Positioning with other IT systems: the liquid nature of Enterprise 2.0

(Version française)

Emergent Social Software Platforms (ESSP) are now at the doorstep of the enterprise. The question one may ask is : how does it fit alongside the already existing Enterprise IT systems.

Companies have spent a fortune during the last 10 years implementing business critical Enterprise wide systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supply Chain Management (SCM) or Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). Yet another system could be seen as a risk for the balance of the whole company IT strategy.

In his enlightening book on PLM (Product Lifecycle Management, Driving the Next Generation of Lean Thinking) Michael Grieves proposes a map to illustrate the positioning of PLM together with the main business critical IT systems.

This blog post extends this map and propose a perspective on Enterprise 2.0 platforms positioning.

Enterprise 1.0 systems

On Michael Grieve’s book map, the Y axis identifies the different functions and activities of the company while the X axis identifies the different domains of knowledge.

I like this diagram because it is simple yet powerful and illustrates the orthogonal positioning of ERP against PLM, SCM or CRM. It shows where and how these different systems interconnects. (Comment from a me as a PLM professional : PLM/ERP integration looks simple here but I tell you, you don’t want to see the gory details of the real life software integration, that’s not pretty).

(Click to enlarge)

It is revisited because there is a key area that these systems do not cover : tacit knowledge. So to make it more representative I’ve slimmed their width down to explicitly show that, in real life, they don’t fully fill their column (PLM, SCM, CRM) or lines (ERP) as in the original Grieves diagram. The missing portions are the uncaptured tacit knowledge units.

Enterprise 2.0 systems

As Andrew McAfee notices in his Enterprise 2.0 book, most of these systems are focussed on controlling and monitoring closely the activities of knowledge workers. They have very clear boundaries and a strict scope of responsibilities.

ESSPs are completely different animal. While ERP, PLM, SCM or CRM have strict boundaries, ESSP are open systems whose usage may evolve as per user needs. In other words, rather than forcing user to adapt to them, ESSP adapt themselves to the usages of the knowledge workers.

This provides a liquid nature to ESSPs that helps them to seep in and fill up any gaps left by other systems. ESSP don’t have a predefined shape, they just take the shape of their container. Here the container is the scope of business activity and knowledge of the enterprise. More precisely, the scope that IT systems have captured and manage.

The gaps ESSP are filling have a name : tacit knowledge. Michael Grieves book explains so clearly how tacit uncaptured knowledge can hurt the implementation project of such system as a PLM. Hypertextual already wrote on the great ability of Enterprise 2.0 systems to capture tacit knowledge.

The second ESSP core feature that contributes to this liquid nature is communities. ESSP make it easy to build communities which, in the enterprise context, are built around common areas of knowledge, business expertise, and professional know-how. These communities juxtapose different types of experts (technical, marketing, sale, integration) on a specific domain. This allows to build multi-dimensional expertise in very confined and otherwise unreachable locations in the company activity and knowledge map.

The different communities of expertise are illustrated in the diagram below as contiguous boxes.

(Click to enlarge)

Obviously, at ESSP launch time, the whole map will not be filled but it will eventually overtime, as valid data and information is fed into the system and the liquid spread into the whole enterprise knowledge frame.

So what is the positioning of ESSP alongside other enterprise systems ? Knowledge gap filler to offer a conductor environment for ideas and information to propagate on an enterprise-wide scale.

How would you position ESSPs alongside enterprise systems ?


  1. Hi Cecile,
    thanks for the great post.

    I have a couple of questions for you:

    – how would you position tools like Salesforce Chatter, Tibco Tibbr or SAP 12Sprints inside this diagram? Don’t you believe that ESSPs are quickly converging and starting to interact (or evolve..) with traditional business processes?

    – do you believe communities of practices or of interest to be completely disjoint from the implicit communities laying at the bottom of CRM, ERP, PLM, etc?


  2. Thnaks for your comments Emmanuele.

    I am not up to date with the latest products/services on the enterprise social networks (ESN) things but I would tend to think that as long as it ranks within this types of products thay would fit in the ESSP part of the diagram.

    I am not sure for the convergence and interaction with standard business processes … There probably is some room for enterprise system vendors to think about ESSP integration both technical and functional to provide better service.

    About communities of practices I don’t know for ERP or CRM. But for PLM which is very complex, ESSP can really help managing information, good practises and know-how for the whole community.

    IMHO the problem with implicit community is that they only are abstract communities. Professionals belonging to different company silo’s, losing their time and company’ money looking for information. But they hardly share information, discuss (unless they do it via mail) etc … This is where ESSP have a big role to play to embody these communities and give them the tools to share information and work more efficiently in a highly complex environment.

  3. Cecil,
    Thank you for the great perspective in your post. I also enjoyed reading you underlying post with more detail on tacit knowledge. I think you hit on two of the more important areas that social computing can help PLM. I do have some different thoughts, which I believe are complementary.

    For the most part, we agree. An excerpt from a research report I wrote on “Product Development Goes Social” includes the following key values of social computing in PLM:

    1 – Enhance product development team execution and collaboration
    2 – More naturally capture and share product knowledge and expertise
    3 – Enable the discovery of new IP and product value

    Where my views differ from your post is that I see social computing as a new part of the infrastructure that helps connect and extend applications like PLM into a community. The social software is important, but the product lifecycle management domain expertise is crucial. Based on your bio, I think you might agree.

    As opposed to a gap filler, I see social computing techniques as a new way to connect and extend PLM to capture and discover knowledge in the context of the product. It is also a way to improve collaboration in the product development community.

    Thank you for your post and for sharing it on the Social Computing in PLM group on LinkedIn, it really made me think. I took the time to write a more thoughtful reply and posted it on my own blog if you are interested. Social Software and PLM – Gap Filler or Intelligent Network? http://tech-clarity.com/clarityonplm/2010/social-software-plm-intelligent-network/

  4. I just read the comment from Emanuele. I believe we may be making the same point. I remember when workflow was a standalone application. Over time, it became another part of the enterprise software infrastructure and became a part of ERP, PLM, CRM, SCM, etc. That is how I see social computing in enterprise applications (I focus mostly on PLM), as another layer of capability to help network the people and processes related to the underlying domain (product, customer, …)

  5. Hi Jim,

    Many thanks for these comments and the references in your blog. I am quite glad such a PLM Blogger as you enjoys the read on Hypertextual.

    I totally agree that, eventually, enterprise social networks will integrate the actual process of other enterprise systems.

    What I try to illustrate in this point that, as a first step, Enterprise 2.0 can be used to fill the gaps – as you mention in your white papaer (which I read and enjoyed) by capturing lot more information about the product dvelopment.

    Then in the second step it can be integrated in the process. This way, managers that are initially relunctant to integrate these tools can see how it can solve atual problem and then will be happy to put them in the flow.

  6. Cecil, Great perspective on the role of social software as a liquid that fills gaps between silos of current enterprise systems. Enterprise 2.0 has a greater level of flexibility. Nevertheless, the most important factor will be how these systems will be introduced to customers and adopted by users. I identify 3 possible directions where E2.0 / social – collaboration, user experience, value of social networks (http://plmtwine.com/2010/02/16/social-plm-options/). Best, Olegg

  7. Cecil,
    Yes, we both agree that social software will come from the outside to start. It will be a big benefit to give some of the unmanaged processes and knowledge a home.

    I believe that the benefits will be significantly greater when they are integrated.

    Again, great post!

  8. Hi Oleg,

    Thanks for your comment. The “liquid” thing is just a metaphore to illustrate how different Enterprise Social Networks are from standard rigid Enterprise Applications.

    To be honest with you, I’m not so concerned about tools adoption by the users. As one of Jim Brown article shows, PLM users are massive users of social networks. IMHO The main 2 challenges are :
    1- Have managers using PLMs to structure their process to accept such tools together with the culture and flexibility they inherently bring,
    2- Be clever enough to identify the use cases and the intersection where PLM and Enterprise Social Networks will naturally combine to offer the best business value to the users.

    I’ll write about this later. I’m quite excited by these 2 challenges and the solutions we can propose.

  9. Hi Cecil,

    Almost every vertical system you positioned on your diagrams, had one or few major, so to speak, iconic suppliers. SAP for ERP, SalesForce for CRM, Dassault for PLM (?) etc.

    In your opinion – is there any emerging supplier of integrated ESSP or ESN platforms?

    I just read McAfee book – and he keeps himself short form any recommendations or validations of solutions.

    Too soon? What do you think?

  10. Hi Mirek,

    Thanks for your comment and welcome on Hypertextual.

    I guess there are 2 types of software provider in this field.

    Usual Suspects : the generalists such as IBM (Lotus) and Microsoft (Sharepoint) etc … and the specialists. I guess that yuo have to llok into the latter to find a market leader. THis is new type of software for new type of enterprise. The specialists do not have the bloated culture the generalists have – there are more agile, nimble and most of all they understand the culture better (Jive, BlueKiwi, Liferay, etc …)

    My take : Jive already is now and will be in the long run the market leader in Enterprise Social Networks solution. Check out the interview I did of Nathan Rawlins the Sr Director of product : https://ceciiil.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/enterprise-2-0-forum-the-jive-side-of-swiss-re-project/

  11. Thanks Cecil,

    Will look into Jive’s offer and your interview with Nathan.

    I’m extremely interested in ESSP for both my company and my clients ….


  12. Hi Mirek,

    Glad you are ! Wish everybody were as curious as you are on the topic. Because then it’s quite easy to convince them of the great value of these Social Platforms.

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