise Social Network where the main consumption point for aggregate information about collaborative decision-making is the Enterprise Social Networking tool, not the BI application. Collaborative BI indicates that the BI tool itself has built-in and embedded amenities allowing it to provide teamwork and collective intelligence functionality with or without integrating with an Enterprise Social Network. You can have Collaborative BI without Social BI but not the other way around.

A few Challenges to get the Enterprise Social

In the next two year, the pressure organizations will face to select an Enterprise Social Network will most likely be intense. The benefits of having a single-source for Instant Messaging, Chat, Collective Intelligence, “Liking” comments, etc. similar to what its employees have grown accustom to when using Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis has already proven decisions are better when not made alone. Instead of asking your circle of friends Which refrigerator you should buy?, you’ll ask colleagues How can we improve our client’s ability to sell 20% more refrigeration units in Alaska next quarter?

Selecting a social vendor tool and justifying the social goals for the organization are just a few things organizations will have overcome.

Social Vendor Tool Selection Time

Incorporating a Enterprise Social Networking project into the largest organizations on the planet isn’t an “if” it is definitely a “when”.  But what most organization’s aren’t understanding is that this is a tool selection process. The same as when a company is selecting any application suite for their enterprise ERP, Business Intelligence, or People Management tool.  The process is very similar, if not the same.  Currently there are a rising number of Enterprise Social Vendors. And, as one may have already expected most of these Enterprise Social Networks from existing software vendors already have some level of integration with their flagship applications; especially the big vendors (SAP, IBM, etc.).  Here is a short, though not exhaustive, list of Enterprise Social Network applications available:

* Salesforce Chatter
* Oracle Social Network
* Microsoft Yammer
* Cisco Podio
* VMWare SocialText

As it relates to Collaborative BI, a Collaborative BI solution should either be able to stand alone, hosting comments, aggregating decisions, etc. or integrate with one or more Social Vendors which might have some broader capabilities.  Just keep in mind that Social Networks are not specifically required for application specific collective intelligence. Remember, a Collaborative BI solution is built into the tool either natively or as an add-on or plug-in. The Enterprise Social Network is broader as is available across the entire enterprise not just to one application and its segmented user base.

The questions an organization needs to ask, today, regarding readiness for Enterprise Social Intelligence are:

1. Which Enterprise Social Network to should we select?
2. Must we choose the Social Network of our existing software vendor?
3. How do we integrate our existing applications with our Enterprise Social Network?
4. Do we currently have these skills in-house?
5. Can we justify the expense (What’s the ROI)?
6. What are we actually trying to accomplish with an Enterprise Social Network?

The criticality of answering these questions is debatable. However, they are very valid in the quest for finding how these new collaborative and social technologies find there way into an organization and what benefit they may bring once they are there.

Social Vendor, Social Goals, Social Us, Social Success

Getting new software purchase approval usually isn’t the problem.  IT Budgets have skyrocketed over the past decade and Enterprise Social Network (ESN) vendors are banking on this persisting.  The business cases are there so it really is just about the speed of adoption.  Oracle, IBM, SAP, even VMWare have made a bet on their Enterprise Social Networks so this is going to happen.  As with most software the challenges are the same regarding infrastructure, finding the correct skillets or training-up current heads to build, develop, and maintain the software.

However, the main point of contention with bringing in an Enterprise Social Network will be getting adequate adoption rates from internal users once the ESN is deployed in an organization.  Most of these ESN tools hit as an Operational Expense for an organization as they are typically based on the SaaS or subscription licensing model so getting rid of the system if it’s not used may seem like a good contingency plan but once part of your organization has adopted the ESN they will not want to loose their historical data, conversations, etc. that are now embedded within the ESN system. So potentially if little adoption takes place a reduction of users under the subscription license for the next year looks like the most viable option. And, the ESN integration partially succeeds which is probably a worst case scenario. But if the goal is truly to have the ESN ubiquitously behave as the flagship means for socializing ideas within an organization, more a seeded approach for getting the ESN into the hands of the organization’s users will most likely need to take place.

Let’s go with a more positive outlook which aims for an organization to stand up the ESN and get the “company” using it, entirely, collaboratively making decisions and finding new opportunities. The user adoption will move much more rapidly if the ability to use the ESN is somehow embedded in an appellation which is used at some moderate frequency by the organization’s population. There are applications for operations, ERP, planning and budgeting which are all to be considered. Let’s return focus back to the Enterprise Business Intelligence tool suite which has its dashboards, portals utilized through many departments throughout the organization.  If the BI tool itself had functionality that integrated with the ESN and the ESN’s functionality as the ESN is first deployed to the organization, users immediately have context, direction, new functionality in a tool which they are already familiar. New tools wouldn’t have to be learned, only new functionality of how the ESN tools are embedded or leveraged within the existing application(s).

In the next part of this series I’ll focus a bit more on use cases of an ESN with examples as of Collaborative BI integration with an ESN. Also, we’ll explore more on the topic of user adoption and Social BI versus Collaborative BI.

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