You’ll recall a few weeks back I wrote a post about attending SAP’s SAPPHIRENOW user conference this past May [disclosure: SAP has been a Social Media Group client since 2007] discussing the need for organizers of events-based programs to  both consider and optimize their “digital layer”. Not a new concept, but perhaps a more holistic way of framing it.

There’s an interesting parallel to this theme in another piece of news that was discussed at SAPPHIRENOW. Our group of bloggers and digital influencers received a briefing from Sameer Patel, someone I consider to be a great friend, and who is also SAP’s new Global Vice President and GM, Enterprise Social and Collaborative Software. What that fairly long-winded title means is that Sameer is in a newly-created role, in charge of something called Project Robus – an effort to weave together SAP’s “collaboration layer” at the product level, with particular emphasis on the notion of helping bring social business to life by allowing users to have access to the same collaboration workstream, regardless of which SAP application they happen to be using.

Sameer laid out the three points around which, in his experience, people collaborate. They are databusiness process and content (documents). He feels that part of the reason there’s been a lag in the adoption of truly effective collaboration at scale inside most organizations is that efforts to date have been largely tool-driven, rather than focused on the why. I believe him. There are parallels to this behavior in social media outside the enterprise – routine “shiny object” epidemics distract from, and potentially damage, effective use of social tools to reach customers; this is largely because the first steps of listening to and understanding what your consumers want from you are forgotten in the mad rush to the next “it” platform. This frenzy leaves in its wake abandoned tools and profiles, wasted resources, and a nagging suspicion that the whole thing might be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. In the long term, this translates into a loss of competitive advantage; firms find themselves lagging ever farther behind, largely because they’re focusing on the wrong things.

As he noted in the post announcing his new role,

“Many [executives] are still looking for that bridge that practically takes them from a world designed around structured process to one that gets them to blend collaboration at every step of business tasks and processes, and in a way that drives revenue and margin, lowers cost and mitigates risk.”

So it’s Sameer’s mandate to try and help do that, by re-focusing and re-packaging the “collaboration layer” across SAP’s product suite into a comprehensive social software strategy. One interesting question (from my marcom-skewed perspective) is how this will be marketed – Sameer’s team is, in his own words, “horizontally structured”, meaning they will work across product groups to bring this together. They’re a horizontal group inside a vertical organization – this pattern tends to be highly disruptive and it will be interesting to see how consistency in product messaging, results measurement and execution will be managed; that’s a lot of stakeholders.

Despite the looming and significant challenges, it’s a really interesting approach and, frankly, seems in line with SAP’s professed “trademark approach” to integrate their applications. It will be interesting to watch progress as Project Robus matures – there’s definitely a sense of “the need for speed” and the question will be whether SAP – and their clients – are ready, and willing to pay for it.