Putting Social Business To Work

A great post yesterday by Laurie Buczek brought home for me a key issue that I’ve been pondering lately, namely how surprisingly disconnected some social business efforts end up becoming. We know many of the reasons this happens: Not-invented here, political fiefdoms, integration challenges, the tendency of many applications to turn into silos easily, etc. However, social media in the enterprise is about connecting deeply to those around us to improve the way we work. It’s certainly not about isolation, yet that sometimes becomes the state of affairs. How we organize for social business determines much of our success, as emergent as the process is. As Laurie said in her post (her emphasis):

The big failure of social business is a lack of integration of social tools into the collaborative workflow.

I should be clear that it’s not social business as a concept that’s the problem here. It’s that social must be connected to the day-to-day work that takes place. Unfortunately, most work today is done through existing systems that aren’t very social. If we’re lucky, we can forge a link to a piece of enterprise data from within a social tool, a basic requirement for social collaboration. But more likely we have to manually copy information from the systems of record in order to collaborate on it. Even more likely, the social business environment just becomes a parallel silo that’s not connected to the business and is used for light conversation and status updates instead of meaningful, high value line of business activities.

Social Business Connected To Flow Of Work

Yes, many large ERP, CRM, and HRM vendors including Oracle, Salesforce, IBM, Saba, and many others have either added or are otherwise incorporating social layers in their products that can help address this. But this is not necessarily the same as making our businesses fundamentally or more meaningfully social. Such duplication of social tools has its own silo issues and ultimately, rolling out social software on its own does not in itself produce results. No, the ladder of social business maturity requires more from us than that.

Instead we need to wrap our businesses in social in a more ambient and deeply connected manner. To work, this must be more than for example merely adding threaded conversations to our systems of record. It’s about weaving collaboration into everything we do, efficiently and simply. The good news is that there’s now hope to readily address what Laurie was referring to and connect social to workflow. With recent advances like real, mature, standardized social integration with OpenSocial 2.0 — with widespread support by enterprise software makers for the first time — there’s a genuine opportunity, right now, for us to connect our daily departmental and enterprise-scale work activities en masse to an overall social fabric that enables real change, real results, and real ROI.

Note: I do not think pure technology can ever be the full answer to this issue. But whenever we have a means of much more easily putting social in the flow of work we must go well beyond paper strategy and employ them.

So it’s up to us to see the importance of doing this and making it happen. Want social business become just a fancy chat tool in your organization? Don’t put social business to work. Do you want to unleash untapped worker potential, including cognitive surplus, peer production, and collective intelligence and all the big strategic buzzwords? Then put social business to work. The big lesson here: Failure to connect social business to work on the ground will pretty quickly result in limited value. We are now in the possessions of techniques to avoid this and we must use them.

See my writings on connecting business software to systems of engagement, social networking applications, and social app stores for more details on this subject. The Social Business CIO Shortlist can help as well.

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24 Responses to Putting Social Business To Work

  1. Hi Dion,

    Couldn’t agree more that tools and technology don’t make a business social. It needs a cultural shift, which starts with leaders in the organisation, taking a customer centric view of what social media is, rather than a marketing/ PR/customer service centric view.

    Don’t get me wrong, tools have a role to play to faciltate integration and help different disciplines visualise the impact of social media on their organisation.

    And I am looking forward to the day when we can genuinely and easily map CRM systems with the social profile of customers.

    See my blog Social Media Means Business for more on social business: http://www.adamlewis.info

    Best,

    Adam

    • I agree Adam, putting social business work is just as much about human change as it is about technology. But it’s been too hard to integrate the social environment to business system even if the users are ready to adopt and the culture is shifting.

      We’ve previously thought that if only the culture could shift, social business would be successful. Now we know better than there is a significant gap between work and engagement that must be closed first.

  2. Dave Duggal says:

    Hi Dion,

    Agreed, business is inherently social, its systems infrastructure that constrains that operationally.

    I agree that social just can’t be just a technology plug-in. As long as social is just an overlay, yet another silo, the return won’t be as advertised. It’s nice that social might allow people to ‘comment’ on an issue, but if the issue can’t be resolved seamlessly inflight, it’s still unresponsive, it leave folks dependent on slow, expensive and unproductive change management, in which case the opportunity / value might already be lost.

    We need integrative approaches that allow people to interact with their systems, to configure them at run-time so they can best meet objectives based on situation context, let process participants co-create their experience.

    This doesn’t mean the absence of controls, it just ensures that gratuitous controls don’t get in the way of corporate objectives. Inflight change management allows for dynamic change management with governance, transparency and audit (I wrote a related post – “Re-humanize the Enterprise” – http://www.managementexchange.com/hack/re-humanize-enterprise).

    Best,
    Dave

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  4. Dion,

    I am reminded of the experience with ERP in the past few decades. ERP in practice means two things – a codified set of principles, practices and process (think APICS definition) AND a software application that enables the former (think SAP ERP). Unfortunately, many organizations deployed the latter and failed to transform their businesses and truly adopt ERP.

    In some ways I think that the ERP journey is similar to the social business journey, but different in one important way. ERP consists of well defined end-to-end business processes. These processes are relatively concrete. In my opinion, social business has principles and practices but not processes per se. I believe that the lack of concrete processes is at the heart of the challenge of putting social business to work. I am optimistic that in the long run we can sort this out, but in the short run it is a barrier to be overcome.

  5. Bill Odell says:

    Dion,

    Thanks for adding your perspectives. I could not agree more. This is not just technology with social bolted on. There is a fundamental change management component as well. I am a big believe in E2.0 and have scar tissue from my days at CMO of Helpstream. Having also spent time at Cisco running marketing to their TelePresence business, I understand how much effort and resources John Chambers put in to drive a change in the culture there. It not for the faint of heart, but those who undertake the journey do reap the rewards.

    Thanks as always for your thoughtful additions to the conversation.

  6. Dion — As always a thoughtful post and analysis. I agree that “putting social in the flow of work” is the key, and that this is more than a technical problem. There are however technical factors that block or enable progress:

    1) Any integration needs to make people’s daily work easier rather than introducing overhead and friction (a major failure of top down KM and Social Business viewed as an isolated activity). The public Web sets high but achievable expectations for ease of use including smart phones and tablets access.

    2) The social fabric of work should include integrated, permission aware search as well as activity streams at a fundamental level. A great lesson from the Web is that scalable search provides a simple, transparent and effective way for people to find what they want to read, use or connect.

    The same principal should apply for the fabric of work – with additional requirements to make search permission aware, and search results actionable, even if the content of siloed systems aren’t Web addressable.

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart for a very long time, and a core capability that Traction Software and Attivio announced and demonstrated at E2.0 Boston. My thoughts here:

    Extending the fabric of work

    http://traction.tractionsoftware.com/traction/permalink/Blog1798

    cheers,
    Greg Lloyd Traction Software
    President and co-founder

    I’ll follow up on G+ !

  7. Thanks for continuing the discussion with your great insight!

    • Laurie,

      You started a great discussion as you no doubt saw in the blogosphere and on Twitter. Many people are learning from it, hopefully those that just starting out with social business in the enterprise.

      I look forward to benefiting from your insights going forward!

      Best,

      Dion

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