For the better part of the year, companies like Salesforce, Google and a host of others have been screaming one word from the mountaintop: "social."
Whether it's adding Facebook connections to business apps, making Twitter and another app play nice, or consistently updating what you're doing in an internal enterprise feed; social is all the rage.
Salesforce.com is the true trumpeter of social. At its Dreamforce 2011 and Cloudforce New York events, CEO and Chairman Marc Benioff played the role of revival tent preacher and said, in so many words: "go social, or go home." To prove his point, he pedaled out marquee customers like Burberry, Toyota, Coca-Cola -- big name after big name that now pray at the social church and are seeing big business boosts because of it.
Loosely defined as a confluence of social, mobile and open cloud solutions, Benioff's vision of the social enterprise is spreading.
But it's not just Benioff and Salesforce pushing the social boom. Other major companies are taking attributes once reserved only for Facebook and burrowing them into the enterprise.
Google, too, has jumped into the fold, most recently offering its Google Apps users access to its Google+ social network platform to enable it for business use. Google Apps users can now leverage the social platform, which lets users put friends, colleagues and other acquaintances into groups called "circles" based on relationship or other factors. From there, they can communicate and collaborate with certain groups, launch video conferences and sharing via a feature called Hangout with Extras and work together on Google Docs.
And in the middle of the social revolution is the channel. If cloud computing made solution providers conductors, then the "social revolution," as Benioff bills it, requires a true choreographer.
By many accounts, the social revolution is already happening. But for solution providers, it's appears to be just the beginning.
"This has hit a nerve for companies that they were seeing but couldn't articulate," said Narinder Singh, co-founder and chief strategy officer for San Mateo, Calif.-based cloud provider Appirio, which just recently launched a social toolkit of apps to help bridge the divide between social platforms and add more functionality to customer social infrastructures.
Singh said the idea of a social enterprise has sparked customers' interest -- more so than with cloud computing. Singh said with cloud computing, there was always an "if," with social it's "when and how." And that has opened doors for Appirio to come in and ask, "How do we make you a social enterprise?"
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While the opportunities are there, Singh said right now the idea of a social enterprise is still "super early" and while many customers aren't coming straight out and asking for it, they are wowed when shown a possibility they haven't considered.
Currently, Singh said roughly 80 percent to 90 percent of Appirio's customers are using Salesforce.com and Salesforce Chatter, the company's internal business social media network. A smaller percentage are using adjacent products that tie in social functionality. And another percentage are ready to make the leap to chatter and the discussion is happening.
"In three to four years things like Chatter will be like e-mail -- you don't need to make a business case for e-mail, you just get it," Singh said. The overall social revolution, however, may take a bit longer, Singh said, estimating a 7-year window for it to truly form, giving early leaders time to surface.
Among Appirio's customer-base, Singh said, roughly two thirds or so are really looking at collaboration and how they collaborate more efficiently and effectively, while about one third is looking to "supercharge products" to become more social.
"Marketwise, we're super early with social enterprise," Singh said. "But in our customers it's a very frequent conversation. Companies are asking: How can we use things like this internally? It's a confusing place where people are looking for clarity. But now they're convinced it's not science fiction."
Another opportunity the social sea change is creating for solution providers is the ability to tackle some of the business-to-consumer (B2C) market. Most providers typically dealt only in business to business, but a social enterprise that extends out to customers and consumers creates a B2C pipeline that many solution providers haven't had the opportunity to take advantage of.
"We love the idea of this giving us entree into another segment," he said. "This is a way of considerably leaping forward."
Corinne Sklar, vice president of marketing for New York solution provider Bluewolf, said the drive toward the social enterprise stems from the need for companies to step up collaboration capabilities.
"Everybody wants to increase collaboration. They want to understand how to do that," she said. "We're getting questions. It's all about the expanded, collaborative workforce."
The conversation with customers starts, Sklar said, with questions around internal collaboration, which leads to the question of external collaboration. And with all of those questions, Bluewolf has seen a jump in the number of assessments to determine clients' readiness for collaboration and more social capabilities.
Sklar said many of Bluewolf's long term Salesforce customers are ahead of the curve when it comes to social, newer customers are still testing the waters.
"Among long-term customers, more than 70 percent have engaged around social [technology]," she said, saying that the social enterprise jumped from hype to reality about a year ago.
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But according to recent findings from Bluewolf, many businesses recognize the need to be social, but there are still concerns to be hashed out before they make the social leap.
A recent survey conducted by Bluewolf earlier this year shows that companies are getting serious about going social and creating opportunities for solution providers to take an active role in that transformation. According to the survey, 61 percent of respondents said social media is a high priority for their company, 36 percent are taking a wait and see approach and 3 percent have no social plans. Meanwhile, 60 percent of companies said every business needs to be a social enterprise; 34 percent said many businesses should be social, but not all; but 6 percent said it's not essential for any business to be a social enterprise.
Additionally, 56 percent of businesses polled said they allow employees access to external social networks during work hours; 48 percent track company-related link sharing and mentions on the Web and social networks; 40 percent support social media internally; and 7 percent do none of those things. Further, 65 percent are eying social tools to communicate with partners and stakeholders, 48 percent want to track company-related discussions on the Web and social networks and 42 percent want to offer a private internal social network for employees.
There are still hang-ups, however. Bluewolf found management and ownership of social media are major concerns for 58 percent of respondents, along with employing proper metrics and proving value, 54 percent, and loss of productivity, 27 percent. Yet 52 percent are extremely confident in investing in social media and experiencing positive results; while 35 percent are somewhat confident and 9 percent are not confident.
Sklar said the key to a successful social enterprise is the people. "How do you get people to start thinking collaboratively?" she said.
For its part, Salesforce is priming partners to attack the social enterprise now. With ISVs as the lynchpin, Salesforce is putting programs and opportunities in place to get the social ball rolling.
"Our ISVs have been dealing with the vision of the social enterprise since before it every really existed," Salesforce Senior Vice President of Global ISV Alliances Ron Huddleston said.
There are various partner opportunities around social enterprise, Huddleston said. Distributors can take packaged social enterprise offerings to market; a new category called Saaggregators (SaaS aggregators) can deliver it to customers; more traditional VARs can partner with ISVs; and systems integrators can tie everything together.
"There's an opportunity to create new solutions," he said. "The social enterprise is the future of cloud computing."