Why SBS systems and intranets are(n’t) merging (yet)

May 12th, 2010 by Gia Lyons Leave a reply »

John Tropea recently commented,

Anyway, I always wonder why platforms like SBS are not the Intranet itself eg. Thoughtfarmer.

I have several clients who, in fact, are using Jive SBS as their intranet. Usually, they see SBS as the chance to collapse multiple intranets obtained through acquisitions into a single piazza, or to breathe new life into their traditional intranet, or to make content publishing much easier.

The issue, though, is when Corporate Communications needs to ensure communication delivery to individuals based on their employee type: managers see ABCD, contractors see A, European employees see BC, etc. (Actually, this is also true for more stuff, beyond the Corporate Voice stuff). They want to lock down a portion of the user’s landing page. This is something traditional, portal-based solutions from Days of Yore offer, but typically requires customization in SBS systems, where users have complete control over their landing page.

Another item we run into is that traditional intranets might include application integration in the form of, “hey, let’s put the top 3-5 actions a user is allowed to perform in our ERP/CRM/HRIS/whatever system (e.g., “Modify Customer Record”) and data relevant to the user based on their permissions in that system into a portlet/gadget/web part/widget, so that users can use them directly from the internet, but they can click through to dive into the full application if they need to.”

SBS systems approach this integration from a different angle, namely, “let’s bring all the activity going on in those applications (e.g., “John Tropea modified the Acme, Inc. customer record”) into the stream of activities scrolling by the user’s eyeballs in SBS. They can click through if they want to.” The integration is starting to go the other way, too. When you pop open your CRM/HRIS/ERP/Whatever app, you could start seeing messages such as, “John Tropea linked to this record in a discussion.”

So, what I think will really make SBS systems the eventual de facto intranet, beyond the social business interaction aspect, is when they can deliver directed content based on member type, make it stupid-simple to collect activity streams from other apps based on the user’s permissions and interests, and make it stupid-simple to surface actions and data from other apps, all in a way that makes sense to the user.

That last phrase is the kicker.

Update May 21

I’ve just learned that some have read this post and misinterpreted it to mean that Jive SBS cannot serve the needs of those who do, in fact, need to ensure corporate communications delivery to specific member types, or need to integrate with different enterprise applications. My opinions address the out-of-box functionality of the general category of applications called “social business software”, but I should have known better. Who uses anything out of the box these days (unless it’s an Apple mobile device)?

Rest assured, we have customers who have done both, and more, because Jive is probably one of the most extensible platforms out there.

Jive’s ease of use, platform flexibility, and customer orientation made its focused solution the ideal choice for our Ourspace initiative,” said Wolfgang Jastrowski, Swiss Re IT Director. “The extensible nature of the Jive SBS solution gives us ample flexibility as we continue to build out our platform and its capabilities. We’re especially excited about Jive’s new initiative to surface content and activities from almost any content management system (CMS) inside Jive SBS, making it possible to realize even greater business value through the integration of social media collaboration with content.

~ Jive Social Business Software Improves Responsiveness and Productivity at Swiss Re

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12 comments

  1. Always the same discussion… all departments / branches / subsidiares compete for a few squared inches on a landing page that is constrained by screen size. They don’t understand that the resource whose use have to optimize the most is users’ attention. The “old way” of designing intranets wastes their attention what means lost productivity, wasted time, wasted money.
    They should wonder how to maximize their “return on attention”. And a (large) part of the answer is in you post.

  2. Gia Lyons says:

    Bertrand, yes. Treat the user as you would a consumer, and “advertise” your HR/IT/Comms wares with attractive blurbs on their homepage. Only don’t make it annoying, and don’t be “advertisey” per se. Our point, I think, is that you shouldn’t clutter, but entice.

    As for the mandatory communications, that’s what email is for! ;)

  3. John Tropea says:

    Nice one. Yes integration and two-way activity streams are the way to go (a friendfeed type thing), and I recall Socialcast concentrating on this new area.

    Our Intranet team indeed want to blast news and information to segments…at the moment the Intranet just has news for all.

    A comment from our intranet team on one of my internal blog posts:

    “It proves most useful to users to get information upfront relating directly to their region, business or role as a default page-set. Of course, this entails an identity management system and change management which widens the scope of our project.”

    But still this seems one-way. To complement this is for the Intranet team, in joint effort with each segment, to collect both external and internal feeds. eg. Someone in a segment/region my already be blogging about external news about an industry, so harness that and feed it into that Intranet segment page

    The other way is to leave it up to people to create their own iGoogle type page like you have in Jive SBS, but in this example you could add non-Jive widgets as well eg. SAP info, etc…

    But research shows most people won’t personalise using a StartPage. So another idea, keeping with the Jive example is to make public themed startpages. But for these startpages to be part of the Intranet, where it could add widgets from systems like Jive and others.

    Anyway I envision the Intranet topic pages containing one-way pertinent info, but also aggregating other internal content, like blogs and discussions from other systems that exist in the organisation.

    So in the end the Intranet has born content that is official mixed with aggregated bottom-up content. Basically the Intranet brings it together.

    ThoughtFarmer 3.6 I guess take this a step further as their product which is similar to Jive SBS is designed against an Internet backdrop. So rather than having to harvest relevant blogs, etc…from other systems in the organisation, they are actually in the product itself.

    http://www.thoughtfarmer.com/products/new/

    Some related links:

    http://www.thoughtfarmer.com/blog/2009/12/03/intranet-personalization-that-works/

    http://www.steptwo.com.au/papers/cmb_staffsegments

    http://www.thoughtfarmer.com/blog/2010/01/18/why-igoogle-is-a-stupid-model-for-intranets/

    • Gia Lyons says:

      John, thanks for the details! Good stuff here.

      You said, “I envision the Intranet topic pages containing one-way pertinent info, but also aggregating other internal content, like blogs and discussions from other systems that exist in the organisation.”

      Absolutely agree here. I’ve seen clients do this, as well as use the intranet topic pages as a site to encourage questions about the topic – they end up serving as the one place to get “official” answers about that topic (e.g., HR benefits, IT processes) for questions that perhaps aren’t addressed in the seeded content, or can’t easily be found in it.

      You also said, “But research shows most people won’t personalise using a StartPage.”

      Can you point me to that research? I don’t have any data for or against your statement, so I’m interested.

      And just a note for those who might be comparing ThoughtFarmer to Jive SBS, Jive also has “blogs, etc.” in the product itself (John alludes to this, I’m just making my Marketing people happy by pointing it out explicitly. See more at http://www.jivesoftware.com/products.)

  4. John Tropea says:

    Oops my mistake…I thought the Nielsen article in this post pointed to research http://www.thoughtfarmer.com/blog/2010/01/18/why-igoogle-is-a-stupid-model-for-intranets/

    Played with Jive SBS…very good product.

    At the moment our document management system has community sites and now microblogging social network.

    I wonder what will happen if the Intranet gets all 2.0…potential clash or duplication of group spaces and network with the social features of our document management system. Important that all parties are part of a roundtable…and which backdrop to choose..DMS, Intranet, Standalone (like SBS)

  5. Joel Lundgren says:

    “So, what I think will really make SBS systems the eventual de facto intranet…is when they can deliver directed content based on member type, make it stupid-simple to collect activity streams from other apps based on the user’s permissions and interests, and make it stupid-simple to surface actions and data from other apps, all in a way that makes sense to the user.”

    So the obvious question, when will Jive SBS be able to do this?

  6. Bertrand Quesada says:

    One other requirement I guess SBS can not cover is the multilinguism required in some companies for the corporate Intranet.

    Let’s take a simple example: A company with offices in the US, Canada and Quebec and France
    You will have legal requirements to provide part of the content (say all that is related to internal policies, HR, …) in French for Quebec and France but also of course in English…
    Then, the collaboration language will be English just to make sure everyone can get involved in the conversations.

    Of course SBS allow you to translate the UI, but they do not manage localization of the content itself (same content being published in several languages) with an aggregation of all social interactions on this content (i.e. comments, recommendations…). That’s tricky, but whenever you want to do business in Europe with SBS and try to position it as the Intranet, you will face this issue… And I don’t speak yet about the trade unions.

    • Gia Lyons says:

      Bertrand, you said,

      “One other requirement I guess SBS can not cover is the multilinguism required in some companies for the corporate Intranet.”

      This isn’t unique to SBS systems. Vendors or partners must take the time to write all the language packages necessary. This is one reason why some software vendors take a bit more time getting to market with their wares – they’re writing 20+ language packages. It would be cool if someone could innovate that process, since MTSs still aren’t at the level of a human brain who speaks the language natively.

  7. JB Holston says:

    Late to the party here, but this is exactly the sort of thing we’re doing with SocialSites when in a SharePoint context. Cutting through the noise to connect right people to one another and content — from anywhere (the intranet is becoming an app server layer more than a destination) and to anywhere is why IMO we’ve had so much success with the largest enterprises. Our accenture and deloitte case studies (sorry do not have links) have some good examples.

  8. Gia Lyons says:

    JB, this conversation is about delivering the Voice of the corporation to targeted employees, not “cutting through the noise to connect right people to one another and content.” Please, don’t use my personal blog to advertise your company, particularly when it’s completely out of context of the conversation.