Larry Ellison of Oracle has been around the IT industry from before it was called the IT industry. While he doesn’t always predict the future well (cloud computing… ahem) he is a keen observer of large enterprises. He is also willing to say what he thinks. That must drive the corporate communications people at Oracle insane but it is refreshing for the rest of us. Mr. Ellison, in speaking about Oracle’s cloud platform at Oracle OpenWorld, made it known where he thinks Social (meaning enterprise social networks) fits into the IT ecosystem. In his view it is part of the infrastructure like a database, Java VM, or a web server. It is just another component of the Big Red Stack and every application built with it.
He’s right of course. Social has gone mainstream and is now a piece of middleware, infusing every application with the same set of capabilities. The problem is that while Social becomes as common as electricity, innovation is slowing. Updates are mostly incremental improvements. Vendors add templates to enable quicker paths to collaboration. They have announced partnerships to provide a more “rich” experience by integrating with a mission critical application such as a system of record. It’s all just nibbling at the edges which is to be expected. Infrastructure solves a limited set of problems by delivering a standard set of features across all applications. Big changes in infrastructure are too disruptive to be of use to developers and IT professionals.
The major problem still exists – knowledge workers don’t use these systems. When first introduced into a company there’s usually a lot of activity. Over time, however, only a small group of employees realize enough value in social networks at work to keep at it. I’ve been saying this for years: corporate adoption is high; the number of users is high; the number of dedicated daily users is small. No matter how good the UI or extensive the templates only a select group uses social networking features and applications.
What has changed (for me at least) is that I no longer think that is a bad thing. It’s actually the normal thing. Not everyone needs or wants an enterprise social network. It’s not an age problem or a job function issue. It’s not about onboarding or tricking people through gamification. The reason is personalities. Group sharing, the major expression of the social network, is not something everyone is comfortable with or finds useful. There are returns for those who do like to interact this way. Not for everyone but for some.
And this is why Larry Ellison and Oracle are right about Social. It needs to be embedded everywhere and in everything so that it is always available to people who want to use it. It’s time to get over this idea that everyone has to use social features for it to be of value. CRM is valuable even though only a small fraction of sales professionals use it to the utmost. By making it part of the stack, by embedding social everywhere, those who want it can have it. And those who don’t? Well, email works most of the time now doesn’t it?