Social By DesignBy David A. Kelly
Businesses make social computing work with Oracle WebCenter Suite 11g.
For world-class companies, social networking and enterprise social computing aren’t a diversion. They are now part of the fabric of enterprise computing enabling the new social enterprise.
Take the case of London, England-based infrastructure group Balfour Beatty, with 50,000 employees in more than 1,200 different locations across 80 countries. For Balfour Beatty, social computing and Enterprise 2.0 technologies aren’t about the latest tabloid gossip; they’re about connecting employees, partners, customers, and projects more effectively, efficiently, and productively.
“Social computing services with Oracle WebCenter are all about being able to service the client more effectively by better coordinating our divisions and our people,” says Lee Wheelhouse, knowledge sharing and collaboration solution manager at Balfour Beatty. “Oracle WebCenter isn’t just a technology project for us. It’s a key strategic initiative for our company.”
Not surprisingly, Balfour Beatty isn’t the only company taking a second look at how to integrate social media into the enterprise.
“Enterprise 2.0 is really focused on the idea of taking all the tools that were developed for consumers, such as blogs, wikis, and so on, and using them in an enterprise environment,” says Brad Shimmin, principal analyst for collaboration platforms at Current Analysis, an analyst firm based in Sterling, Virginia.
Over the past few years, Shimmin has watched how these traditionally consumer-oriented technologies have affected portal and collaborative solutions such as Oracle WebCenter Suite.
“It’s not just about repeating the social networking functionality that exists in the consumer space with sites like Twitter and Facebook,” says Shimmin. “It’s about creating similar opportunities for collaboration and engagement within the context of an enterprise application. The new social computing capabilities of Oracle WebCenter Suite allow the platform to behave less like a one-way street where you’re an ERP [enterprise resource planning] user merely gathering data, and more like a conversation with your peers or other people in the context of a business process.”
In effect, the social enterprise is about engaging customers, users, and partners in two-way communications.
“There’s really a shift from the traditional portal market, where users were accessing multiple applications through multiple interfaces, to one that’s more of a rich Web experience—providing a modern, common user interface with Web 2.0 and social capabilities and richer integrations to back-office applications—that’s all seamless and transparent inside the application,” says Andy MacMillan, vice president of product management for Enterprise 2.0 at Oracle. “That’s exactly what the latest release of Oracle WebCenter Suite provides.”
An Integrated Approach to Enabling the Social Enterprise: Oracle WebCenter Suite
Oracle WebCenter Suite is the modern user experience platform for the enterprise and the Web, enabling organizations to evolve portals, composite applications, extranet sites, and more by delivering a dynamic, seamless user experience.
“Oracle WebCenter Suite provides a user experience that’s really the blending of traditional Web applications with social computing capabilities,” says MacMillan. “We have customers that want to engage their customers and partners by combining traditional application data with things like wikis, blogs, and activity streams. So now we provide those social components as part of Oracle WebCenter Suite.”
Oracle WebCenter Suite’s user interface is based on the common user experience architecture that’s shared across Oracle Fusion Applications, Oracle Fusion Middleware products, and more. “If developers are using Oracle Application Development Framework, then they’re automatically using the common user experience architecture, which means that any components they’re developing can be brought natively into Oracle WebCenter Suite,” says MacMillan.
Shimmin considers Oracle WebCenter Suite as something like a Swiss Army knife—it has all different types of tools and technologies built in to handle all different types of social enterprise scenarios.
“Oracle WebCenter is the type of solution that, whatever needs you have, whether it’s internal or external facing, whether it’s fairly basic like content management or something that requires custom development, [Oracle] WebCenter has the required technology built into it,” says Shimmin. “Oracle WebCenter has always been good at enabling organizations to make portals and expose information in a secure and governable way. But over the past few versions, Oracle’s been able to take the best technologies from its Sun and BEA acquisitions and draw them together to make Oracle WebCenter more flexible and better suited for external- as well as internal-facing scenarios such as customer relationship management and call center applications.”
Balfour Beatty’s Enterprise 2.0 Solution
Balfour Beatty is putting Oracle WebCenter Suite’s combination of traditional IT capabilities and new Web-focused features to good use.
“One of the reasons why Oracle WebCenter and our Enterprise 2.0 strategy are so important to us is because of the size and scale of Balfour Beatty and the depth and breadth of our expertise,” says Wheelhouse. “Our customers have an expectation that we can share our in-depth knowledge seamlessly across our business and around the world. Oracle WebCenter is beginning to help us do that more effectively.”
From an IT perspective, Balfour Beatty is composed of federated and very autonomous business units around the world, each with its own IT capability for things such as infrastructure and desktop support. Balfour Beatty’s Enterprise 2.0, social media-enabled Oracle WebCenter Suite portal has been designed to securely connect its employees across geographic and operating company boundaries and will allow them to collaborate, search, and share best practices in a business-oriented environment. It’s a good example of how and why organizations are adding social media to their mix of enterprise solutions.
“The challenge for us was to provide a platform that can span all our business units,” says Wheelhouse. “We needed a scalable, user-friendly solution that could interface with local systems to share information, while enabling greater collaboration and information sharing across geographic and operational boundaries. That’s where Oracle WebCenter comes in. Oracle WebCenter will be our global, scalable Enterprise 2.0 solution.”
Integration with back-office solutions was critical for Balfour Beatty’s global portal. Back-office systems are great at handling and supporting clearly defined business processes like procurements and HR processes, but social applications are something more creative and somewhat less predictable.
“We see Oracle WebCenter eventually giving us the best of both worlds in that we can support core business processes and functionality from back-office systems, and at the same time we can implement collaboration and social media interaction,” says Wheelhouse. “As a company that’s founded on expertise, we need to enable our people to reach out to knowledge experts, and that’s a creative process that requires the right type of social networks. The power of Enterprise 2.0 is connecting people that wouldn’t normally find each other.”
A key reason Balfour Beatty chose Oracle WebCenter Suite as its Enterprise 2.0 solution was the product’s ability to integrate traditional applications and business processes with social media, social computing, and Web-oriented requirements.
“The vision for us is to be able to break out of traditional business processes and into a collaborative, social environment to solve problems, and then go back into the business process with the results,” says Wheelhouse. “But it needs to be done in a seamless way.”
Another important aspect to integrating social media capabilities is ensuring that they meet enterprise standards for security and compliance. “For our purposes, the social media content created in Oracle WebCenter could be just as important as the corporate records, so it is subject to the same security policies, retention policies, and management policies,” says Wheelhouse.
User experience and the user interface were also critical to Balfour Beatty. “We wanted to create something that didn’t involve lots of training, wasn’t complex, and was effective,” says Wheelhouse. “What’s good about Oracle WebCenter is its flexibility and its ability to let us create a compelling, intuitive user interface for our solution.”
But Balfour Beatty’s Enterprise 2.0 solution isn’t just about social connections and business processes. It’s also an effective way to reduce costs and increase productivity.
“Social media portals are a great way of communicating group and divisional initiatives and news, and Enterprise 2.0 capabilities are a great way of filtering all that information,” says Wheelhouse. “There are a lot of ways in which social media can make communications a lot more targeted and enable us to share technical expertise and innovation.”
The Dawn of the Social Enterprise
When it comes to portals and connecting with customers, the future doesn’t look like the past.
“It’s a very different landscape than it was just a couple years ago,” says Current Analysis’ Shimmin.
And although many things will change in the technology landscape over the next few years, one thing is certain: most companies will integrate social networking and social computing capabilities into their enterprise IT strategy.
“In the last two years, we’ve seen the reshaping of portals to be much more capable, much more social, and much more collaborative environments for serving enterprise IT,” says Shimmin. “They’re no longer simply a space where you have pull-down menus to access HR documents. They still do that, but now they also have integrated, collaborative, social networking functions that allow companies to develop stronger customer relationships, optimize employee interactions, and gain greater insight into market trends.”