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SAP’s new collaboration workspace and the changing nature of social networks


In Mo Ghanem’s last BusinessObjects Explorer. Innovative Product, Great Cause! about SAP’s Co-Innovation Lab (COIL), there is a reference to the COIL Collaboration space. This workspace is located in SAP’s new collaboration tool for the ecosystem.

[The] Collaboration workspace from SAP is a private enterprise collaboration tool that provides web 2.0 infrastructure with built in governance for all companies to participate in a secure business network.

Note: the bold markings are from me and the description is from Getting Started Blog.

In this blog, I would like to take a closer look at this new workspace, the technology on which it is based and the collaborative implications of this new development. 

Before people start asking questions about the differences between this space and SDN/BPX, Andre Fonseca’s description of the differences between the two environments should be sufficient to answer any questions:

SDN and BPX are all tools that allow PUBLIC collaboration between SAP it’s customers and partners. Collaboration workspace from SAP is an enterprise collaboration tool that allows SAP to create PRIVATE workspaces to collaborate with it’s customers and partners.

Why is this new collaboration space interesting?

Besides the fact that this workspace allows private collaboration, there are other reasons why this new collaboration space is so interesting.

If you look at existing social networks (Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), you will see that they are usually based on “loose” / “informal” relationships between individuals and, on occasion, corporations. These relationships are usually based on individuals with common characteristics and are largely voluntary.

Involved users don’t have to use their real name and may join and leave the network as they please without experiencing any real penalties. Although certain behavior is frowned upon, usually the worse that can happen is that their account is deleted.

In reality, however, such “informal” interactions just represent a partial coverage of the myriad of relationships in which we are involved. Our relationship with our accountant or tax attorney is different from that of our relationship with a casual acquaintance. Instead of focusing on the more personal types of relationships that are often the foundation for most social networks (Facebook, etc.), let us focus on those associations that are more closely linked to our corporate persona. 

Even if you look at more business-oriented social networks such as LinkedIn, how much collaboration is really occuring in this environment? Of course, you might think  “The purpose of such social networks is not collaboration but rather forming / expanding your relationships.  Communities are where such collaboration takes place”. In today’s marketplace, the definitions of the two constructs are rather fluid and it is often difficult to distinguish between the two.

Often such business relationships are more complicated than those between private individuals and involve a variety of other factors (legal, etc.). For example, when individuals from different firms meet / collaborate, there must be a common understanding of rules and respective responsibilities. This understanding may be based on certain legal documents (NDA, signed contracts, etc.). Usually, collaboration based on such a foundations has a different characteristic than that based on more “informal” networks. In this formalized environment, competitors might be more apt to work together with a shared awareness of the repercussions (usually of a legal character) of misbehavior.

Existing Web 2.0 technologies (wiki, blogs, etc.) or popular social networks/communities usually have no such restrictions. Thus, collaboration in such arenas is limited to some degree because the consequences of misbehavior are either non-existent or very unclearly defined.    

To allow for more formalized corporate collaboration, the technology at the heart of social network/community software must be adapted accordingly. For example, the admittance to the entire social network itself or to certain parts of the social network must be restricted. For example, in order to join certain groups, users would be required to provide certain legal documents. This restriction acts as a “governance gate” and creates a common understanding of the expectations of those joining the network.  Of course, this requirement usually leads to a complication in terms of the usability of the network but provides a necessary foundation for a successful community based on these formalized norms.

SAP’s new collaboration tool

This new collaboration space from SAP meets such requirements. If you look at some of private collaboration spaces in this new environment, you will see that there are restrictions regarding admittance to these areas.

Thus, this environment provides an excellent foundation for this formalized corporate collaboration.


You might be thinking “So what. Why should I care about this new collaboration space. It is a vendor-based community like any other”. If you look at the existing Web 2.0 technology (wikis, blogs, etc.) and compare it to the existing collaboration between corporations, you will see that there is gap. Usually, just the most rudimentary collaboration between corporations takes place in such environments.  For the corporate world to embrace such collaborative technologies (especially when there is a great deal of money involved), other characteristics must be met.

This new collaborative space from SAP should not be viewed as a threat to SDN / BPX but rather as an environment that complements the existing collaborative tools in the community. Many corporations are resultant to participate in a “public community” with all its unpleasant –at least from a corporate perspective – characteristics. Perhaps, this new environment persuades those corporations from which most community members originate to be more active in the SAP ecosystem.

This new environment could also been viewed as one example of the changing nature of internet-based social networks in general in that such networks are now expanding to include other types of relationships. This idea on which this new collaborative space is based isn’t just restricted to corporate cooperation. What about a social network from a clinic that offers group therapy between an experienced therapist and a group of out-clinic patients. If the group understands that the therapist is obligated by his legal responsibility to not discuss patient information with others, the patients may be more willing to speak freely. Thus, such a “closed” group – bounded by a legal document / responsibility – might be much more effective than a normal chat room. This increased efficiency might also be relevant regarding corporate collaboration in such environments. 

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