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Social intranets and the supply chain

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The growing impact of SMAC

The IT industry and industry analysts in particular love acronyms, and one that has gained some traction in the past year has been SMAC (Social Mobile Analytics and Cloud, (DOWNLOAD CHART 2 or go to the top of page 13, KMWorld, Vol. 26, Issue 1). An acronym rather nicely pulls together the key elements that have proven to be revolutionary in the world of business application software development. Traditionally business applications were built to focus on a specific task or process: for example, inputting data received by phone in a call center to a central database at the task level, or managing the production of monthly customer billing statements at the process level. Driven in large part by the upheaval in the consumer application world, business applications are now being rethought.

In our detailed and regular survey work of IT buyers at 451, we watch carefully the reality of those changes, and the change, though very real, is much slower than many like to think. The reality is that businesses have been running applications for decades now, and ripping and replacing them with something shiny and new is no simple undertaking. It is a huge and costly effort. Nevertheless what many like to call “digital transformation” is happening across a broad swathe of organizations; it’s just more complicated, costly and slower than the press, vendor and analyst community may often suggest.

If we look at survey data that details key drivers for mobility, for example, we find a mix of factors and many at a fairly early stage but nonetheless with some impetus growing. Consider that 48 percent of respondents have some form of intranet accessible via smartphones (DOWNLOAD CHART 3 or see chart on page 14, KMWorld, Vol. 26, Issue 1), and a further 31 percent hope to achieve that within the next 24 months.

That is important trending data to consider, because accessing intranet information on a mobile device is realistically only the first step. Even though adding social elements is also in progress with 44 percent already having them and 32 percent hoping to do so in the next 24 months, pulling the building blocks for a social intranet together into a cohesive whole is a much bigger challenge. In our analysis, the next five years will be the critical period for true social intranets to become the norm rather than the exception. Some organizations are ahead of the curve (the early adopters), but reaching something approaching mainstream is four or five years out.

Conclusions and recommendations

Intranets have had a bad rap. First-generation intranets promised a great deal but often ended up as little more than unloved digital notice boards. Some organizations have fared better with their intranets adding self-service elements and gaining some user traction, but intranets are not sexy, and many organizations are wondering as to the wisdom of spending heavily to overhaul or replace their intranets. At 451, though, we believe strongly that building a truly social and integrated intranet is a necessary part of building a dynamic supply chain. In many ways, the term social intranet used in this article is no more than an industry marketing construct, a term used by technology vendors and consultants. But what it represents in practical terms is a confluence of real business concerns, frustrations and ambitions expressed by midsize to large organizations—needs that relate to the increased challenge of communicating to and collaborating with ever more disparate and disconnected workforces. There is no one correct technical approach to delivering a social intranet. Multiple approaches may each fit in differing corporate situations and cultures. Over time though, and this will take three to five years to gain some cohesion, best practices and more unified approaches will emerge.


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