What’s Coming Up in Social Business, CoIT, Open APIs, and More

While 2011 was a busy year, I’m expecting 2012 to be a breakout year for a number of key subject areas that I work with closely. The run up of social business over the last five years has been phenomenal but there’s a general sense now that it’s about to go truly mainstream. That’s not to say it hasn’t already happened nearly everywhere already, except for a significant part of the business word. This now appears to be changing as the latest adoption data shows that with few people left on the consumer side, the growth of enterprise social media is about to start closing the steady gap that it’s held behind the world of social media over the years.

Perhaps more than anything else these days I’m getting this increasingly urgent question at an senior executive level: What specifically are the business benefits of social media? While I’ve covered that in detail many times, this new-found interest on exact outcomes shows that the business leaders are increasingly feeling compelled to wrap their mind around the inevitable changes facing their organization. To help with this I’ve recently distilled it into the chart you see below, based on the McKinsey data they collect every year from large organizations. These double digits performance improvements then, embody the social business imperative:

The Business Gains Possible with Social Media (Social Business, Enterprise 2.0, Social CRM, Social Media Marketing, etc.)

Then there is the whole consumerization story that’s unfolding at the moment. This has been a seismic event for many organizations as smart mobile devices, enterprise app stores, and software-as-a-service from the Web all combine to make adoption of the latest apps and IT solutions is just a mouse click or tap on a touch screen. At the same time, there is a growing sense that the classic line dividing IT and business is blurring, just like there is so much blur in many key business boundaries today. The lesson: Everyone can and should be be involved with making these changes happen constructively and effectively for their organization, whether it’s social media, information technology adoption, transformation to new digital business models, etc. Many of you know tat I’ve started to call this confluence of IT trends “CoIT” and it’s something I’ll be researching and speaking about extensively this year because I believe IT is about to change — no, is changing — in a substantial and irreversible way. The changes themselves are largely good but it will certainly leave some ‘creative destruction’ behind, to use the popular euphemism for what happens when innovation cuts through an organization in an unplanned way.

Now that the basic platforms for social business have matured to the point that they’re ready for most organizations — and by this I mean both internally and externally for most common business functions like operations, CRM, marketing, product development, etc. — we’re moving into more sophisticated and higher-order capabilities. Capabilities like social business intelligence, enabled by the rise of both older and radically advanced new technologies now known as Big Data, are making it possible for us to actually make sense of the huge knowledge flows moving around us. I’ll also be closely following analytics, machine learning, natural language processing, metrics, and much more, both in terms of technologies as well as how to best embody them in operational business processes.

2012 is also shaping up to be the year of open supply chains, or as people on the Web call them, open APIs. The number of products and services that are now open to be remixed into other companies’ offerings has exploded in the last year. See this terrific visualization of API growth on ProgrammableWeb to get a sense that something big is indeed happening here. I’m now seeing sustained interest beyond the Internet community by traditional companies that are starting to see how much value they missed by looking at their businesses through like silos, disconnected from the digital rivers of commerce, ideas, engagement, and so on. Open APIs are now officially on the radar of big company CIOs. They are seeing how it will be a significant competitive advantage to offer a compelling API in an industry that does not have strong uptake yet. 2013/14 will start looking bleak for those firms that don’t yet have them, or at least have developed competency in both the technology and business models. In the meantime, the tools, techniques, and business models for making APIs work for a wide range of industry has greatly evolved and will be important to watch.

There’s plenty more I’ll be tracking this year; there’s really no shortage of topics that will be vital for all of us to watch including augmented reality, new mobile technologies like NFC, the rise of HTML5 and its coming battle with iOS and Android, gamification of just about everything, location-based social networking, enterprise OpenSocial, and much more.

2012 Speaking Calendar

In the meantime, my speaking calendar for 2012 has started to fill up quickly. While you can always read the latest on my blogs on ZDNet, ebizQ, the Dachis Group Collaboratory, here, and elsewhere, I’ll also be releasing a major new book on social business that I co-authored with Peter Kim that will be out from Wiley this May. I’ll be writing a detailed blog post about the book soon, but in the meantime, you can get the details here on Amazon. But for those of you that can make any of these conferences, I’ll be sharing my very latest findings at the following events:

  • 60 Minutes with Nir Zuk. January 31st. I’ll be having a live fireside-style chat with Palo Alto Networks founder and CTO, Nir Zuk in a Web-broadcasted discussion about how enterprises must make the right policy decisions, in context, to safely enable social media in their organization in order to attain the corresponding business benefits. It’s a free event.
  • Enterprise 2.0 SUMMIT, Paris. February 7th-8th This is one of the best enterprise social media events in Europe in my opinion. I’ll be speaking here again for the 3rd time, providing the closing keynote on the 2nd day on “Next-Generation Ecosystem and its key success factors”. I’ve arranged a discount code for my readers from conference organizer Bjoern Negelmann. Use code ‘dhinchcliffe10′ for 10% off the registration fee. I’ll be there both days for anyone that would like to meet up.
  • Enterprise 2.0 Virtual Conference. February 16th. I’ll be providing the opening keynote on social analytics at this virtual event. I’ll be bringing with me real case examples, an overview of the latest tools and techniques, and primer on how to get started. You will be able to sign up here soon.
  • CITE Conference & Expo 2012, San Francisco. March 4-6th. I’ll be providing the opening keynote on the topic of consumerization and CoIT, which is also the main topic of this conference. In addition, the day before, I’ll be providing a deep dive on how organizations can make it through the era of IT consumerization in much more detail in a half-day workshop. CITE is run by IDG and they are hoping to make this even one of the leading events on the topic.
  • AIIM Conference 2012, San Francisco. March 20-22nd. This major event being held by AIIM has an all-star cast including Clay Shirky, David Pogue, Ray Wang, and many others. I’ll be providing the closing keynote on the 2nd day on next-gen mobility and mobile/social convergence. Highly recommended.
  • Social Business Summit 2012, Austin, Shanghai, Rio, Berlin, London, Singapore, New York. March-September. This is our official social business conference series for the Dachis Group. It attracts the top thought leaders in the space and is in its 3rd year running. Previous speakers have included John Hagel, Charlene Li, JP Rangaswami, and Dave Gray. It’s invitation-only and most locations sell out quickly, so I’d request an invite now. I’ll be speaking at most of these to promote our new book. Also highly recommended.

That’s it for now, but plenty to mull over. This year we’ll see many of the changes we’ve been tracking that last few years actually happening in the enterprise a widespread way. I’ll be covering them in my blogs and on Twitter as much as possible. As always, I’m interested in hearing from anyone in the trenches making these changes happen in their organization. Happy social business!

Social Business Moves to Workflow, Manufacturing, and Money

I receive e-mail frequently from PR people promoting the latest IT tools and new Web applications. These days a common thread I see is the addition of social features to software to make it easier for users to share information and collaborate with others. Personally, I believe it’s largely beneficial to 1) find ways to take advantage of the social graphs that users have been building in recent years, and 2) add the techniques and channels of the social world to make traditional software more effective and usable in general.

However, in reality these relatively minor tweaks are just the proverbial paving of the cowpath through the addition of limited social features such as collaborative sharing, persistent chat, and perhaps some deeper integration with activity streams. Unfortunately, these actions easily fail the imagination test, which is essentially this:

If you could completely rethink your work in a social business world, what would it look like? How would it be better?

To me, this is the fundamental question that organizations must be asking themselves today. Yet, I also think they should do this while going about the aforementioned incremental improvements such as adding basic social layers to their IT landscape. One reason is that this will happen inevitably as more and more enterprise applications and platforms add social computing features and companies proceed along that vendor’s upgrade path. So, while social impinging around the edges of enterprise applications is worth dealing with from a strategic perspective, it’s going to happen largely whether organizations plan for it or not. As such, it’s not likely to make a huge competitive or qualitative difference in the way most businesses perform. That is, unless they start the process of deliberate and strategic social business transformation, such as what IBM and a few other large organizations have begun.

This process of social business transformation will require both advances in social technology — such as the innovations below — as well as changes to the way we do business. Fortunately, one of the great attributes of the larger social business community is that it generally focuses as much on the business and cultural changes as it does the enabling technology. Some of the best discussions I’ve seen on the people aspect of the transition to the social enterprise are from folks like Luis Suarez, Sameer Patel, Stowe Boyd, and JP Rangaswami, who are just part of a much larger conversation about how we remake our organizations for the 21st century.

The Value Dimensions of Social Capital

So, while there are certainly some companies not tracking the sea changes in the world right now in terms of the way we are globally transforming the way we live and work, we’re also continuing to see fascinating next-generation innovations in social business. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Rethinking Workflow, Manufacturing, and Money in Social Business Terms

In just the last week I’ve encountered several fascinating offshoots of the mainstream social business thread. Social business frequently focuses either on social engagement externally or internally on collaboration and social interaction between workers. This is a limiting view, but it’s also where most of the activity and uptake is today. However, as more and more business leaders and entrepreneurs become digital natives, I’ve theorized that the power laws and principles of social business will encourage them to rethink their traditional modes of business. At the same time, Web startups and large software vendors often put themselves out 2-3 years ahead of the market by predicting where their customers will arrive once current trends reach a mainstream tipping point. Then they adjust their product roadmaps to align with this schedule. The combination of these two trends is starting to give us some interesting new possibilities.

I say possibilities, because unlike social collaboration or Social CRM, the outlook and growth potential for these innovation is still unknown. However, it does give us a sense of what’s coming next in social business.

Social BPM

Last week while I was speaking at Sibos, I had the pleasure of speaking on the phone with Sandra Moran from OpenText Metastorm, a leading workflow/BPM product that recently announced the addition of social computing features to its capabilities. Metastorm now enables workers to engage in real collaborative process design, takes advantage of social profiles to locate needed expertise to plug workers into processes in essentially real-time, and has matching dashboards to provide BPM and social analytics. OpenText had this to say about the new social capabilities, which Sandra told me is now available to over a thousand major customers as a standard part of the Metastorm suite:

These new product enhancements help organizations successfully implement business process improvement initiatives by empowering users to become more engaged and productive. Metastorm’s social collaboration tools provide businesses with a highly personalized workspace and unparalleled access to top contributors, enabling them to drive innovation and increase collaboration and improve efficiency among employees. These tools help employees find other people within their organization with specific skill sets required to help them complete their work. Companies can also route work to the most appropriate employee based on individual skills and workload – ensuring the most cost-effective strategy for work allocation.

I think this is significant for a few reasons. For one, I find that there’s often not enough focus in social tools in collapsing the walls between business processes and social conversations. They often run in parallel, side-by-side, even when they are being used simultaneously for the same piece of work. Putting social in the flow of work in highly process-intensive environments should lead to some interesting outcomes. I pressed Sandra on if there was leverage in Metastorm of existing social graphs and networks, and she indicated there was. What remains to be seen is how easy it will be to integrate the resulting BPM environment with an enterprise’s other social business efforts.

I’ll be exploring the social features of Metastorm in more detail soon on ZDNet, but I think the combination of social computing and BPM has genuine potential. This isn’t the first time social and workflow have been connected but I think it’ll be impactful given their large customer base and how central and useful the features are to the product. I’m hoping to revisit how their customers are faring in a year or so to see what the result has been. I currently believe social BPM technology, combined with the right business and cultural changes, will help companies attain a higher than average level of social business transformation.

Social On The Shop Floor

Earlier this month Derek Singleton over at the Software Advice blog wrote about social manufacturing, what you could call a new subfield of social business that’s focused on improving how companies turn raw materials into finished goods. Discussing Kenandy’s new announcement for improving the efficiency and productivity of supply chain manufacturing, Derek wrote:

Creating accessible and actionable inter-shop floor communication can only work if an entire supply chain and other manufacturers are members of, and logged into, Chatter. In short, it requires organizational change for effective use. While manufacturers using Kenandy wait for that changeover, Chatter can be a useful tool for project management. For instance, the engineer of an aerospace job shop could notify shop labor that they’ve just finished designing the wing component of an aircraft. The job shop could then begin building the wing while the engineer finishes designing the other components they’ve been contracted to build. This has great implications for just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing – as it frees up labor to work on more value-added activities rather than waiting for the completion of another phase of the production.

In my workshops at Enterprise 2.0 Conference in years past, I’ve had manufacturers and assembly line managers come up to me to say that social tools have been moving into their area of the business, but it’s mostly been horizontal tools or very focused niche solutions. We’re now seeing broader and more strategic use of social tools with the arrival of solutions such as the Kenandy social manufacturing platform, which has garnered attention in the New York Times. I’ll be exploring this further in coming months to see whether social manufacturing leads to tactical or substantive social business transformation.

The Rise of Social Currency

An Example of Social Currency: The Reputone From InnotribeFinally, at Sibos itself last week, I participated in Innotribe, a social media event inside the main financial services conference that explored various aspects of social media in financial services. For a more in-depth look, I wrote up a detailed exploration of the event on ZDNet on Friday. One of the more interesting and visionary topics at the conference was the subject of social currency, the transformation of the very concept of money in social world where reputation, trust, and openness are prized much more than information control, the latter which is how the financial industry is mostly structured to leverage for gain today.

As an experiment, a social currency called Reputone was actually in use at Innotribe, see picture right. In fact, peer-to-peer monetary systems such as Bitcoin were a hot topic at Innotribe and for good reason, it represents a major shift of control in how banking, money transfer, and investment will work in the future. If Paypal was the first generation of digital money, then Bitcoin is the Web 2.0 version. From their Web site:

Bitcoin is a new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world. Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority: managing transactions and issuing money are carried out collectively by the network.

Mark Shead recently provided a good overview to Bitcoin concepts and is worth taking a look at. In the final analysis, Bitcoin falls a bit short of being a true social currency, in that it doesn’t have an explicit capital mechanism based on social graphs or other means that leverages the intrinsic worth of social status and reputation. That doesn’t mean it should be watched closely as money and social reputation appear ready to get deeply intertwined and Bitcoin is at the leading edge of digital currency at the moment. This is a subject that warrants a lot more exploration as companies such as Facebook look at making their global platforms far more relevant from an economic perspective. For additional insight, David Armano posted some useful insights on social currency recently on his Harvard Business blog.

I’ll be exploring all of these concepts in more detail in coming months as social business continues to evolve. I would love your questions and feedback on this emerging social business topics below.

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.

Sunday Musings: Google’s Identity Struggles, Plus Social Media Bans Around the World

The Web’s missing features for built-in user identity have become a real headache for the industry, and for its users too. It certainly took its toll on market leader Google this week as its “Identity Theater” continued (Source: Kevin Marks.) The issue? It’s turning out that making every single user comply with the Common Names policy isn’t workable for a variety of reasons. Reports of Google deleting accounts en masse are driving a lot of the discussion. Robert Scoble has his own recommendations for Google and while they’re probably the least that would be acceptable to the majority of people, it doesn’t go far enough I think.

It certainly doesn’t have to be this way. Twitter allows companies, bots, and just about every other type of social account and it works quite well in the end. Twitter ran into a similar identity issue in a big way a couple of years back after facing lawsuits and widespread complaints. They managed to muddle through with Verified Accounts.

A growing consensus is that Google should allow user-defined accounts as well, with verified identity for those that want or need it. Personally, I’m not sure I see Google coming around with a response fast enough to prevent some damage to services and impacting Google Plus‘s runaway adoption. But in my analysis, it’s most likely to only hurt the commercialization of the service, not regular usage for most for now.

Social Identity Ownership - Google or Facebook?

Worse, the problem may actually be core to the way Google’s stack is conceived and architected. It may not be easy for them to change course in the short-term without ripples through the way global Google’s services fundamentally operate from a security and identity perspective. It also may not be good for their business model which is almost certainly based on the fact they know who people really are. This issue is one to watch given Google’s pervasiveness. It also has some significant implications for business users of its products, especially now that they seem to be gaining some much needed traction in the social networking wars.

For now, I’d recommend that businesses use Google Plus with an eye towards experimentation while the Web giant gets its philosophy and policies around identity sorted out. Frankly, the bigger industry issue is social Web identity itself. Users and companies increasingly depend on commercial providers like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to provide everything identity-related, from login access to storage and maintenance of their social graph. This is causing key elements of power and control to start to swing away from the open standards that made the Web so successful and essentially fair.

Will the W3C step in and resolve what’s appearing to be an increasingly glaring absence in the Web stack? So far it seems unlikely given the failure of many years of open standard Web identity efforts. The culprit? You have only to look in the mirror. Apathy by users and lack of consensus on the part of Web developers. There’s also a lot at stake financially for those that end up owning a big chunk of Web identity. Consequently, online — and especially social — identity is likely to grow into a full blown brouhaha in the next couple of years as issues, missteps, and abuses inevitably surface. However, we could also decide to put our own house in order before governments step in, the least desirable of all outcomes in most imaginable scenarios. The worst probably being governments owning, issuing, and centrally managing verified Web identity credentials for everyone.

Which brings us to the next subject…

Government Bans Chipping Away At Social Media Freedoms?

A couple of interesting things happened this week with governments aiming their considerable might at social media. While knee-jerk responses to this space were common enough a few years ago, with the U.S. Marines banning social media access for a while for example, these are now generally understood to be counterproductive and unworkable for a long list of reasons.

However, that didn’t stop the German government from banning the Facebook ‘Like’ button on Friday, sure to ignite a small firestorm in that country given that it seems to apply to any site accessible from inside its borders and the fine is a stiff €50,000. The Like button, used on millions of sites around the world to enlist users to leverage their Facebook social network to share content from 3rd party sites (see: k-factor), is significant enough on its own to put German Web businesses at some competitive disadvantage on the global stage. The concern is over privacy and that “all the information was sent to the US company even if someone was not a Facebook member.

In another similar situation, the Missouri state government’s new law preventing teachers from using social media to communicate privately with students, the former who just announced that they are fighting back, is another case in point. There are obvious free speech issues with the law despite the good intent on its face to protect students. The real issue is that the law is that violations are almost impossible to detect and enforce, until its too late, and that it ensures teachers, one of the most collaborative and interaction driven professions with far reaching impact, can’t have much of a social media presence of any kind until the implications are sorted out. It also presumably doesn’t prevent teachers from privately communicating with their students in any number of other digital channels. All of this means the law won’t accomplish a whole lot other than sowing confusion and promoting the use of increasingly obsolete methods in an increasingly fast-changing economic and societal landscape.

The real issue with both of these laws is that they are 1) essentially short-sighted, 2) exhibit such poor understanding of social media as to be essentially useless, and 3) are therefore unlikely to be meaningfully carried out. Worse, they chip away at the edges by introducing step-by-step, largely ineffective government oversight and control over social media, one of the largest economic, cultural, and societal changes of our time. This will become an even hotter topic as the Middle East’s social media coordinated model for uprising spills out of the developing world. In fact, this has already happened in Britain and there are already cries to ban social media in cases of civil unrest.

I should be careful to note here: I’m not by and large suggesting there’s any overarching government scheme to interfere with and control social media. Instead, I’m suggesting we keep a close eye on these developments as social media legislation increasingly (and inevitably) accumulates in bits and pieces on the base of knee-jerk responses to individual situations. This will have a great many unintended and unwanted consequences. The continued growth of laws and regulations in a vital new industry that thrives on inherent openness and trust has the potential to limit it so profoundly that we could lose much of the great promise that social media can provide.

While we must find ways that work to protect our citizens, we must also provide them access to one of the most open, free, and powerful means of interacting that has been invented. Let’s push back on unreasonable measures while also proactively being responsible for solving them. It’s up to us to start finding globally acceptable solutions to privacy, security, and misuse in social media and getting them into the hands of those who don’t understand this space well enough yet to govern it. The options for making this happen are something I’ll explore as soon as I can.

Connecting Agile Business with Social Business

When Jim Highsmith graciously invited me to give the opening keynote at the inaugural Agile Executive Forum in Salt Lake City this week, I had to really sit down and think about what I’ve been working on the last few years, namely social business, as compared the conference theme, agility and business. While agile methods have had many separate and distinct threads within the business and technical worlds over the last 20 years, one of the most active areas has been in software development. For its part, social business is a much newer phenomenon that’s become a top priority for many business leaders in the last couple of years. So, while I’ll cover the details of my presentation — in which I connected agility and social business as drivers of innovation, in another post — I will attempt to more formally to capture the specific similarities here.

In recent years, as agile development has been increasingly borne out as a fundamentally better, more efficient, lower risk, and more cost effective way of doing things, there has been significant and growing effort apply agile lessons to business in general. And, as it turns out, agility and social business, as two major new ways of connecting and organizing people in directed activity, have plenty in common. Perhaps even more importantly, they have key things to learn from each other.

I’ve had quite bit of experience with agile methods personally, having led extreme programming project teams and been closely involved in large, distributed SCRUM projects in years past. I’ve seen agile methods work significantly better than classical processes. This is probably why it’s now the most common development process in software that developers identify with in my experience. Consequently, I’m in a position to see some of the connections between business agility and social business, in all their many flavors. The connection isn’t trivial either. There are hard won lessons learned from agility that social business initiatives could certainly benefit from. Just as there are innovative new approaches to scale, transparency, process, and tooling that social business brings to the table, as extreme and radical as they may appear to agile folks, who are more used to being the harbingers of change.

Comparing Agile Business and Social Business

What’s the point of connecting these two approaches? Because they can learn a great deal from each other. Agile methods can be updated and modernized from what social business brings to the table, and social business can apply some maturity and rigor to what it does, as appropriate. This I believe is a fruitful exercise for both disciplines and is one I summarize below.

Agile Business and Social Business: Side-by-Side

Keeping in mind that some agile process purists are still on the fence about applying the methods more broadly, the focus here is on agile processes of any kind as applied to general people-based business activities. Some processes are more amenable to agility, just as some are more amenable to social business. In general, however, the less collaborative, more rigid, and user-isolated a business activity is, the less applicable either agile or social media methods will be to it. However, if you have a complex, open-ended, and outcome-oriented business process involving many people, especially including those that it most directly affected (typically, the customer, internal or external), then both approaches represent the very best ways that we know of today to deliver successfully on them.

As you’ll see, agility and social have much more in common than they have differences. Here’s my take on how they break down:

  • Coordination Instead of Control. Both agility and social eschew using centralized hierarchies to achieve control. Instead, as Brad Appleton has long recommended, they both work best with autonomous, adaptive, and accountable actors. The first two are something that applies very much to social business, while the latter is something inherent in any social environment that has a strong identity system (which, unfortunately, not all do.) The lesson here is that emergence (an important and prized aspect of Enterprise 2.0) and self-organization are very similar and are shared as core values in both disciplines.
  • Designing for Change/Loss of Control. This is something in which agile is inherently stronger than nascent social business methods, which are just wrapping their heads around this. Not killing emergence requires the acceptance that external change is a desired constant and should be responded to productively to get the right results with the resources at hand. Ignoring that requirements aren’t what the customers need, that the planned outcome of a business process won’t be very useful, and other denying of reality is anathema to both disciplines, but is more formal and well-defined in agile methods. Social business does recognize that the majority of productive output is on the edge of the network and largely outside of formal control, but other than measuring community sentiment, that’s often as far as it goes in terms of responding to new ground truths. The best results in both approaches are when there are tight feedback loops to all stakeholders and that a planned response to that feedback is the central factor in re-engagement with the project or online community in the next cycle. For additional insight, read Tim Leberecht’s great overview of this issue, titled Openness or How Do You Design For the Loss Of Control.
  • Frequent Work Cycles. Agilists call work cycles iterations. Social business doesn’t have as strong a notion of discrete work cycles because it’s essentially continuous and itself emergent, a more extreme version of agile when you look at collaborative work in social media environments such as crowdsourcing efforts or Social CRM. In either case, the project and/or community must assess and respond to change at the end of each iteration, or do it continuously which is more common in the case of social business processes.
  • Open Contribution. Social business works best when the broadest possible invitation is made for stakeholders to get involved and contribute. Agile processes tend to define valid contributors to a smaller audience, though it’s entirely up to the project and varies widely. Social business realizes that the “anyone can contribute” default stance is one of the most powerful concepts in recent business history (as only those that care about the outcome will get involved, yet that’s almost always many more people than you thought.) Agile methods could learn from the extreme openness and fewer contribution boundaries and barriers in social media. I made the point in my speech that open source software has proven this in the real-world better than any a priori speculation about what works best ever could.
  • Working Results. It’s long been the mantra that agile processes value working software as soon and often as possible at any given time in the project. When the requirements are right and/or the budget runs out, you have the best possible output, ready to use. Social business is not yet so disciplined in its directed outcomes, yet by its very nature is always up-to-date with the latest revisions, contributions, or updates.
  • Continuous Processes. While agile business typically recommends iterations, milestones, review steps, and other processes to happen as often as they provide useful course corrections (typically every few days, or weeks at most), social business is even higher velocity and larger scale. Consider real-time processes that run around the clock globally involving tens of thousands and sometimes a million or more simultaneous contributors. This means the scale and velocity of social business often outpaces agile by two to four orders of magnitude. Social business could learn a lot about continuous in the small (builds, releases, work product iterations, etc) while agile can perhaps learn to scale and go even faster in a way it never could before.

This comparison just scratches the surface but is a useful start. I’m happy to be called out on any details anyone feels like I may have gotten wrong. I do believe that agility and social business go hand-in-hand and that we can cross pollinate the two to create far stronger results that either can by themselves today. Put simply, agile business and social business are two sides of the same coin. That may be a controversial statement to some but I believe that as far along as these two disciplines have come in parallel, they will do better with more explicit and effective connection. Our organizations (businesses, organizations, government, etc.) will almost certainly benefit.

What do you see as the commonalities and differences between agility and social?

On Web Strategy

Global Use of Social Networks and E-mailMy old Web 2.0 blog is finally closing due to hosting issues so I’m moving the conversation here going forward. I’m also relocating my large library of old posts and visuals to this blog over the next few weeks. Collectively they’ve had over 12 million views and are witness to an amazing time in the history of the Web, business, and society. 

It’s been a profound era of change by any measure, and one that we’re fortunate to live through. Over the last seven years we’ve seen the rise of social media, Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, and now social business. Put simply, the Web-based world has changed nearly everything about the way we globally connect together and create shared value. For now, this blog as well as ZDNet, ebizQ, Dachis Group, and Hinchcliffe.org, will be where I will continue exploring the emerging edge of business and technology, with this blog focusing more on the Web itself and my other channels focusing more on the enterprise aspects.

I’m renaming this blog to On Web Strategy because I’ll continue to focus on the way the Web works, particularly what makes it so powerful for those that understand it. There’s lots of exposition available online about the changes taking place today, but not enough exploring the specifics of how Web-based networks are driving pervasive change. Among the endless information streams available now, there’s still room for more thorough examination of the way the Internet is co-evolving into the single most powerful platform for self-expression in history. I believe this is true whether you’re a person or a business; there is no other place nearly as compelling, innovative, valuable, or relevant today. And the Web itself, far from reaching maturity, remains the single most exciting — and most rapidly moving — place to improve and transform how we live and work.

Knowledge Work Dominates U.S. Labor by SectorWhile my primary interest lies in connecting the two too-often loosely connected roads of business and technology, I think the increasing convergence between them is where much, if not most, of tomorrow’s opportunity resides for those that can successfully overcome the obstacles. For its part, social media has become a leading force for value creation in the world along with the rest of our digital footprints, with which we are now creating the richest and most vibrant record of our times. Visionary enterprises are now seeing how to tap into this and join in partnership with the rest of the world to create entirely new types of products and services together with their customers. From the data, it’s clear that social co-creation and other new and closely related models, such as crowdsourcing, are genuinely changing the nature of human activity, especially value creation, control, ownership and other less-tangible qualities like trust, openness, and understanding.

While some organizations and individuals will continue to debate the actual magnitude of the changes that the new low-barrier, high scale, and virtually free tools of self-expression are fostering today in the large, there’s little doubt looking at the macro trends that momentous things are happening. I have certainly been asked, “are these changes as big as the printing press? As big as mass media? How about personal computing” Yes and yes and yes. And much more significant in terms of actual change wrought. I’ve included here a few recent pieces of my research that illustrate the case that the business, cultural, and societal landscape is being remade right now, and doing it quickly in some cases. This includes the following data points:

Trends and Drivers of Work and Life Today

    Portion of the Web That's Peer Produced
  • Social is how we communicate today. There has been a generational change of communication from point-to-point (e-mail) to social in four short years (see first figure above). Certainly e-mail is in decline and will be with us for a decade or two, but it has dramatically lost its prominence and relevance in recent years. For now, social media is the way we increasingly prefer to connect and work together. Traditional organizations have had some trouble catching up to these trends, but I’m finally seeing evidence that they’re doing so.
  • Knowledge work is the driver of our world economy. People-based activities centered around the creation and exchange of information (financial services, real estate, education, media, governing, etc.) are what modern economies are built on (see second figure above.) Methods that greatly improve the creation and exchange of information will have inordinate value, especially models that optimize for it, i.e. social media and by intent, social business. Knowledge work is about 60% of the labor force today and growing steadily. The less valuable service economy is growing as well and is also a beneficiary of these new and emerging forms of communication and collaboration.
  • Peer production is now the primary motive force for creation and sharing. Centrally controlled models for production in business and government are much less powerful and inordinately more expensive. The creation of information on the “edge”, by individuals, has transformed traditional media as well as the Internet: It’s now made by us, with approximately 80% of information on the Web (see last figure, right) now coming from user generated content. In the future, sensors and other information generators may outpace us, but for now the most important trend is that productive capability has moved decisively into the hands of us out there in the long tail.

What does this all mean? That’s what this blog was developed to figure out. Come back and visit. I’ll be exploring Web strategy and cutting-edge innovations that are likely to have significant impact to the way we run our organizations and live our lives. Please drop me a line if you want to share your ideas, or better yet, contribute them in comments below or in your own blog or social network.

The K-factor Lesson: How Social Ecosystems Grow (Or Not)

Recently for some work that I'm doing I had to revisit the techniques for creating successful online social environments.  This is a surprisingly deep and nuanced topic that we as Web application architects or enterprise social computing practitioners are just now fully beginning to grasp.  The subject matter itself runs the gamut from key conceptual underpinnings — esoteric topics like systems theory and network effects — to the daily grind of understanding and managing the needs/expectations of an often difficult-to-control community of actual, live people.

In general, I've found that the ideas behind social systems themselves are clean and elegant while dealing with their practical realities can definitely be messier and many find them annoyingly unpredictable as well.  In the end, online social ecosystems are invariably a fascinating mix of the classic vagaries of technology and people.  However, despite the apparent science, making them grow into something undeniably successful is still very much an art form. 

Social Surface Area and K-Factor PotentialInterestingly, there's no real name for this skill yet and it's an important — even vitally strategic one — for any organization that has to engage with a lot of people over a network. And that's increasingly most of us in these days of the ever-present Facebook news feed, Twitter microblog, and workplace Enterprise 2.0 environment.  It also means that creating a workable online community requires a good dose of hard-nosed engineering as well as highly effective "soft" skills in UX design, social architecture, and community management. For it to really work — to have a vibrant and growing community — you have to seamlessly connect both of these worlds: a well-crafted social environment together with the people that will use it. The rewards for doing it successfully speak for themselves: Ultimately, businesses and communities are groups of people, and if they produce more value for each other together than they can individually, then there is something in it for everyone. And the online world lets us create these entities far easier, more quickly, and with larger populations than ever before in history.

Related: Network effects are just one of several dozen "power laws" that social architects must know today.

We used to call this process "founding a business" or "creating an organization".  We would call the people that did this entrepreneurs or occasionally philanthropists if their goal was non-commercial. But this terminology doesn't seem to apply as much to what's happening now.  For one thing, communities are organized differently and frequently have other motivations for participation than the usual one for traditional businesses: the worker/employer relationship.  Second, the output of large distributed online communities — especially when focused on discrete outcomes — can greatly exceed the results produced by densely concentrated single institutions.  While we are certainly in the very early days of this phenomenon, I've frequently pointed to numerous examples of these new models for creating shared value. 

So putting aside the socialism vs. capitalism arguments for now (they are increasingly brought up in this discussion, though why they don't seem to apply here is the subject of a future post) the 21st century networked economy — powered by people and knowledge connected together globally at virtually no cost — has set free fundamentally new ways of innovating and collaborating for mutual benefit.  Specifically, it's the rules for how these new mechanisms thrive and create value that is the object of discussion here.

Viral Growth of Social Systems: The K-Factor Lesson

For my own part, I've been fortunate to encounter ways to reduce the concepts for creating growing social ecosystems to a short list, the key ones which I'll present here. Please be warned, some jargon is necessary, but I will explain it along the way.

How To Create Self-Sustaining Social Ecosystems: The K-factor Lesson

Like my 50 Essential Strategies for Web 2.0 Products, this overview cannot possibly be exhaustive.  It does however highlight the central idea behind all successful communities: They are either busy growing or they're busy dying.  Gaining critical mass early on is another important lesson that we've garnered from the early Web 2.0 pioneers.  Finally, the aforementioned and mysterious K-factor is introduced and explained below.  

  • Fiat and network effects are the two primary ways that social ecosystems grow.  The first is based on an explicit or implicit mandate of some kind.  An example of a fiat is when an organization requires participation in a particular social group, perhaps a committee or online community.  The second, a network effect, is when a social group has more value the more that other people are involved in it too (which is usually, but not always the case.) Keep in mind that the degree of value in each new member, or their contributions, is based on the structure or design of the social system and will vary greatly.  Also note that the fiat approach that is common in business today is a top down effort to "push" participation, while network effects are a "pull" method and tend to be more bottom-up and organic.  Background: Read more about push vs. pull systems. Critically, the degree to which a network effect is realized can be influenced by many factors not the least including the intrinsic nature of the social ecosystem itself and how it is connected to the rest of the network (the Web or your intranet.)  In general, network effects will ultimately be more successful than fiat for most purposes, especially since the use of social systems are so often made optional, even in business environments.
  • Network effects can be encouraged by promoting self-sustaining growth via feedback loops (aka virality).  One of the myths of the online world is that viral growth can't be engineered. While it's sometimes not straightforward, it can indeed be created intentionally. While cynical uses of virtuous growth cycles won't produce results for long, the basics work best: letting any user improve the community by contributing knowledge, often to a lightly structured data set or encouraging them to invite their friends and colleagues.  In fact, any good social ecosystem will make it easy and rewarding to do so, such as allowing users to discuss, converse, jointly edit, or otherwise work together on common goals.  Stated another way, the future of software applications that don't provide more value when more people are present in an interaction is probably going to be fairly short. A good place for more background on the lifecycles of systems (social or otherwise) is William Varey's Unlimited Growth.
  • Measure your K-factor and keep it above 1.  The K-factor of an ecosystem is a statement of whether your network effect is self-sustaining or not.  A K-factor of less than one means that your organic growth level is falling (exponentially) and a K-factor of greater than one means that it's growing naturally and again, exponentially.  How to increase your community's K-factor? There are literally countless ways but allowing users to contribute to hard-to-recreate data set, adding user distributable widgets that provide useful offsite functionality, as well as integrating meaningfully with 3rd party social networks through their application model are a few of the more popular and effective ones.  I explored some of these distribution approaches in more detail a while back in my overview of the new distribution models of the Web.
  • The higher the social feedback loop intensity, the higher the breakthrough factor.  Feedback loops are created for example when a user invites another user to the community and then that user invites their friends and so on.  However, the quality of the feedback loop is a measure of how often it reaches outside of the community and how effective that outreach is (often stated as  k = e * i, where “e” is the efficiency of the feedback loop and “i” is the average number of invites per user.)  An individual user's ability to affect the quality and intensity of the feedback loop is usually a measure of their social surface area, which I generally consider to be the size of their social graph x the number of online channels they use x the frequency of participation x the amount of influence they exert. If you have a social ecosystem with a lot of influencers or users that are very active online, they will clearly fuel the response to your feedback loops more effectively. The design of the social environment itself also has a major effect depending on whether it makes it easy to invite others or otherwise create feedback loops.  A breakthrough factor is achieved when the feedback loops rise above a certain threshold of attention, such as when multiple invites come from multiple persons over a short interval of time.  When this threshold is crossed for a prolonged period, the K-factor increases much more rapidly.  This rise can be self-sustaining (the so-called virtuous cycle) and can lead to a permanent and dramatic growth climb as evidenced by many of the popular social networks early on, such as MySpace and Facebook.
  • External "high impulse events" can be used in the short term as a catalyst to reach the breakthrough factor.  This was famously the case with MySpace which used a database of 50 million e-mail addresses to drive initial users to the site, whereupon their feedback loops soon created a particulary strong breakthrough factor.  Traditional marketing is often used as the seed to drive the initial population of communities, but unless the K-factor soon rises above 1, the long-term cost of this approach is usually prohibitive.  It's worth noting that it all my research, I've never encountered a community that was successful long-term without naturally self-sustaining growth.  This is the K-factor lesson of this post's title: You can grow any community in the short term using artificial means but it will only last and continue to grow on its own because of the inherent quality of the people and the knowledge that has accumulated.  That said, you must get your community growth primed in some way.  High impulse events can include (by no means exhaustive) traditional marketing, paid incentives (expensive but Paypal was very successful with this model in its early days), and — particularly for business communities — seeding initial high value content.
  • Growth in a social ecosystem is not endlessly exponential and eventually hits a ceiling. Plan for it.  Typically described by the S-curve, it is encountered when you either fight an existing network effect or when resources are exhausted on the network.  While hitting the upper bound of the S-curve is desirable and denotes a successful system (Facebook is just hitting this now), it can also be an indicator of a failure or a bottle-neck in the feedback loop design.  A false S-curve is most often evident in my research when a community undergoes a major UX redesign and users have to find their way again, often unable to find and use the features that drive growth and sustain the commuity. Be aware of this and guard against the potential causes of premature S-curves.

I've written in the past about deliberately creating emergent phenomenon and then capturing some kind of value from it.  Like most efforts on a fixed scale of zero to the maximum possible result, there is a reverse bell curve effect, meaning that most people will get middling results, some will get very poor, and some will hit it out of the park.  From the projects I've been involved in, I find that the most successful social efforts are ones that are highly agile and willing to capture lessons learned early and often and then make changes quickly and do it all over again the next week.  The Web favors those who experiment, adapt, and evolve and thus should go your social ecosystems.

Good luck with your social media and Enterprise 2.0 efforts.  Please don't hesitate to ask questions below or contribute your own wisdom.

 

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