The Lowdown on Enterprise Social Graphing
Last week Microsoft announced ‘Office Graph’ – part of project Oslo – promising to surface the content and files people and their colleagues are most engaged with and that thus deserve the most attention.
But how can we tell if the promise of Microsofts shiniest new technology will deliver in our own organisations and what will ‘office graph’, or its equivalent, bring to the digital workplace?
So what is a social graph?
The ‘graph’ in social graph comes from Graph Theory (the study of structures to model the relationships between objects) and was made popular in social computing by Facebook when they described the data they had gathered through Facebook as the Facebook social graph in 2007.
Being social, in the digital context, means interacting with other people through technology. Enterprise Social computing is about making working with other people online as efficient as possible, so that people can interact with more people, more frequently and without needing to travel or be co-located.
A social graph is a way of structuring, modelling and analysing how those interactions happen over time, a way of ‘seeing’ the whole online society that exists. More than just metrics on how many ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ something gets, a social graph gives more context of the holistic set of relationships that exist – the number and direction of interactions between people within the network, as well as the characteristics you have in common (such as interests). It also allows for greater understanding of not just what is happening, but why and how things happen and through modelling, even predict what could happen next.
Example Graph Applications
For Internal Communicators: Having your network’s social graph exposed gives you the ability to see who is using social features and how they are connecting and engaging with others. It shows how enterprise information is dispersed through the network.
If you work in internal communication, this means you can ‘see’ how your messages are cascaded through the network. Who has got the message? Who has passed it on, how quickly did this happen and what were the effects? The graph will demonstrate your communication impact, help identifying the information pathways and uncover the key people who act as information nodes. In turn, that will help you better disseminate information.
You might also be able to see dissent and understand how to address it.
For Learning and Development: If you’re trying to improve adoption of the tools, social graphing will show you where there is already good adoption and who is more instrumental in making that community work. Equally it will show where people are not using the tool. You’ll also be able to monitor the affects of training or adoption activity so that you can measure and adjust your approach.
For Finance: You may be able to track individual invoices or purchase orders inside your business and understand what’s causing you to miss your suppliers payment windows. By visualising information workflows, you can see where bottlenecks exist and thus where opportunities lie for improvement.
For internal audit: Some types of interaction shave a unique pattern of activity. For example, some organisations have used social graph techniques to spot insider trading or fraud.
One of the most interesting things about Microsoft’s office graph is that while the concept comes from Yammer – its actually more to do with the Search product. This hints that it can work across everything that can be indexed and will be a key part of how search calculates relevancy. On top of that, Office graph promises to map the interactions across ‘all’ office tools including instant messaging, email and even Word, PowerPoint and Excel. This promises to give a much richer view of relationships and interactions and will arguably be more useful to the enterprise as it will show how people interact when they are actually getting work done, rather than just when they are talking about or sharing it.
The weakness of Office graph, and the social graph of any other vendors product, is that it can only show a subset of interactions. People don’t only work in Office products, the relationships they rely on at work are sometimes built up outside of work, often on Facebook or twitter. But also let’s not forget that people don’t only work online, most real work happens ‘in real life’: in meeting rooms, corridors, across desks and even on golf courses. Until the enterprise social graph includes those interactions it will only show a small part of the puzzle.