by Steve Garnett, chairman EMEA, salesforce.com

Today, we are witnessing major changes in the way people use computing technology. Recent figures from online competitive intelligence service, Experian Hitwise UK, indicate that for the first time ever social networks are more popular with the UK population than search engines. The company’s analysis has shown that during May 2010, social networks accounted for 11.88% of UK Internet visits with search engines accounting for just 11.33%.

Critically, this shift is happening not just in the domestic environment but also in the business world. In April 2010, managed security services company, Network Box, found that business employees are visiting Facebook from the workforce more than any other internet site including Google. Network Box analysed 13 billion URLs used by businesses in the first quarter of 2010 and found that 6.8% of all business Internet traffic goes to Facebook, double the volume that goes to Google and nearly triple the amount that Yahoo receives.

While this development gathers momentum, we are seeing the emergence of a more flexible approach to working in a business, with popular devices like the Apple iPad creating entirely new ways to interact with information.

One of the most significant consequences of these developments is that they effectively lay the foundations for a completely new age of business computing, already widely known as Cloud 2.

The first phase of cloud computing was about leveraging technologies that were low cost, fast and easy to use and we have seen companies of all sizes and industries increasingly appreciate that the cloud computing model can deliver tremendous success.

SMEs are opting to migrate to this new approach in growing numbers. Now the latest variation on the cloud computing paradigm is set to bring them even greater benefits.

Cloud 2 builds on the trend towards a more inherently social, collaborative approach to business computing. As our chairman and CEO Marc Benioff recently said, "salesforce.com is advancing the shift to Cloud 2, where productivity gains are going to come from real-time collaboration available on any device. We've seen the future of enterprise software, and it looks more like Facebook on the iPad than Yahoo on the PC."[/b]

Indeed, in many ways, Cloud 2 is about harnessing the power of real-time collaboration that applications like Facebook and Twitter provide and unleashing it in a business context.

As Denis Pombriant, founder and principal analyst of Beagle Research puts it, [i]“the best innovations from the consumer Web are moving to the enterprise, forcing software to evolve. The next decade will see demands for more sustainable business processes and cloud computing will meet the challenge by continuing to tilt away from the desktop and on-premise infrastructure, toward location independent computing that accesses data in the cloud on any mobile device.”

How Small And Medium Enterprises Can Reap The Rewards

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are likely to get even greater benefits from the emergence of [Cloud 2 than larger companies. In today’s competitive market, time is often at a particular premium for these businesses. Historically, employees working for SMEs have found it difficult to keep in touch with everything happening within their organisations. Many constantly miss out on critical internal information because existing collaboration tools are complicated and expensive and put the onus on users to do the groundwork in tracking down the information they need.

Today, the emergence of Cloud 2 applications like Salesforce Chatter, for example, provides a solution to many of the challenges that SMEs face every day. The new approach, as enshrined within Chatter, will enable SME employees to collaborate in real time through profiles, feeds and status updates. And in turn, this will allow them to obtain instant access to the key information they require to do their jobs more effectively.

In the past, managers have had to waste valuable time searching for specific expertise and skill sets to build up ad hoc sales teams for specific sales opportunities. Today, however, the process is much easier as they can leverage employee business profiles with professional background including contact details, area of expertise and work history.

Status updates also allow staff to automatically keep colleagues informed with dynamic alerts and prevent duplication of effort as a result. Through such features, workers can even share files and links to provide additional context around a project, sales deal or customer support case.

Additionally, Real-time feeds deliver personalised updates from people, applications and documents, enabling employees to stay abreast of everything that is important in a business context. Teams can drive greater efficiency by working together on fast-moving issues, such as sales leads, customer projects and marketing campaigns.

Status updates from key applications can be represented in feeds. These applications can even flag time-sensitive developments such as an overdue invoice, late shipment, expiring contract or important change in customer contact, which in turn, enable staff to better anticipate and proactively deliver customer value.

Business Advantage… especially for SMEs

The emergence of Cloud 2 means that in the future, organisations will see social networking more as an opportunity than a threat

Social computing and social networks have provided consumers with a new way to keep in touch with what is happening in the world, to find out when things are taking place and to receive updates about the people they know and topics in which they are interested. This high degree of information relevance is what drives user adoption and collaboration. Yet enterprise collaboration within businesses has until recently been rare because information sources, project teams and cross-functional expertise and talent typically remain disconnected and not part of the same conversation.

Now the emergence of the Cloud 2 model and with it the arrival of a new generation of real-time business collaboration tools, spearheaded by Salesforce Chatter, companies will be smarter as content, applications and people join the real-time conversation through a secure, private social network within the enterprise. SMEs, with their overriding focus on growth and with especially intensive demands on their time and resources, are likely to be particularly receptive to this exciting new business environment.