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Art of BI: Understanding Social and Collaborative Business Intelligence – Part 2

Christian Screen | | April 5, 2013

As you read in the first part  (Part 1) of this short series on Understanding Social and Collaborative Business Intelligence the idea of working as a team to make better decisions for an organization is not a new concept, merely the vehicle for that process has evolved.  That vehicle will differ from vendor to vendor as it relates to Collaborative BI. Furthermore, the idea of incorporating an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) into an organization’s infrastructure and daily activity will soon become common place.

But let’s not talk in platitudes.  Let’s see exactly what we actually gain from a Business Intelligence System (application), a Collaborative BI solution (vehicle), and an Enterprise Social Network (network).  The Venn Diagram below illustrates the tight integration that we described in part 1 of this series.

We’ll come back to the Collaborative BI solution but first let’s take a look at the ESN problem.  We think the first reason for the slow adoption of an Enterprise Social Network within an organization is due to education. There is no need to ask the question of “Why do we need it?”; just the mention of Facebook and describing in a few short sentences how applying the same principles of networked decisions and unity into the Enterprise should quench that question. Its a question of clarity. For, example, Salesforce.com Chatter is a social network but most people simply think its only for “CRM”, Salesforce Automation, and “Sales Teams”.  How can one see the big picture clearly when the Social Network is so often combined with an application. In marketing we call this Marketing Myopia. In addition, there are many ESN’s available today.  Which one best aligns with your  business? And how well does it integrate with your current software investments?  If you only care about your sales team collaborating on opportunities and deals is Salesforce Chatter the best option or would Yammer work just as well? Could we use Chatter for our entire organization? Or do we need a different system that appears less focused? And can we integrate it with existing systems?

Tool Selection

To answer one of the questions in the last section, an ESN is completely independent of any one business application.  If it is not then it is not a true ESN. An ESN doesn’t care which BI, ERP, CRM or data mining tool you use.  It doesn’t care if you use MS Outlook or Lotus Notes.  Most ESN’s are also in the cloud, which is actually fantastic especially if your organization is evolving to hosted solutions for your critical applications (i.e. ERP, CRM, etc.).  I love this tactic and delivery mechanism especially from a Capital Expense to Operation Expense perspective (most organizations any way). And for software product licensing, as Benioff and Salesforce.com have championed, it truly is the best software licensing model for interactive enterprise software.

We mentioned several tools in the previous article which are set for the enterprise but there are also quite a few Open Source Social Networks across a myriad of programming languages:

  • Elgg
  • Anahita
  • buddyPress
  • Mahara
  • Inshoshi
  • Pligg

Of course, once you have the open source code, you can choose to align with any paid support from those vendors. Some I’m sure are just a few folks in a garage in Silicon Valley cranking out the code just because they can while others are bonefide organization’s fully established in their sector..  Regardless, Open Source is a venue if your organization is looking at reducing cost and getting a “Social Network” rolling at your organization while achieving atomic control.

But tool selection isn’t trivial.  One of the things that is perplexing about the adoption rate of ESN’s is that the major ESN solutions coming from the larger software vendors seem to be “locked” in only their offerings.  Salesforce.com or Yammer are not included in this bucket, clearly.  If you take a look at current market offerings you’ll see that SAP has SAP JAM, IBM has IBM Connect, and soon Oracle will have the Oracle Social Network.  And although the benefit of this “locking” their ESN offering only to their  applications is a good initial launch platform for those vendors it is often unclear to the additional costs associated with those ESN’s. And separating the value of the single application from the overall ESN + application combination could be difficult to roll into a strategic project for an organization.  This also reduces the best tool for the job selection process.  If you are locked in to the ESN because it is the only one that integrates with the application(s) you wish to use in your organization, Where is the choice?  And since the big software vendors have been late to the table with their ESN offerings, what happens to the organizations which have already aligned tens of thousands of users on Salesforce.com but are now looking to incorporate a strategic BI tool, for example, which only integrates with the vendor’s ESN solution.  Now fragmentation will occur with the collaborative desire of the application and the rest of the organization.  Now, arguablely, an entirely new project needs to take place in order to segue users from the existing ESN to the new ESN. This is an unclear roadmap and without knowing where a vendor’s ESN solution is headed how  can you plan to go along for the ride and hope to end at a comfortable destination?

Costs, Value, and Return on Investment

Enterprise Social Network vendors are something like drug dealers, especially with the subscription model licensing made so popular by Benioff and the good folks at Salesforce.com.  If you really want to read a good article on this check out Jack’s Blog on the topic.  We actually followed this for BITeamwork’s licensing model since it makes sense to most everyone.  Basically these vendors give you a “taste” and allow you to get in on the ESN for free for a limited number of users.  That is free as in forever not as free as in free beer.  Once they get you hooked with their glorious functionality, simplicity, APIs, and stellar customer service your organization has been fully engaged and technically a customer for life.  That’s a great thing, right?

So, the value portion of this equation is quite subjective as one would image.  The features of one ESN vendor might not be available from another and so on.  So this brings us back to the selection process. That is which tool has what we need right now and on their immediate roadmap to get us where we want to go?

Another obstacle in the way of ESN adoption is the lack of vision from which a clear value proposition for an organization can be derived.  In the realm of Business Intelligence this was the same thing a decade ago.  Organization’s understood that storing data was  good, and in someway turning that data into information made sense but it was often unclear in how to execute, deliver, and innovate in that area.  Now, in today’s world, you have to look hard to find a lack of a BI presence in the Enterprise. Although, it could be argued that most organizations still do not have an Enterprise BI Strategy or tool for that matter.

And where’s the Return on Investment with an ESN?  If you’re looking purely at the ROI of an ESN you’ll have to look hard at what is the current ROI on your BI solution.  Can you quantify the value of your BI implementation?  Is that opportunities found? Discretions uncovered? Dollars saved?  Better decisions made per month? I think if you have the understanding of the value of BI in your organization you’ll have the same visceral understanding of the ROI potential of an ESN in your organization. And with Collaborative BI its going to be hard to understand the true value of on without the other.

ESN Infrastructure and Maintenance

The last point to make in regards to ESN adoption is that like any other application or system we believe education is required.  Not only for the end users but from an infrastructure and maintenance perspective. It is about understanding that for most enterprise organizations this will be no easy feat. An ESN project would be an ESN implementation similar to most large software implementation projects.  I would relate an ESN implementation as a cross between an CRM implementation in the cloud (think Salesforce.com or Siebel CRM on Demand) and a BI Implementation.  Most ESN solutions will be cloud-based.  Think Yammer, Salesforce Chatter, Podio, etc.  However, if deploying an ESN to the entire organization the number of users is in the tens of thousands.  And, with that many users there is maintenance, support, and then of course development as at some point the data from the ESN will seek to be retrieved, aggregated, and reported on to understand its value and usage.  There are groups to maintain, activities and tasks to create, etc. Clearly you can slowly roll this out throughout the organization slowly but eventually it opens up a whole new set of resources whose job will be to manage the ESN full-time.

Wrapping up with Collaborative BI

Now that we have a sense for how an ESN is a product and an implementation in and of itself, we have hopefully conveyed just how different social networking is from an existing application which already has a core purpose.  A Business Intelligence for example is built to provide distributed analytical information to help an organization runs its business and derive competitive advantages. The strong point we are trying to make is that in order to bridge the gap between an ESN and other application systems in a very strategic and scalable way, there must be a bridge. In the case of a Business Intelligence system that bridge is Collaborative BI.

As with any collective intelligence system, Collaborative BI included , the functionality must be aligned with the application itself. In Oracle Business Intelligence the idea is that a dashboard comment would be specific to the Enterprise BI application, not the ERP application from which it may have sourced its data, even though the comment may find its way to the Enterprise Social Network and potentially have a bookmark reference in the ERP Application stored on that ESN.

Take also the concept of a pivot table report where a user adds a comment on a specific cell to annotate a discrepancy where the context of the annotation only makes sense when a certain combination of dashboard prompts is used to predicate the report’s values. Only collaboration functionality built for that specific BI tool could seek to provide the ability to add a comment on a pivot table object on a dashboard and make reference to that object’s individual properties and attributes, store that information, and allow it to be referenced by other users of that system. This level of detail is too granular and subjective for an Enterprise Social Network tool to handle by itself in order to account for the myriad of applications that may choose to use its technology as a foundation for socializing an organization.

Social BI is a bit more complex in the way that it must leverage parts a Collaborative BI system and parts an Enterprise Social Network to fulfill its true definition. Enterprise Social Networks are provided by Social Vendors such as Oracle, Yammer, Jive, and Salesforce. Event Tibco, makers of Spotfire, have one called Tibbr. These networks are very much like the public Social Networks that embody the concept of Socializing across a virtual network.  However the Enterprise Social Networks are specific to an individual Company or Organization.  Typically this homogeneous delineation is made by company email address (usually domain name), however, it can usually be extended to allow other individuals or groups outside its primary domain. A private enterprise Social Network allows similar functionality to that of a public Social Network such as Facebook and they are often seen as a combination of Twitter’s micro-blogging and Facebook’s, well everything else.

Social BI is then leveraged by Oracle BI or the Business Intelligence application to either consume Collaborative BI information or push Social BI information and conversations into the BI application.

Conclusion

Well this part 2 of the series turned out to be more about getting to an ESN solution rather than Collaborative BI.

Oracle Collaborative BI comes in the form of a product called BITeamwork that integrates seamlessly into the Oracle Business Intelligence Framework. BITeamwork is a complete collective intelligence management system which exposes the ability to create comments, reply to comments, and assign comments, via the BITeamwork interface. BITeamwork also gives the Enteprise the ability to consume and respond socially leveraging the leading Social Vendor systems such as Salesforce Chatter or Microsoft Yammer. Soon that Social Vendor list will also include the Oracle Social Network.

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