The closer the link between collaboration tools and core enterprise applications, the easier it will be for folks to convert their ideas and discussions into actions that result in real business gains. Until that happens, skeptics will continue to view collaboration as little more than an empty buzz word.
Last summer when I interviewed David Meyer, SVP for business insight and emerging technologies at SAP, about StreamWork, which the company bills as a "collaborative decision-making environment," he told me SAP had plans to integrate StreamWork with some of its existing enterprise applications, especially those related to marketing, sales and product development.
SAP has obviously been working on it. According to itWorldCanada, the company is integrating StreamWork with its CRM applications, following earlier integration with its product lifecycle management and Business Objects strategy management apps. Integration with Business Objects business intelligence is also in the pipeline. The story (free registration required) quotes Holly Simmons, SAP's senior director of marketing for Business Objects, who says the goal for StreamWork is to bring social elements into all areas of the business, rather than having isolated silos of collaboration across the enterprise.
The itWorldCanada story mentions a StreamWork user, the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, that has integrated StreamWork with Google Apps via an application programming interface (API) and offers it to board members via its intranet. The 12 board members use StreamWork to communicate with each other in between monthly board meetings. Meeting minutes are posted in StreamWork where members use a polling function to vote on whether to approve, amend or reject items, and they also use StreamWork to provide feedback on projects such as a new website launch.
Other organizations also see the intranet as a logical place for a centralized collaboration hub, as evidenced by the experience of the American Hospital Association, which allows employees to access collaboration software from Socialtext alongside key applications such as self-service IT, HR and payroll via its intranet.
Writing for ASUG.com, a community of SAP users, Courtney Bjorlin quotes Jack Miller, SAP's Global VP of collaboration and cloud, who says StreamWork will become SAP's platform for collaboration. Miller tells Bjorlin that deep integration with enterprise applications is what sets StreamWork apart from popular collaboration software like Microsoft's SharePoint. (At least if you're an SAP shop, I guess.)
As an example, Miller says StreamWork users will be able pull BI dashboards and reports from Business Objects, and to initiate a StreamWork activity directly from a report in the Business Objects environment. Miller calls StreamWork "a game changer in our customers' eyes."
Bjorlin includes other information, including pricing, about StreamWork that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere:
SAP obviously hopes to appeal to IT organizations with the Enterprise edition of StreamWork. Plenty of companies selling social software tout user-led adoption, but some also offer enterprise-grade authentication and other features that should be popular with IT. When I interviewed Ram Menon, chief marketing officer and EVP of worldwide strategy for Tibco, about his company's tibbr software, he told me
I think people who say IT doesn't need to be involved don't understand how enterprises work. But business people must bring IT in for certain governance issues. ... IT will need to be involved in large enterprises. That's a fact. It can't be Joe and Bob in Building Four doing things on their own.
However, a CIO.com story about StreamWork makes an interesting point. It quotes Jon Reed, an independent analyst who tracks SAP and a StreamWork user himself, who says while back-end integration is important, SAP must also improve StreamWork's look and feel to help ensure user adoption. He rightly notes that it should be simple and intuitive enough that "someone would choose it over a conference call or an email thread."
Users tend to cling to their established collaboration practices, as I wrote in my post about a survey that found a whopping 80 percent of email users with SharePoint access continue to email documents back and forth rather than using SharePoint.