Why all the recent intrigue about the notion of something like a Facebook in the Enterprise? Simple, Facebook is people-driven. It's easy to to tell what people are doing on Facebook and nearly impossible inside a company. Check out this quick interview with CIO-of-the-year, JP Rangaswami, who makes some interesting quick points on the potential values of social networking inside the enterprise:
You can look at the flows that matter rather than the flows of politics.
Allows you to form groups of interest--no different than arranging a meeting
Allows you to communicate in an efficient way vs blasting email
Opportunity for employees to subscribe to what they're interested in
Easy to tell what colleagues and subordinates are doing
Capture the coffee shop/water cooler as persistent, teachable, shareable, learnable content--a huge win since those are the most valuable, amorphous, softer communications that help get past the assembly line mindset and hierarchies
Now we can understand these relationships, how people really work and what they do as part of that work
That said, social-networking is still outside-of-work focused and it's only an ingredient of a larger enterprise social productivity system. But it does map to a painful promise that we never received as part of the intranet efforts 10 years ago: Intranets were supposed to be the common space for companies to find information, each other and then somehow collaborate.
Instead, Intranets are junk drawers. They are bolted together tools that people generally work around, not in. Most represent something like a city that experienced a hyper-economic growth spurt and couldn't keep up with the urban planning, then ended up having the bottom pulled out ten years ago. That's about when companies had teams doing anything other than maintain intranets. Those teams went out and found lots of ingredients like knowledge bases, directories, training modules, document repositories, project management software, forums, etc and then spent years trying to sew them together. Problem was, no one knew how to do that in a way that created something useful for everyone. There was no vision. The Navy Marine Corps spent $8B and seven years trying to figure out their Intranet.
The main problem is also that back then, people took a communication vs collaboration-centric approach. Intranets were places to get get stuff. They were a broadcasting system. Need the latest HR form? The approved price-per-gallon to put on expense reports? The Intranet would tell you. Check out the advantages that Wikipedia lists, among them that Intranets can:
Promote common corporate culture: Every user is viewing the same information within the Intranet.
Ultimately, there should be no better reflection of a company than their "intranet" (or whatever new name is the result of all this convergence). This starts with having a solid strategy and vision, then working to achieve it. It will require more than the software. It will require a whole new collaboration-centric approach with an eye towards thinking deeply about the type of environment companies want to build. The debate about which executive sponsor will drive enterprise collaboration is still in flux.
We're at a crossroads again. Collaboration tools, content management and office productivity is converging and either companies will approach things strategically or they'll end up with "junk drawer 2.0." We see this everyday. Either we're talking to business-focused leaders looking for a comprehensive, strategic solutions or to companies who have appointed a technician to go buy parts and then sew something together. Our industry has to help companies peer ahead by painting a clear vision of what a collaboration-centric, Social Productivity system looks like, otherwise: no vision, no decision.