Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Integrating social platforms with legacy systems - Microsoft, Dassault Systèmes or Google ?

I was lucky enough to be invited with one of my clients to Paris MS Campus to have a conversation about Microsoft social platform (Infopedia, AcademyMobile, Mingle, ...). It was the second time I had the opportunity to see a social platform. The first time was when I visited Dassault Systèmes. And when I think about the two approaches, I think we are in front of two major trends. The third one, obviously, is Google's.

I have written elsewhere that we will be quickly finishing the contribution era and entering the time of the builders, a time when employees (builders) will keep adding value through applications and not just through content (no matter how useful or brilliant). Appart from skills and behaviours (and that will take time), builders need an Enterprise Computing Platform (for want of a better name) and such a platform, to my mind, includes legacy systems, vertical systems and social systems.

The way I understand it, Microsoft proposes to integrate your existing systems into its social platform, to build an upgraded computing and social environment. The case of HR is interesting. HR systems (and mainly the job classification systems) is included in the social platform (namely, it appears in an employee social profile). How the social sphere impacts employees' development and appraisal remains every manager's choice.

What I see happening here is that the social platform becomes an upper layer, below which existing processes keep working as they used to. As someone at MS told me, the really useful knowledge, more often than not, is in your legacy systems. So MS will manage to have those legacy systems talk with the social platform, and it will actually try to feed some social data and content into those systems.

It is yet another layer that gets built.

I was impressed by Dassault Systèmes as much as I was by Microsoft, and yet their approach is fundamentally different. Dassault Social Platform, so far, is closer to an intranet to my mind; it is their vision that I find really amazing : Dassault proposes to rebuild your business through their modelling approach. Instead of just trying to link a social platform with existing legacy systems, I understand Dassault will propose to review your whole operation: starting from the service you plan to deliver to your customer, actually starting by modeling the entire customer experience and then modeling the processes, and the support systems around it.

It is basically a Toyota-like approach: dont build plants and then adapt them to several car models. Instead, design a model and build a plant around.

Those are two fundamentally different views of corporations, one that sees corporation as rather static beings and the other that sees them as continuously evolving organizations. The interesting point is that both approaches see value in fostering innovation through improved collaboration (which is what the social platform is all about, I think).

The third approach is represented by Google. When the GoogleStore opens up, you will have all resources you need to build an entire Enterprise Computing System, including ERP and social platform, and probably also the technology needed to develop your own internal applications.

So what will we have ? My take is:
  • Microsoft approach for incumbant corporations in slow growth markets, where price is an issue, and where reinventing the trade seems too difficult;
  • Dassault Systèmes approach for mid-sized to large corporations in growth markets, with complex industrial / knowledge processes, and where reinventing oneself is not an option but a survival strategy.
  • Google approach for extremely quick firms, probably operating in the social field, where there is little value in organization, and much more value in "network first, profit later". Useful probably for firms that do not plan to survive after their goal has been reached (a new species I see appearing quite soon).
What will be your choice ? Business, after all, starts with making bold choices ...