Editor's Note: This article is part of our Future of Business Technology series which focuses on what is happening to business today as a result of technology, and in turn, what's happening to the economy, the job market and IT careers.
This is when you miss the voice of the great voice-over announcer Don LaFontaine. "In a world," he would intone...
In a world where the customer defines value as much as the company with which she does business, the new definition of "strategic alignment" becomes the effort to make the business see eye-to-eye with the customer. The most extensive changes to the architecture of applications have come from the once-niche market of customer relationship management. Pairing the realm of business activities and business processes together with the realm of customer contacts and sales team management, Salesforce and others happened upon a communications platform.
"I think that there are processes that, for many years historically, did not seem to be collaborative or social in nature," explains Anna Rosenman, senior product marketing manager for Salesforce's Chatter platform. She continues:
"We didn't necessarily perceive medicine as particularly social. Every single business process -- whether you're talking about sales, service, marketing, innovation at its core -- is collaborative and social in general. Before 1999, these technologies were creating silos. People were struggling to get the information that they needed in order to be collaborative, and sell as a team."
Cloud dynamics already has enough momentum behind it that neither Salesforce nor any other firm needs to boost it along at this point. The trend that Salesforce devotes most of its attention to now is social architecture. At its core, social architecture is the development of platforms and apps that enable multiple users to work with and contact each other on the same documents, through their respective consoles. They're not just instant messengers, but rather common staging areas for material being contributed to by members of a team.
When everyone who's working together sees the same work product, the old desktop-based, window-driven model of work becomes ill-suited. When everyone's connected, you don't enter and exit a program. Rather, you're in a collective workspace joined by colleagues, and the programs are brought into and out of that space.
Theoretically, this model of working could be deployed without the cloud entering the picture whatsoever; there is nothing about social architecture that is intrinsic to cloud services. How the cloud plays into this model is in a few particular, though critical, ways:
- It presents an ecosystem for deploying social apps, which in this collective workspace essentially replaces the desktop as the working metaphor.
- It opens up opportunities for partners to cooperate as colleagues for specific tasks, on a shared platform that restricts access to partner firms' private material.
- As Salesforce's Rosenman points out, socially architected applications share the same data source. Data is typically warehoused and queried through Web services; other sources of data that had been exclusive to packaged apps before cloud dynamics, are integrated and made available through a single channel. She believes this is necessary because social apps users demand a "single source of truth," rather than a bunch of exported and imported documents stuck into virtual folders and file cabinets. "Social can't be somewhere else," she says, "it can't be in another silo."
- It enables a working model where activities are triggered by events -- not just planned events on a calendar, but also milestones defined by rules and stored business processes. In a social app, these events may be displayed in what Salesforce calls a feed -- a running list of things happening now, in a format that's certainly familiar to any user of Twitter or LinkedIn. "Whenever you have any kind of a conversation within your business, it has to be actionable," says Rosenman. "You can't just consume information; you have to be able to approve things in a feed."
- Not only should a social platform or app recognize data from this single source, but should encourage its users to bring new data (including the unstructured variety) into that source, and where applicable, give them the tools to integrate it. Salesforce has dubbed this function pro-active organization.
Scott M. Fulton, III has chronicled the history of computing as it happened, from the unveiling of the Apple III to the undoing of MS-DOS to the rise of the cloud. Scott was one of the original online managers of the Delphi network (you remember modems, don’t you?), part of the original editorial team of Computer Shopper (you remember paper, don’t you?), the Senior News Editor at Tom’s Hardware and the original TG Daily (you remember... never mind), and for four years served as managing editor of Betanews. He’s the author of 17 books and over 5,000 articles printed worldwide in multiple languages. Scott also appears as contributing technology analyst on NTN24’s Ciencia, Salud y Tecnología. So basically, he has at least one finger in just about every medium, in hopes that maybe one of them will take root and bear fruit. You never know, something could happen. His fingers are crossed. (Which could explain the typing problems.) While he’s waiting, Scott and his wife Jennifer, herself a best-selling author (where do you think he gets it?), run Ingenus, LLC, an editorial services provider for technology and higher education publishers. Right now, their daughter is probably on Tumblr telling her friends how Dad keeps finding something new to go wrong with his VCR. You can follow Scott on Twitter at @SMFulton3.
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