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How SAP is handling the social media explosion

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SAP social collaboration strategy grinds forward with SAP JAM

SAP Jam is an improvement over SAP StreamWork in terms of integration with business processes, but questions still remain over its viability, William Newman writes.

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How SAP is handling the social media explosion

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Recently SAP announced the expansion of its new social business platform, SAP Jam, developed and marketed by SuccessFactors, a company it acquired in 2012. SAP Jam now has workflows that support a number of business scenarios and adds social media tools that can help advance an organization's objectives.

As a longtime user of StreamWork, SAP's enterprise collaboration software, I was intrigued by the apparent near-term strategy of letting the products sit on the shelves together. Now that SuccessFactors is firmly in control of the SAP cloud, the one- to two-year, post-merger blending of product portfolios is in full motion.

SAP Jam a step forward

StreamWork is like an old friend I used to trade baseball cards with as a kid. OK, it came out in 2010, but in the fast-changing social media world, three years is a long time. I have a lot of data on StreamWork because the free version from iCloud or Google Marketplace allows up to 250 MB of storage. As long as I keep it to business documents, limit the number of images in my libraries and open no more than five projects at a time, it works for me.

Enterprise users who buy expanded capabilities -- either in the SAP cloud or for private hosting -- prefer the simple organization and project flexibility. Projects can be organized around conversations among people who have been given access rights.

Thanks in part to its integration with the balanced scorecard features of mobile versions of BusinessObjects Strategy Management and other analytics applications, StreamWork is a good file exchange and sentiment tracker for projects and department-wide initiatives. At $13 per user per month, it's good, simple software that can handle just about any nonimage media.

SAP Jam session

But as Sameer Patel, global SAP vice president and general manager for enterprise social and collaborative software, explained in a recent webinar, "constructs that resemble 'Facebook for the enterprise' do not allow infusion across business applications, where work is getting done."

It’s safe to say that a lot of business decision makers are just too busy in their roles to experiment with social collaboration, especially if the payoff is unclear. As such, it's important to understand where to collaborate in each specific business process in different industries with different business practices.

And that has been the key challenge for enterprise users of StreamWork. "Data over six years of social networking has shown that the 'social water cooler' was detached from the rest of the business," Patel said. "The distance between social and its ability to solve business problems was very wide, and this made it difficult to cost-justify social business constructs when they were put through the same litmus test as, say, a CRM system."

It's an issue software companies struggle with as they play visionary with a practical audience. How to get work done and not just play around is a key question in a market where baby boomers still control the purse strings. While those buying criteria will change as Millennials fill the workplace over the next five to 10 years, the market requires social business tools to get things done.

SAP Jam is addressing this with a number of native, cross-section hooks into existing cloud and on-premises applications, SAP Cloud for Sales (formerly Sales OnDemand), CRM, learning management systems, employee on-boarding and even finance. This was the result of SAP designers following customers along in the "day in the life" of users to capture specific collaboration points in the business process where decisions in teams, approvals and consensus can best occur. While SAP StreamWork allows you to build and integrate in a more open platform, Jam comes right out of the cloud with predesigned connectors to SAP applications.

For example, you can connect Jam into SAP Cloud for Customers (formerly Customer OnDemand) for real-time collaboration on sales deals, conversations on customer positioning and forecast analytics against the customer's order history. Jam also comes fully rendered for the Apple iPad, making it both executive-friendly and fit for field sales teams.

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Jam also has a solid approach to bid management using this SAP Cloud for Customersconnection. I have worked on numerous proposals over the years. The various gate stages -- they often include a technical "red team" review and a "blue team" review for account messaging and client positioning -- require significant input to put forth a proposal that will resonate with the customer. Twenty years ago, project teams would be flown into a bid center and work around the clock. The largely qualitative discussions and assumptions that account teams develop during the bid-management process are clearly captured in Jam, allowing far-flung teams to work 24/7 globally and avoiding expensive travel costs.

The Jam architecture also bests StreamWork by letting you handle complex imagery, such as product geometries and even mixed media files, with greater ease.

Also, you can create and organize cross-functional and project teams, much as you can in Microsoft SharePoint. Second, Jam has an integrated connector to SharePoint. While I have not evaluated this integration for performance, the architecture appears to be a familiar reuse of the SAP NetWeaver Gateway topology. That means you can present SAP Business Suite and other line-of-business application data in SharePoint. While it is difficult to imagine a business scenario in which both Jam and SharePoint would together enhance the user experience, it's good to know it can.

What the future of social collaboration holds

Is SAP Jam the forerunner of a broader campaign to unseat leading enterprise collaboration tools such as SharePoint? Perhaps, but not anytime soon. SAP has been deliberate in its "peaceful coexistence and enhanced user experience" approach to SharePoint, the most widely deployed enterprise collaboration platform. The release of Duet Enterprise 2.0 further underscores SAP's and Microsoft's cooperation. What's more, SAP says the next release of Jam will have broad native extensions into SAP cloud and on-premises applications.

Despite all the trendy new features, the decision about which social business and collaboration platform to use will still be governed by classic selection criteria, such as what the organization is currently using and how best to integrate software platforms into the organization's business-process roadmap.

If you want process integration in an expanding portfolio of business scenarios, Jam is the right choice. StreamWork is still a viable on-boarding option, and it's reasonably priced, but it will clearly not be the beneficiary of SAP's investments in moving beyond "Facebook for the enterprise" to truly integrate social media into daily business processes.

This was first published in May 2013

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Essential Guide

How SAP is handling the social media explosion

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