Connecting the Dots: The Social Web, Cloud Computing and Integration

These days it seems nearly impossible to talk about the enterprise without mentioning the words “social” or “cloud.” At first glance, social networking sites like FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn and cloud computing services like Salesforce.com appear to be separate and distinct technologies from a business as well as technical standpoint. One thing that both technologies have in common is that their growing popularity is putting pressure on enterprises to join the bandwagon and adopt them.

On the social side of things, sites like Facebook and Twitter allow companies to communicate marketing messages to customers through direct channels while professional networking sites like LinkedIn streamline the process for recruiting talent. Yammer, an enterprise social network, works much like Facebook but is limited to users within a business organization and thus not available to the public. With Yammer, employees can post updates about projects they are working on, ask questions, and share links, making it easy to connect and collaborate with co-workers in real time.

Cloud computing vendors like Salesforce.com and Amazon Web Services, meanwhile, provide everything from CRM and ERP applications to platforms for deploying applications and infrastructure and storage. Because these services are delivered over the web, enterprises don’t need to buy, install, or manage any software or hardware, but can take advantage of the elasticity and scalability of the cloud.

With so much buzz around the social web and the cloud, it’s hard not to get caught up in these latest tech trends and be swayed by promises of increased productivity and reduced costs. Before “going social” or signing up for a Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), however, enterprises need to consider exactly how such technologies will add value to their businesses.

As standalone technologies, social networking sites and cloud computing services do have potential benefits for the enterprise. But adopting and implementing them without careful planning or a well-defined strategy only adds architectural complexity to the enterprise and creates silos of data and processes. A crucial factor that is often overlooked when deploying a social or cloud strategy is integration.

In order to take full advantage of the social web and cloud resources, enterprises need to integrate across the social web, cloud and enterprise. A sales team might be able to collaborate using social networking technologies, but they also need access to enterprise data residing in on-premises legacy systems and increasingly, the cloud. The key is to connect data and logic from different sources with social tools to facilitate, rather than impede, the collaborative productivity of users and the flow of business processes.

Salesforce.com’s Chatter and SAP’s Sales OnDemand are steps in the right direction. Both products are collaborative social platforms that provide access to enterprise data in traditional ERP systems.

The changing nature of enterprise architectures, however, demands a sophisticated platform that can go beyond point-to-point integrations and connect the enterprise with the cloud and social tools in complex patterns. At the end of the day, social software and cloud services might be attracting a great deal of attention, but enterprises need to get their heads out of the cloud and focus on integration.

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