Companies turning to enterprise social business for collaboration, integration

Expert columnist: Open source computing creates new opportunities to collaborate across enterprise processes and integrate with proprietary applications.

The explosion in open source computing and cloud computing options has created a new level of thinking in the design of enterprise process execution and how these processes use -- or simply integrate with-- traditional and proprietary software. So-called two-tier computing, which combines  the on-premises applications traditionally used to execute business processes with cloud-based applications, is also gaining acceptance, particularly where formal operations are temporarily needed (such as mergers and acquisitions) or user levels have not achieved critical mass to deploy a full instance of an application. Enterprise social business tools sit at the crossroads of these trends.

With enterprise social business tools, organizations can leverage the collaborative effects of having processes executed within their “four walls” or throughout their value chain in either a cloud-based or on-premises environment, using either a proprietary or open source platform. Key organizational functions such as purchasing, supplier management and product development appear to be good candidates for enterprise social business. Early results look promising.

Open source computing options for collaboration

I recently had the opportunity to drop in on the DrupalCon 2012 event in Denver. Drupal is an open source computing platform that allows for a number of enterprise-wide activities to be executed in a secure and structured environment. To date, larger traditional platforms that are widely used for program microsites and collaboration--such as Microsoft SharePoint--and enterprise data management (EDM) platforms,  such as Oracle mySQL, provide ready-to-use application program interfaces (APIs) to Drupal and other components of a Linux application management process commonly referred to as LAMP.

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Bryan House is the vice president of marketing for Acquia, a commercial open source software company providing products, services, and technical support for Drupal, based in Burlington, Mass. In my recent interview with him, House talked about the open source options available for enterprise processes. “Some purchasing networks, such as the U.S. federal government, run very well on an open source platform,” he said. “Other functions we see taking advantage of this platform approach include new product development, resource management and case management.”  
Case management in this sense refers to a combination of enterprise content management (ECM) and passing files from one party to another using workflow, and is most often employed in health services organizations. One example of case management is California’s HealthNet, which uses the Alfresco ECM system. According to House, Drupal takes the metadata and taxonomy from Alfresco and then handles the approvals and document routing.

Enterprise social business tool adoption trends

Some proprietary enterprise social business platforms are also growing in use.  Jive Software, based in Palo Alto, Calif., recently announced a number of APIs in support of its Jive 5 release. Even traditional ERP companies are taking advantage of Jive to develop marketing programs. The America’s SAP User Group is a longstanding Jive customer.

However, the idea of porting to an open source model, where according to House “you can download a complete copy of your application system, anytime, anywhere,” is compelling. Given a secured environment, even regulatory management processes--such as HIPAA compliance for health systems--can be executed safely using open source.

In the end, combining cloud, on-premises, open source, and proprietary platforms is a question of the organization’s culture, resources, finances and needs. “The biggest thing in the software social business space is the flexibility that an open source platform such as Drupal provides,” House explains. “The amount of heavy lifting in each of these [open source] proprietary tools, like Jive, simply becomes unsustainable in terms of cost and effort.” (Both Jive Software and SAP were unavailable for comment.) 

My own experience suggests that user adoption is affected by a combination of many factors that depend on a person’s position and perspective in the organization. Executives will want to preserve transparency and cost structures, while developers will focus on ease of integration and reusable code. For any new technology, adoption should come in risk-managed and well-defined envelopes so that organizations can learn to walk before they run. Where they run--and how fast they run--is up to each organization to decide.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

William Newman is managing principal of Newport Consulting Group, an independent management and technology consulting firm based in Clarkston, Mich. Contact him via email at wnewman@newportconsgroup.com or follow him on Twitter (@william_newman).

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