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SAP’s Social Layer: Making Collaboration Real

You’ll recall a few weeks back I wrote a post about attending SAP’s SAPPHIRENOW user conference this past May [disclosure: SAP has been a Social Media Group client since 2007] discussing the need for organizers of events-based programs to  both consider and optimize their “digital layer”. Not a new concept, but perhaps a more holistic way of framing it.

There’s an interesting parallel to this theme in another piece of news that was discussed at SAPPHIRENOW. Our group of bloggers and digital influencers received a briefing from Sameer Patel, someone I consider to be a great friend, and who is also SAP’s new Global Vice President and GM, Enterprise Social and Collaborative Software. What that fairly long-winded title means is that Sameer is in a newly-created role, in charge of something called Project Robus – an effort to weave together SAP’s “collaboration layer” at the product level, with particular emphasis on the notion of helping bring social business to life by allowing users to have access to the same collaboration workstream, regardless of which SAP application they happen to be using.

Sameer laid out the three points around which, in his experience, people collaborate. They are databusiness process and content (documents). He feels that part of the reason there’s been a lag in the adoption of truly effective collaboration at scale inside most organizations is that efforts to date have been largely tool-driven, rather than focused on the why. I believe him. There are parallels to this behavior in social media outside the enterprise – routine “shiny object” epidemics distract from, and potentially damage, effective use of social tools to reach customers; this is largely because the first steps of listening to and understanding what your consumers want from you are forgotten in the mad rush to the next “it” platform. This frenzy leaves in its wake abandoned tools and profiles, wasted resources, and a nagging suspicion that the whole thing might be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. In the long term, this translates into a loss of competitive advantage; firms find themselves lagging ever farther behind, largely because they’re focusing on the wrong things.

As he noted in the post announcing his new role,

“Many [executives] are still looking for that bridge that practically takes them from a world designed around structured process to one that gets them to blend collaboration at every step of business tasks and processes, and in a way that drives revenue and margin, lowers cost and mitigates risk.”

So it’s Sameer’s mandate to try and help do that, by re-focusing and re-packaging the “collaboration layer” across SAP’s product suite into a comprehensive social software strategy. One interesting question (from my marcom-skewed perspective) is how this will be marketed – Sameer’s team is, in his own words, “horizontally structured”, meaning they will work across product groups to bring this together. They’re a horizontal group inside a vertical organization – this pattern tends to be highly disruptive and it will be interesting to see how consistency in product messaging, results measurement and execution will be managed; that’s a lot of stakeholders.

Despite the looming and significant challenges, it’s a really interesting approach and, frankly, seems in line with SAP’s professed “trademark approach” to integrate their applications. It will be interesting to watch progress as Project Robus matures – there’s definitely a sense of “the need for speed” and the question will be whether SAP – and their clients – are ready, and willing to pay for it.

Join The Conversation

  • Jul 2 Posted 5 years ago Chris O'Connor

    The analysis is SPOT ON - business leaders are having a hard time trusting Social "shiny objects" but are waiting for true collaboration inside business processes.

    Think about how you go about hiring someone - request a resume, bring someone in, interview, gather feedback, make offer, negotiate, etc. Now think how that changes if you know the person you're hiring through a friend. You follow the same rough process, but short circuit steps or make quicker decisions based on the feedback of your friend.

    I also like the horizontal structure, it's similar to how SFDC is starting to see mobile. Next step will be to bake "social" into each product as a "social first" or at least "social as important as any other feature" strategy. I'm skeptical that SAP's hierarchical product management style can make this happen.

  • Sameer Patel's picture
    Jul 2 Posted 5 years ago Sameer Patel

    Hi Marty, thanks for the kind comment about me. 

    The second phase of social will require a mature appreciation for process, data, content and yes, people. Im not denying that its a challange however, I think the problem with enterprise social 1.0 has precicely been this: jamming a dumb social layer into the organization and assuming that people will shift to this new work space just cause it looks more approachable. 

    I wont go into details about how we will execute but the true answer to a grown up version of social will only come from bringing all these componenets together. Any one who contends that social in the enterprise is as easy as what we see on the public social web hasnt really thought through what it will take to get enterprise social, right (not suggesting you are). BTW, we already have early elements of this notion of social-meets-process ready and in market, with over a million paid subscribers.

    All that said, I think its worth the effort to do correctly - end users looking to improve performance deserve a better experience. And  there are simpler ways to execute that wont push this out to Web 3.0 so Stay tuned... :)

    Appreciate the thoughtful comment. 

  • Jun 28 Posted 5 years ago Marty Ercoline

    First of all, great guy.  Secondly, best of luck.  SAP is an ERP system that focuses on moving digits and bytes around the organization.  there isn't much gleam to its UI and most companies have spent a virtual fortune making SAP somewhat 'usable' for the employee.  Now, they want to add a 'social thread' or 'social service' throughout the entire SAP platform?? Wow.  In my experienced opinion (based on years of SAP and Social Business implementations) this will require complete overhaul of the core SAP architecture, or completely new layer must be constructed to sit on top of SAP to provide this type of 'social service'.....then you have to do the same with all the non-SAP proiprietary bolt-ons that come from 3rd parties.  By the time this project is completed, we'll be on Web 3.0.      

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