Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Here's why social business will not save your cheese

If you're reading this article then I guess you have a keen interest in social business or are perhaps already running your own setup. If my guess is true, then you perhaps have some frustrations running your internal program. Now don't get me wrong, I am a big, die hard fan of social media in the workplace and frankly I wouldn't have it any other way. That being said, I am mindful that social business is still quite a new space with just about 5 years in the mainstream. While public social media has reached a really ubiquitous state in our personal lives, it's no secret that social media in the workplace is big jump in thinking for several knowledge workers. I think social business technology itself needs to grow several levels in maturity. In today's blogpost I want to talk about a few things that'll define the future of social business and perhaps its eventual ubiquitous position in the enterprise.

Composite identities vs Corporate identities

People are just people. They don't have a corporate identity and a separate personal identity. They are who they are; they blog externally and perhaps blog internally too. If they're passionate about what they do, perhaps what they blog externally is about the work they do for the company. They are on twitter and they're perhaps sharing interesting stuff. People's activity on public and private networks are two sides of a composite social identity. I think of it as Identity 2.0 - enterprise systems seem to present themselves as a new network in a vacuum. The assumption seems to be that the enterprise network exists by itself as a prima-donna platform. The truth is that it doesn't - until the activity stream of the enterprise social network can include elements from both sides of the individual's social contributions, it will continue to miss out on the prolific contributors from the public web.

Simple extensibility vs Painful upgrades

Think big, start small and iterate. It's a mantra that works for startups and I believe it should work for social business too. Whether we like it or not, we live in an age of consumerisation of IT. Regardless of how good our internal systems are, people have access to better stuff in the outside world. Things move so fast that it's tough to keep up. Heck, it was only recently that Google announced its intent to get into the social space in a big way and hey, we already have Google Plus doing the rounds. Think of how often Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and the others are adding features. It's quite tough to keep up as your people start taking these enhancements for granted and start expecting them in enterprise systems. The truth is that not many enterprise 2.0 platforms are built to evolve. Extensions are a mess, upgrades are a pain. Vendors need to understand that customers will need to move fast. Seamless upgrades, the ability to receive enhancements automatically, the power to develop extensions and an extensions API that stays backward compatible are all crucial requirements that vendors need to respond to.

Frictionless participation vs Enterprise security


IT teams across the world may think otherwise, but most people actually do care for security. At the end of the day the least risk is that their personal data gets compromised and really no one is likely to be happy with that. Having said that, I guess there's no doubt that enterprise security can be more a deterrent than anything else. Take a step back - think about how you access Facebook. You perhaps have an icon on your smartphone, which when you tap, you go right into your news feed. It's the same for Twitter, Foursquare and whichever social app you like. As a contrast you perhaps have to go through a thick wall of two factor security before you break into your intranet! Now no one's saying we don't understand the rationale, but the fact is that thick security blankets are often a deterrent to contribution. We can be blind to this and say things are the way they are, or understand that the shape of the digital world is changing. People will continue to look at their enterprise social media experience as substandard to their 'regular' networks as long as we don't get creative about solving this problem. There's perhaps some middle ground - we just need to find it.

Mobile first vs Mobile as an afterthought

Mobility is big for me. In fact for most ThoughtWorkers who are at client sites, mobile access is really big deal. Smartphones and tablets put together already have a much greater penetration than laptops and desktops. It's a no brainer - mobile access makes your social network ubiquitous. And yet, several enterprise 2.0 vendors have a mobile strategy only as an afterthought. Heck, Jive now has a decent mobile strategy, but until recently their iPhone app hadn't had an update for over a year! Guess what, there's a mobile app for every public social media platform. There's several consumption mechanisms on the mobile -Flipboard and Zite being notable examples. What's there for our enterprise systems?

Change management support vs Cookie-cutter consulting

Last but not the least, I want to throw in a few words about change management. For most organisations, moving to a social business platforms is a strategic yet tough journey. We all know it's not enough to build and hope they'll all participate. Most organisations have no clue of how to go forward with this stuff and make it thrive. Enterprise 2.0 vendors will pepper you with case studies and whitepapers in the sales journey and will have cookie cutter advice for you before you go live. What's notably absent in most offerings is post go-live change management support. Most problems don't surface before go live. They come up when the dust has settled. If vendors don't have this kind of support as part of their offering, then they're selling the enterprise short. Remember, it's about the technology, but it's more about the people and a new way of working.

My post today has been a bit of a rant based on my own experiences. I love the way the world is taking to enterprise social software. I hope that if we can push organisations and vendors to think ahead and innovate around the themes I've mentioned, social business could cross the chasm between edgy technology and business as usual tools. The power of technology is when we can take it for granted - I'd love to hear what else you think could be steps for social business to mature and become a common theme in most organisations. Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section.

27 comments:

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These are the factors that you should always consider in a social business. You won't be successful if you continue doing them.

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