Social Computing Matters Now
Look around. Whether it’s LinkedIn, YouTube, Wikipedia, FaceBook, the SAP Developer Network (SDN), the Business Process Expert (BPX) Community, the Business Objects Community (BOC), or any number of other social networks, it’s clear that social computing is here to stay.
That’s because, in addition to generating endless fresh ideas and engaging people from diverse fields and interests, social networks allow people to reach beyond traditional barriers. Moreover, social computing lets people connect with others to create innovative new technologies, consider new solutions to old problems, and help to build vibrant, expansive online communities.
Just what is Social Computing…Exactly?
Perhaps the most noted definition has roots in the concept of Web 2.0, a term coined by Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media (and SAP TechEd’07 keynote speaker): “Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move of the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.” (O’Reilly, 2006).
Since that statement was made, a number of new definitions have emerged. For instance, Georgia Demetriou, an advanced degree candidate at the Manchester Business School in the UK, defines social computing as the use of any set of “Web 2.0 technologies that have taken over the Web world indicating a new range of acceptable behaviours for communication, collaboration and information exchange” in her thesis, Participation in Online Collaborative Communities within Organisational Contexts: The Case of SAP’s Community Network.
Like the myriad definitions of social computing, the tools by which people interact with each other online also abound. We have blogs, which often incorporate lively images or videos; forums, which enable virtual Q&A sessions; wikis, which encourage group brainstorming and distributed authorship; social networks, which bring people together around shared interests; podcasts, which allow people to listen to or view content when and where they want; and RSS feeds, which tap into new and emerging content as it’s created. (And that’s just the tip of the social computing iceberg.)
Yet as diverse as the tools are, they have one thing in common: they’re all dynamic, enabling “mass review, collective contribution, feedback and refinement” (Demetriou, p.25).
Connecting People across Time Zones
So whether you’re a developer in Tel Aviv, Israel, or Akron, Ohio, social computing opens up a new world of connections and contacts. Literally.
You can meet with peers and colleagues at all hours of the day or night to discuss fixes to IT issues, or even larger implementation strategies – without ever stepping away from your laptop. Moreover, you can get the solution in less time than if you were working on your own, or within the fixed boundaries of your own company.
At Cardinal Healthcare, for example, participation in the BPX Community helped to accelerate a major new project. The company had a pressing requirement to implement a new business process in just four weeks.
One of the developers at Cardinal had a technical question relating to the use of a Guided Procedure. So he posted it to an SDN forum. Not only did he get help from an SDN member within twenty-four hours, but he also got advice from an SAP employee. Through his social network, this same developer was able to discover the answer to a key question and keep the project on track.
Leading to Technological Innovations
Groups of people can use online social networks to think together in new ways. The right kind of online social network can help to identify the problem or need, then gather together collaborators to work out the problem, and finally, facilitate the communication necessary to find the solution or innovation.
Independent blogger / analyst and “Enterprise Irregular” Dennis Howlett wrote about this beautifully in ESME: anatomy of a community based project, as did Richard Hirsch of Siemens in The specified item was not found. on the same project.
Also take the case of the City of Dortmund, which used SDN forums to create a cutting-edge Mobile Infrastructure (MI) application for its urban engineering department. The application was to be integrated with the City’s global positioning system (GPS) and mobile geographic information system (GIS) software.
According to one developer at the City of Dortmund, engagement with other SDN members not only helped in the creation of this MI application, but today makes it possible for the in-house development team to solve 50 percent of its problems through regular participation in the forums.
A similar story comes from Yorktowne Cabinetry, which sought to create a customer-facing portal using Enterprise Portal four years ago. Its developers found that help from other members of SDN solved intermittent issues along the way, and also led to a more innovative, sophisticated portal application.
And over time, Yorktowne developers found they weren’t the ones asking the questions on SDN forums; instead, they’d become experts in the use of Enterprise Portal, and were now regularly sought out for their advice!
Participants in SDN and BPX also play an important role in the direction of SAP software, including innovations that SAP makes to its product line. For example, a piece of code submitted by Top Contributor Michal Krawczyk made it into SAP Enhancement Package 1 for SAP NetWeaver 7.0 recently.
Creating a New Model for Learning
In the pre-Web 2.0 world, job training meant taking time out of your job, traveling to a training facility, poring through texts, and/or sitting through lengthy lectures. In the Web 2.0 world, however, participants can take part in real-time or “just-in-time” training, in which training is made available when the trainee needs to apply the new information. Learning can happen 24/7. Moreover, in this new world, the trainee doesn’t sit in a classroom full of other trainees, but can interact directly with the experts.
At Statoil, for example, one developer was working on his SAP XI Certificate and relied heavily on SDN for support during his learning process. At Tesoro Corp., another developer got “on-the-spot” training within 30 or 40 minutes of each issue cropping up.
In the SDN and BPX and Business Objects communities, just-in-time training may also mean engaging an SAP Mentor. The SAP Mentor initiative identifies and provides special status to exceptional and high-value members of these communities who can share knowledge with others. SAP Mentors are role models who differentiate themselves through the high quality and frequency of their community contributions, and who build momentum for the community as a whole.
It’s all there in the Thesis: a Comprehensive Overview of both Collaborative Communities and the SAP Community Network
The question of value always comes up… value to the individual community member, value to their employer, and value to the sponsoring organization. As Georgia Demetriou says in her extensive and comprehensive paper, it’s clear:
“Social computing shifts computing to the edges of the network, and empowers individual users … to manifest their creativity, engage in social interaction, contribute their expertise, share content, collectively build new tools, disseminate information, and assimilate collective bargaining power (Parameswaran and Whinston, 2007). As these … ideas and applications enter organisations their purpose is also translated into business value, organisational creativity and industry innovation.”
Further, she concludes:
“collaborative communities can deliver different dimensions of value to different recipients … highly influenced by the particular participants, their roles in the community and their corresponding behaviours in undertaking activities such as sharing information, exchanging ideas and generating knowledge.”
For much more insight into collaborative communities and our own SAP Community Network (SDN, BPX, Business Objects – augmented by the SAP TechEd and SAP Tech Tour events), see the full research paper just published in our SCN library through the generous agreement of its author.
Business Networks and Customer Value are at SAP’s Core
At SAP, we understand the importance of business and social networks — and we understand their value to our customers, partners, and to SAP itself. That’s why we began down this path — with SDN — five years ago, it’s why we dedicate so much energy and passion to the success of our community members through these “Enterprise 2.0” methods, and it’s why this topic is a strategic imperative and differentiator for SAP.
We want to hear from you about how you use social computing, what benefits you derive from our SDN, BPX, and Business Objects communities today, and what you want to see from us in the future that will help you accelerate your success. SCN Support! You have our commitment that we will continue to make all of our social media channels, tools, and programs the best they can be, to your benefit.