Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks not only continue to grow in popularity, but they have also become symbols for a new generation of applications that are characterized by so called “social” features. Given the ever-increasing number of social networks – including the IT-giants Google and Microsoft recently announcing their own offerings – there certainly is a lot of buzz around “Social Media” or the term “social” these days. We would like to call it simply social business.
At the same time, it clearly shows that there are some very powerful dynamics at play that significantly impact the industry, consumer as well as enterprise IT. In fact, at SAP – we believe that we are amidst industry change as social applications offer superior capabilities to have technology better support human social behavior.
What do we mean by that and what is SAP doing in this regards?
Lee Iacocca, the former Chairman of Chrysler Corp., is known for saving an American icon, but he is also known for his many wise words on business. One quote that perfectly describes what is happening around social applications (although he did not relate the statement to it at that time of course) is the following: “Business, after all, is nothing more than a bunch of human relationships.”
Now, Mr. Iacocca please forgive us that we are using your statement for our purposes in a slightly different context, but – at SAP – we believe that it can be applied very nicely to the design of enterprise applications that better support human social behavior.
Don’t get us wrong. This is not to say that technology does not play an important role in business. In fact, the opposite is true and SAP’s success is proof for this. Information Technology has become absolutely elementary to many people’s lives, as well as business models of companies across the globe, with the rate of technology touching our lives growing rapidly.
Over the past decade, the Web has become an increasingly social place. Such applications support human social behavior very well, because individuals are “social animals”, who like to communicate, collaborate and compete. The term Social Web – defined as a set of social relations that link people through the World Wide Web – describes this phenomenon. In fact, it is the Social Web that now shows us how we not only can gather information on our environment, but how we as human beings benefit from social context, which allows us to better relate to known and unknown things around us. Think of you travelling to a city where you haven’t been before. The Social Web gives you plenty of intelligence and choice on what might be best to see and where to best stay based on your or your network’s interests.
It is evident that such social applications are distinctively different from traditional enterprise applications. B2B system automation is an important element of how today’s business world is run and they will continue to deliver tremendous value, but there are some key restrictions as the focus has been on supporting corporate operations, basically highly structured and well-defined processes. It is fair to say that these applications are process-centric first. However, they have failed to support employee actions that are conscious goal-directed processes that are less structured, but more flexible, such as highly collaborative activities.
Given the focus of traditional enterprise apps being on automating operations, motivation or social context is less important because an organization usually has a very limited set of very structured objectives. This is very different with apps that are designed for the user first, as individuals or groups choosing to participate in actions have very diverse motives, intentions, skills, roles, and ways to reach a goal.
Therefore, at SAP, we are adopting this notion to the design of innovative new OnDemand Solutions, showing us the way to a new generation of applications for the enterprise that are based on a completely new product vision of how enterprise applications are designed, and the focus these new applications give to the respective people using the software. Consequently, we have labeled these applications as People-centric Applications.
These applications are designed for the user first and now bridge the described gap between the process-centric and collaboration-tool centric worlds. Employees can now perform flexible business activities, while never losing the business context in such collaborative activities because the software allows for connections between people (e.g., sales representative) and business objects (e.g., opportunity).
Coming back to Mr. Iococca’s statement that “Business, after all, is nothing more than a bunch of human relationships.”, SAP’s People-centric Applications in this way allow for relationships to happen, to be managed, and to be leveraged for business actions.
In turn, it also means that such applications need to support the creation and nurturing of a user’s business network of course, which usually consists of a combination of internal (co-workers) and external (partners, customers, etc.) networks. For example, SAP’s new set of People-centric Applications not only leverage data from the enterprise, but is also leveraging external networks, such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.
Therefore, similar to what we observe in the Social Web (e.g., Google+, Facebook, etc.) social applications will need to allow users to merge networks. In a business context, it is very important to distinguish between internal networks and external networks. This is due to the fact integrating external networks into a company’s processes and collaboration is a very difficult and sometimes risky task as companies usually have very different IT infrastructures, which does not allow for easy integration between systems. Integrating business networks generally speaking also implies some form of process boundaries to be overcome.
Therefore, SAP’s ambition is to address such challenges in the design of its People-centric Applications as topics like process integration, as well as hot topics like information overload and data privacy, should to be taken very seriously.
In summary, collaboration clearly plays a crucial role in SAP’s future direction. This holds true for our new product vision around People-centric Applications, as well as for our relationship with customers.
SAP is very committed to Co-Innovation because we believe that it is time for a new category of enterprise applications that puts you, people in business, in focus. As a result, we count on our customers and interested business professionals to assist us in building out this new game-changing application approach. We know that we will not succeed if we act autonomously.
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SAP is very committed to bringing more solutions like SAP Sales OnDemand, SAP Travel OnDemand, and SAP StreamWork to market quickly, arming our customers with these new tools that overcome today’s challenges around collaborative activities. We want to have you experience the power of People-centric Applications first hand. Also feel free to check how collaboration helps to be better in sales – a perfect example for social / collaboration with SAP Sales OnDemand http://youtu.be/xR4J0X4-9Ek