10 Leading Books on Social Business

During the research for our forthcoming book, Social Business By Design, I ended up taking a close look at a number of other excellent titles on the subject. In the end, I came away concluding there was more than ample room in the market for another entry, but that’s a story I’ll tell when the book goes into the print in the next couple of weeks. Suffice to say I encountered some terrific thinking, quite useful framing, and plenty of fresh ideas — as well as good company in the form of many of the thought leaders that helped define the social business industry. For an industry it certainly is, with all the requisite ingredients.

In fact, the business landscape is now rife with organizations of all sizes who are attempting to grapple with the rapidly changing business conditions brought on by the global growth of social media, particularly its rising domination as a form of communication. There is also a large and vibrant ecosystem of vendors that supply products and services to help said customers, and analysts and thought leaders that observe the interplay between the two — with the rest of the world for that matter — and try to figure out where it’s all going.

The good news, since we’re near the end of the beginning of the social business journey, is that there is a lot of information that can be drawn upon now, particularly some excellent books on the subject, which I’ll list in a moment. However, one question that has come up often about books on social business is whether the format is appropriate for a way of living and working that is essentially based on open participation. In fact, that’s the core tenet of social business: Anyone can participate. While I’ll save a longer answer for my formal announcement of Social Business By Design when it hits the shelves by the end of April, let’s just say that books are still a widely used communication and learning channel, and one that has a large global ecosystem that remains well established and highly valuable. In other words, books (paper or digital) are still an effective way to reach people and quite acceptable as long as its starts a meaningful conversation amongst their audience that continues onward, which Peter Kim and I hope it will.

But if you’re reading this, you probably just want to know what the leading social business books are and I’ll get to that now. Please keep in mind that this is not a definitive list and I’m aware of several other excellent books making their way to the market. I’ll update this list if appropriate. So, in no particular order, here are the leading books on social business in my opinion…

The Leading Books on Social Business

  1. Smart Business, Social Business by Michael Brito. In his book, Michael clearly conveys why it takes more than social marketing to succeed in today’s deeply connected business world. I particularly liked how he explained what’s often the toughest part: That social business transformation requires a genuine cultural shift in how companies do business and in the way they interact with customers and prospects. Readers are given a detailed tour of the people, process, and technology shifts needed to succeed with plenty of details. The book explores social strategy, governance, tools, and metrics with a healthy dose of real-world case studies.
  2. Socialnomics by Erik Qualman. Views on this book vary widely, yet it’s clearly one of the most popular books on social business, albeit primarily of a marketing and customer engagement bent. Erik explores the impact of social media on business to uncover how businesses can take drive better outcomes in new and innovative ways. His best material is about the changes that must happen to achieve results, specifically the transformation of businesses produce, market, and sell products. Much of the focus of the book is on the different methods businesses must use to connect directly with their customers through today’s global social media platforms.
  3. Engage by Brian Solis. Brian has written a number of books on topics related to social business but this one is the most focused on the specific process of social media enablement and transformation. The book lays out how to develop an online ecosystem for the business and cultivates customers’ loyalty and trust in order to engage them for better business outcomes. Other useful details include how to establish an organizational structure that effectively delivers on social media while being poised for the next-generation just around the corner, including “detailed and specific steps required for conceptualizing, implementing, managing, and measuring a social media program.”
  4. The Mesh by Lisa Gansky. While not directly about social business per se, this book articulates a crucial endpoint for processes that are highly open and where everyone can participate (yes, social business.) In Lisa’s view — and I agree — business today is now about enabling entirely new operating models and ways of creating business value that are highly cooperative and self-organizing. Lisa’s book is vital for understanding the bigger picture for which social business is a key plank. Highly recommended for getting business leaders to think outside the box and get ready for culture and organizational change (and innovation.)
  5. Empowered by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. A follow up for Bernoff of the highly influential Groundswell, Empowered is a detailed look at how employees with great ideas in an organization can be enabled to innovate and transform a business to better serve its customers. In their view, powered by pervasive social technologies, customer service (aka Social CRM) has definitively become the new source of marketing. Empowered lays out a detailed process for getting there with managers eponymously empowering employee innovators (described as HEROs in the book) and IT/business stakeholders to better serve customers directly to generate a wide variety of interesting results, from word-of-mouth marketing to better product ideas. Bernoff’s and Schadler’s analyst roots pay off with many case studies and pragmatic examples that demonstrate how social business empowerment is already happening in scale.
  6. Macrowikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. The successor to Don’s hugely successful Wikinomics, this book takes the social business conversation up to a whole new level. While some have pointed out that actionable specifics are largely not included in the book, that’s beside the point: The goal of the book is to present a compelling case for the way we’ll organize our businesses, governments, and society now and in the future. A powerful book for those that want the entire big picture of social business (here called mass collaboration) and how it can solve problems that have been intractable or merely just very hard. While not a practitioners book, I advise everyone to be familiar with the strategic conversation Macrowikinomics lays out to get a clear view of the all moving parts that everyone must support.
  7. Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky. Coined from a concept that Clay frequently discusses, namely that we’re just now learning how to tap into the full productive and creative capacity of our collective cultures and communities, this book lays out the whys and hows of using participation to create compelling and unique business outcomes. Subtitled “How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators“, this book the means, motivations, opportunities, cultural issues, and supporting examples into a coherent story about how emergent business solutions powered by social media will change business forever.
  8. The Social Organization by Bradley and McDonald. Authored by two of Gartner’s leading analysts, this book makes a very strong case for employing social technology in the enterprise to get work done better. Sharing insights from their research into the successes and failures of four hundred plus organizations that have employed social technologies for workforce and customer-facing business solutions, the authors go well beyond technology and into the human element. Discussion includes how and why to build strategic communities, designing new ways of openly collaborating, and how to guide social business efforts to achieve a purpose, and so on. Bradley and McDonald also identify the core disciplines managers should master in order to transform social collaboration into otherwise unlikely yet highly potent results.
  9. Get Bold by Sandy Carter. One of the most interesting social business stories of the decade has been IBM’s not-so-gradual conversion to being a social business. While such transformation is generally quite hard to do for large companies, the global technology giant did it in record time. This book, by one of IBM’s top social business evangelists, clearly demonstrates that they truly “get” the changes happening and know how to get there. After making the case for what social business entails, Sandy lays out the steps to reach social business maturity and includes her AGENDA framework for achieving it.
  10. The Social Customer by Adam Metz. Metz treats Social CRM comprehensively considering it from many angles and aspects, from process to tools. He explores the 23 use cases that simultaneously provide the fabric for actionable, practical and approachable methods for engaging usefully with the social customer. Metz borrows from and builds on the excellent work of Greenberg’s CRM at the Speed of Light and Kim and Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy to create a picture consistent with a larger set of thought leadership.

Honorable mentions:

Please note, that while I tended to emphasize books that were highly approachable, all of these are worth the time and effort either for your own edification about social business or to help educate your business and technical leadership teams. Finally, while there is no doubt I may have left a few good titles out of this list, I’m happy to — and will — add any titles to this list that commentors are particularly passionate about. I hope you find this helpful and a useful resource for assembling the definitive literature on social business.

Related Reading:

The Social Enterprise: A Case For Disruptive Transformation

Baselining Social Business Maturity: Why and How

Converging on the Social Enterprise

The Path to Co-Creating a Social Business: The Early Adoption Phase

Enterprises and Ecosystems: Why Digital Natives Are Dethroning The Old Guard

Why is it that so many traditional companies with an enormous wealth of assets largely fail to transform them for the digital era? By assets here, I mean established customer base, closely held relationships with trading partners, mountains of data and IP, as well as their bread and butter, the actual products and services they offer. For large organizations, these assets typically represent many billions in long-term investment and accumulated value that is being stranded beneath a digital ceiling they cannot seemingly break through. The lesson has been a hard one: It’s been surprisingly difficult for many companies to make a genuine transformation to digital.

For those just joining this conversation, this transformation is about opening up and digitally enabling the strategic assets of our organizations for better consumption and participation, with as low a barrier as possible. It’s also means doing so in a way that continually maximizes their value over time in today’s deeply networked marketplace. Achieving this triggers the primary engine of growth for digital ecosystems, namely network effects. This is how Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon (new guard), and Microsoft, IBM, SAP, Oracle, and many others (old guard) eventually built hundreds of billions in combined value. They tapped into the relevant power laws of networks by carefully and deliberating cultivating and then closely managing them by harnessing peer production over the network.

Digital Business: Cultivating and Managing Digital Ecosystems (Open APIs, Social Supply Chain, Web Services, SOA, Online Communities, Peer Production, OEMs)

How exactly was this accomplished? They did it by digitally platforming their businesses in specific ways: Enabling self-service on-boarding, viral adoption, open participation, best-of-breed data capture, ownership and control, and took advantage of the fact that relationships — and therefore, ultimately transactions — must take place on the network with as little friction and cost as possible. They realized that we are now all connected together continuously in a single global network and then designed their organizations around this central fact of the digital age. They are now reaping the results of this mindset:

Networked ecosystems must be a core focus and competency of modern business.

This begs the increasingly urgent question: Why then are a large number of older organizations neglecting their digital ecosystems, often failing to meaningfully cultivate them at all for many of their most valuable assets?

This is a key question that fellow Enterprise Irregular Vinnie Mirchandani recently asked in an internal EI mail thread and later posed on his blog:

But for every Apple which has gone one way, I see so many others piss away this huge asset that is their ecosystem. I hear about musicians and filmmakers auditing, even suing studios for accounting disagreements. I hear SAP mentors complain about legal issues getting licenses and other access to new technology. It’s easy to dismiss Joe Konrath’s litany of complaints against book publishers as one from an unhappy author, but the 230+ comments it has drawn shows a deeper angst about how poorly publishers are managing their author ecosystems.

Ecosystems, communities – call them what you want. They are a vibrant organism which deserve far more ink from all of us. And they need professional managers at the companies at the middle who nourish them and not just treat them as railcars to be hustled away whenever inconvenient.

As companies remain inadequately connected to their customers, partners, and workers via digital ecosystems, many of which they do not control, they are missing a rapidly narrowing opportunity. That’s because it’s very, very hard to disrupt a well-established network effect, which is much more powerful than the equivalent notion in the pre-digital era: traditional market share. Network effects are primary focused on pull distribution, while marketshare is heavily based on push, which is much harder and much more expensive to sustain. As digital natives sew up more and more industries and lay down network effects years ahead of their traditional brethren, any chance to reclaim the throne will be very unlikely.

For leading examples of potent digital ecosystems, see open APIs, social customer care, and app stores.

Why is this? There are a number of reasons but a few are particularly significant. What I wrote in the EI thread in response to Vinnie’s original question was this:

I find that in general, the farther you are from the tech business, the less native skill or familiarity there is with system thinking, which is perhaps the critical capacity to have in order to regard your business in ecosystem terms. This is something that in tech is standard fare with constant discussion and focus on platforms, network effects, SDKs, open APIs, app stores, etc.

Traditional publishers are typical of the technically challenged industries that are being blind-sided by newer, much savvier, techno-centric, network-oriented new digital businesses.

Business leaders that can’t deeply see the way forward for their organizations as flexible, highly dynamic, and organic digital networks of customers, partners, workers, and other (likely and unlikely) participants will ultimately fail. But this isn’t the set of skills or mindset that made them successful in the first place, so they don’t value it and don’t think in these terms. They literally throw off digital rethinking like a sort of corporate immune system. Surprisingly, from my talks in the C-suite the last few years, everyone individually seems realizes they have to change, but collectively they are resistant, it’s fascinating to watch.

A big part of the problem boils down to this: Companies are inherently designed to perpetuate the problem they were invented to solve. It’s a particularly thorny instance of the Innovator’s Dilemma, which ensures that a company is unlikely to aggressively re-invent itself until it’s in the process of being disrupted. Unfortunately, this often means it’s already too late.

In fact, it may be too late for a growing number of industries to fully make the transition to being ecosystem-centric. This includes media, publishing, telecom, retail, and many software companies. Under looming threat is real estate, higher education, financial services, professional services, accounting, and even venture capital. In each of these categories, ecosystem-centric firms are building network effects with open network-based products increasingly built by worker/open communities and delivered to customer communities. Those products are in turn built upon by hundreds or thousands of loyal 3rd party partners to bring their own customers and ecosystems to the table. This is an embarrassment of riches that only a few companies, again mostly digital natives, seem interested or able to tap into.

As Fred Wilson once said, the Web (and therefore digital business) is all about “building networks on top of networks“, which leads to even more powerful outcomes, like 2nd order network effects.

Fortunately, the force multiplier of the ecosystem model can be stated in a simple, fundamental way: It allows one to tap into the vast size and strength of the external network to drive growth, innovation, and revenue for your own ecosystem. As Peter Kim and I wrote in our new book, the fundamental principle of business in the ecosystem era must be to let anyone participate in every aspect of the business, primarily by inverting the facilitation process of driving shared value (i.e. network effects by default.) Being able to elicit the network (Internet, community, shared data, whatever) to maximum effect to fuel and growth your ecosystem is thus the core competency of the digital era. Unfortunately, this lesson is being lost to most organizations that were built well before this next-generation business model was understood. It will be a great loss that doesn’t necessarily have to happen in my opinion, but will ultimately result in the needless disruption of a large number of companies that just aren’t able to become digital natives.

For additional reading see:

4 Ways to Create Sustainable Business Ecosystems

Why Information Power Is The Future of Business

What Will Power Next-Generation Businesses?

A View of Digital Strategy in the Ecosystem Era

Are We Building Businesses Or Are We Building Platforms? Yes.

How Digital Business Will Evolve in 2012: 6 Big Ideas

How Are CIOs Looking at Today’s Disruptive Tech Trends?

Last October I was invited as a guest to participate in the Tuck School of Business 10th anniversary session of their Roundtable on Digital Strategies. This diverse group of senior IT leaders is comprised primarily of CIOs of some of the world’s largest enterprises. The roundtable members came together to discuss what was termed the present “mega trends” in technology, including the effect they are having in how their businesses currently operate and evolve. It was an eye-opening experience, not the least because of the transformative changes that were evidently taking place in the companies represented.

One fact stood out: Many of these tech trends are happening with or without waiting for information technology departments to embrace them and bring them into the organization in an orderly and controlled way.  I’ve spoken about shadow IT for a few years and it’s clear, particularly with mobility, that loss of control is firmly entrenched in a growing number of large IT organizations.

The mega trends that we discussed that day were the usual suspects. They are the ones that I’ve been exploring in detail recently: Next-gen mobility, cloud computing, social media, consumerization (#CoIT), and big data. In attendance were the CIOs from American Express, Bechtel, Chevron, Eastman Chemical, Eaton Corporation, the Hilti Group, Holcim, Nestle, Sysco, and Time Warner Cable, as well as executives from CompuWare, the Dachis Group (myself), Dell|KACE, and ViON. The Roundtable itself was hosted by the Directors of the Center for Digital Strategies at the Tuck School of Business. The session was moderated by Maryfran Johnson, Editor-in-Chief of CIO Magazine and hosted by Adjunct Professor Hans Brechbuhl, who also wrote his own summary of the day.

Disruptive Megatrends in Technology: Smart Mobile, Social Media (Social Business), Consumerization, Cloud, Big Data

The discussion itself was far ranging and explored all of these megatrends in detail. The resulting outcome, a new 17 page report that has just been issued by the Center for Digital Strategies at the Tuck School of Business, confirmed that companies fall across the spectrum when it comes to adoption of these disruptive technologies. While virtually all the companies represented were feeling the full brunt of smart mobility, others had widely varying experiences with areas such as enterprise social media (aka social business in this context), big data, and cloud, though the first two had the most votes I believe in terms of the trends with the longest term and farthest-reaching impact.

Six key insights about new disruptive tech were derived during the back-and-forth discussions that took place at the roundtable session. These are:

  • “Consumerization of IT” is a core catalyst for other IT mega-trends. The spread of social media and BYOD are clear outcomes, but “consumer” expectations play a surprisingly large role in the development of Big Data and cloud-based applications.
  • Mobility is forcing new approaches to data security. User expectations of anytime/anywhere access to enterprise data conflict directly with IT’s charter to secure and protect the same data; this conflict is one of the sources of the rise of rogue IT.
  • Both mobile and social applications are (finally) adding definable value to enterprises. Social media apps with definable ROI are primarily customer-facing; high-value mobile apps are still mostly internal.
  • Big Data” will affect every aspect of business. From plant operations to stock trading to predicting terrorist behavior, the combination of huge data volumes and massive compute power is beginning to answer questions never even asked before, particularly with respect to predictive analytics.
  • “Designing for loss of control” is one of IT’s key challenges. Between consumerization/BYOD, rogue IT and the cloud, centralized IT can’t keep up with demands yet will still be held accountable for security, reliability and performance.
  • IT’s future differentiation is far more about insight than about operations. With technology so widespread, the ability to compete on IT operations has vanished. IT’s future value lies in delivering immediate, actionable knowledge.

What companies are going to do in order to embrace these trends effectively is going to be the signature generational challenge of our era. I’ve explored the various possibilities (ten strategies to be exact), and no doubt others will discover other routes to success. But the fact that so much of the change is externally imposed on IT departments and the lines of business outside of traditional channels is what makes the transition to them so disruptive. Thus, consumerization may ultimately be the underlying root cause of the rest of the trends as well as the primary driver of enterprise technology for the foreseeable future.

Tuck School of Business CIO Roundtable in October 2011

Tuck School of Business CIO Roundtable in October 2011

Be sure to read the IT megatrends report itself for full details directly from the original sources.  In the meantime, I’ll keep exploring these trends and how companies are planning, coping, and hopefully enabling them for their internal and external customers as IT gears up to have its most exciting decade in a very long time.

Related Reading:

Consumerization in 2012: Cloud and mobile blurs into other people’s IT | ZDNet

The “Big Five” IT trends of the next half decade: Mobile, social, cloud, consumerization, and big data | ZDNet

CoIT: How an accidental future is becoming reality | ZDNet

Dion’s Defrag 2011 Keynote on CoIT | On Web Strategy

The Web vs. Mobile Apps: How iOS and Android Are Disrupting The Open Internet

The battle is well under way but I find that most people barely notice it. As Shelly Freierman of the New York Times observed earlier this week, as developers put the finishing touches on the millionth mobile app (yes, millionth, as with an ‘M’), other channels are now outmatched:

The pace of new app development dwarfs the release of other kinds of media. [my emphasis] “Every week about 100 movies get released worldwide, along with about 250 books,” said Anindya Datta, the founder and chairman of Mobilewalla, which helps users navigate the mobile app market. “That compares to the release of around 15,000 apps per week.”

The Web can’t keep up either. Mobile has mindshare now. While classical Web pages made purely of static content still easily beat apps, that’s also not where the value or the action is today. As with any distribution curve, it’s true that much of what is being produced in mobile apps isn’t very interesting or even useful. But that’s not the point; it’s the sheer volume of investment that apps are attracting which means that the high side of the curve is aggregating some of the best talent, and results.

Moreover, there may be no easy way to catch up. A new generation of apps is appearing that takes advantage of the unique abilities that next-generation mobile devices alone usually possess. This includes location (GPS), orientation, images, video, audio, and increasingly, new capabilities like near field communication (NFC). Innovative apps like RunKeeper, StarWalk, and WordLens are only possible because of their deep integration with the rich sensors located in today’s mobile devices. HTML5 is going to address some of this disparity, but not quickly enough to address the tide of defections — and venture capital — from Web apps to mobile apps.

Mobile Apps versus The Web: How iOS and Android are disrupting the Web

The genie won’t go back in the bottle

The sometimes-blind rush towards mobile apps has begun to concern me. For one, there’s little question that the proprietary element of apps — including their developer APIs, associated app stores, and underlying run-time platform and ecosystem — represents a very slippery slope back to the old days before the broad adoption of open standards (which includes virtually all of the Internet, even today.) That was back when industry giants like Microsoft and IBM called the shots and practically everyone was at their mercy, with independent developers at a distinct disadvantage with the platform owners themselves. There was often little choice and lots of lock-in. The arrival of the Web — and to an almost as large an extent open source — broke the stranglehold on proprietary platforms and put everyone on roughly the same playing field.

Then there is the model of the Web itself, something which has intrinsic properties that make it very, very special indeed. This especially includes deep link structure, which makes search work and provides link addressability to just about every element of information in the world (if it’s Web enabled that is.) After many long years of struggle, we are now finally seeing large companies starting to get the message that Web-orientation is a fundamentally powerful concept, perhaps more important than any computing idea since von Neumann architecture. The Web of pages, data, and even apps creates possibilities for ecosystems, integration, and synergy that’s more profound each and every day after nearly 20 years of continuous co-creation by everyone that uses and contributes to the Internet. All of this is now potentially threatened by the return of platform and app silos, proprietary mobile technology, and the seduction of new single-source forms of monetization of software, combined with a perception that app stores provide consumer safety that just doesn’t exist in the wild environs of the Web (which indeed they can.)

Related: Why The Next App You Use Might Be In A Social Network

To be clear, I’m actually a genuine fan of mobile apps and have hundreds of them on my iPhone and iPad. They are sometimes well-integrated with the Web, but I’m constantly battling the “lock-up” they introduce: 1) I can’t easily copy and paste data in many apps, 2) you frequently can’t link to information, 3) it’s not searchable from one place, and so on. Worse, it’s usually stuck on one platform or even for a single device (I have plenty of iPad apps that won’t run on the iPhone for example.) In comparison, the Web gave us real choice in browsers, search engines, servers, services, apps and much more as well as an revolutionary data architecture that has unleashed the knowledge of humanity along with the social media revolution, which has ultimately given us (everyday people) leadership over the production and sharing of global information. We give this up at great peril.

Can we still get to a good place? Yes, but it’s up to you.

There is a distinct and sharp inclination today towards mobile apps. They are convenient, fast, fun, and always with us. I’m actually mostly for mobility in all its form — especially apps — but it now looks like we may have to re-fight the long and arduous wars of open standardization that got us to the right place with the Web. Like it was before, it will be hard going but worth it in spades.

I should also note that the evolution of the Internet did fall down in a few key places that originally led to the rise of native mobile apps — namely not keeping up with the capabilities of mobile devices and by not introducing a way to make apps as safe, easily distributed, and monetized as say, iOS has. For that, we might pay a very high price indeed; our autonomy, competitiveness, and freedom to choose. Unfortunately, it’s often a zero sum game in terms of the shift in investment: Most Web apps simply must have a native mobile front-end now. That means it costs more to produce or the app collectively does less. Worse, while most mobile apps also have a Web experience, I notice that a growing number of them are using them primarily for support and brochure-ware instead of providing an integrated Web experience. That’s the slippery slope defined.

Where all of this is headed is unclear and there are certainly many people working on unifying today’s Web and mobile devices. However, none have yet hit upon a solution that will be broadly adopted. I’ll explore this topic in more detail throughout 2012, but increasingly it is looking like a very large yet largely silent struggle is brewing between these two vitally important worlds. The upshot: The Web could potentially — in the long-term — become a second-class citizen and I’m very sure that’s not a good thing. Fortunately, in the end, I’m not overly worried about this yet, as the network effect of the Web is just so large. Then again though, so is the growing network effect of mobile devices. I’m certainly not alone in tracking this closely, a good piece by Gigaom’s Matthew Ingram this week discusses how folks like Dave Winer and John Battelle are thinking about the consequences. We all must do the same.

Mobile is just one of the Big Five IT trends that we must grapple with in order to make the transition to next-gen enterprises.

Consumerization: Why the Workplace of Tomorrow Looks Like The Internet

The title of this post is almost right. The workplace of tomorrow will look like a lot of things actually, including the Internet; just not a whole lot like the way our organizations look today. For one, the workplace itself has steadily begun to disappear as teleworking becomes more and more prevalent, though the latest data shows this will take longer than other more imminent changes. These other disruptive forces, such as next-gen mobility, social networking, cloud computing, and big data, are so close at hand that most organizations are already extensively affected by them. It’s not a stretch to say they are eclipsing how IT is applied to business in many ways, even as IT shops are significantly underestimating their current impact, according to brand new research from Unisys.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been following this set of closely interrelated trends, each one that began “out there” on the Internet or in the consumer world, and have little or no roots in the enterprise world. It’s this singular fact that induces in so many IT executives and business leaders a profound feeling of disquiet. Yet the ones I’ve spoken to this year realize that they have to respond to these changes. Why? Because technology innovation today is driven mostly by the Internet or the consumer world, yet technology is one of the leading ways we use to automate and drive productivity improvements in business. High technology — and particularly the fundamental architecture of the Internet — also has an innate tendency to dislocate the old ways of working. It tends to tear down the traditional — yet less effective — means of operation, along with their associated cultures, norms, and expectations. However, it’s fair to say that no one being held to a quarterly earnings cycle or holding a market leading position vulnerable to technology change (media, software, travel, education, etc.) likes to experience dislocation. So it’s up to organizations to get (much) better at realizing an effective digital strategy, just as innovation and change is happening much faster than any other time in human history.

Recently, the phenomenon of “CoIT” has been growing. It’s a new concept that says that the adoption of IT is now proceeding rapidly outside of the CIO budget, often in entirely unsanctioned initiatives by lines of business. In its more mature form, CoIT also stands for a much closer yet decentralized notion of IT where innovation and technology leadership is driven on the ground by the business, yet supported by IT. The business — as well as IT — brings in the latest new cloud services, mobile apps, APIs, data sources, and mobile devices. IT then makes it safe, secure, and manageable, or provides guidelines for doing so. It’s a smart, efficient, scalable new partnership. The former is the “Consumerization of IT” while the latter model is the “Cooperation of IT”. Both are represented by the moniker, CoIT, which was originally coined by Computerworld Editor-in-Chief Scot Finnie a little while back.

Clearly there’s widespread interest in the topic, as one of my most popular writings this year was the exploration of the “Big Five” IT trends of the next half decade, one of which is consumerization, for which it could be argued it’s actually an encompassing supertrend. All of this ultimately culminated in a gracious invitation by Eric Norlin to come and present my research at Defrag 2011, which I did last week.

Below is the deck itself, which I gave as a keynote last Thursday morning:

If you don’t have time to review the deck, the key points to take away are the following:

5 Strategic Points about CoIT

  • Evidence is growing that current productivity gains aren’t coming from traditional IT investments. They are coming from somewhere else, or the cost of IT is collapsing radically. Almost certainly both are true by comparing slides 3 and 4.
  • There is far too much new tech for any centralized process (like IT) to absorb. New types of processes must be created that can unleash and scale the application of powerful new technologies (next-gen mobile, social business, cloud computing, big data, etc.) to the business..
  • If the only real constant is change, change must be in our DNA. But these ‘genes’ are usually not present in large enough quantities in the enterprise. This is the concept of moving from fixed processes to dynamic relationships embodied by the Big Shift in order to transform the enterprise as we know it.
  • Some changes will be more transformative than others. While mobility is the hot topic right now, social business and big data will have the largest long-term impact and especially the former will have truly game-changing and transformative consequences.
  • Ten to hundreds of times more apps and data are coming soon, get ready for it. Cultivate the skills, create enterprise app stores, build social layers into the organization, define decentralized enterprise architectures (really, business architectures), and create a new CoIT playbook. Or this will all route around you. 30% of IT is already outside the purview of the CIO and growing fast.

I’ll be exploring this more soon with new data and examples. In the meantime, I’d love your thoughts on where you are seeing IT going in a rampantly mobile, social, big data world. In addition, here are 10 strategies for coping in the CoIT era.

Transforming the Enterprise As We Know It

As I was reading David F. Carr’s latest piece on The Brainyard today, it drove home again for me some of the practically insurmountable challenges that many organizations have in avoiding the growing forces of digital disruption. David’s piece talked about Don Tapscott‘s proposition that we have to fundamentally remake the way our organizations engage with the world and produce useful work. The very-near future of business consists of new methods that are effective in today’s world, not for the era they were created in:

“When most people think of Enterprise 2.0, they think of the use of collaborative tools,” Tapscott said. “I’m arguing that something much bigger is happening than the application collaborative tools within the enterprise–it’s a profound transformation of the enterprise as we know it.” Basic principles of organization that have been established over the last 100 years are being upended, leading to “huge changes in how we orchestrate capabilities to create goods and services,” Tapscott said.

Like Tapscott, I’ve long been a proponent, along with thought leaders like John Hagel, that there’s a deep and profound Big Shift taking place as we get deeper into the 21st century. To survive, we must think in deeply networked, decentralized terms now, not in the rapidly receding business concepts of an age bygone. This means platforms instead of products, ecosystems instead of businesses, peer production instead of central production, and networks instead of hierarchies, to name just a few of the more significant aspects of the shift.

Emergent Business Processes and Enterprise Transformation: CoIT and Social Business Implications of the Big Shift

But how can traditional organizations get there? Web companies have a hard enough time getting there themselves, as digital natives. Most of them certainly don’t become the next Amazon or Facebook, two companies that virtually embody much of the changes taking place. Instead, I see many traditional firms engaging in the cargo cult mentality, hoping that by adding window dressing like social media, a few APIs, and perhaps some user-generated content, that they too will suddenly have a healthy, sustainable future.

Well, it’s not going to happen that way. The changes required are deep and sometimes painful. In fact, the more I examine the issue, successful transformation to a new mode of existence that naturally avoids the disruption inherent in these shifts boils down to a surprisingly few number of key changes. But those changes, though not generally that complex in and of themselves, are almost impossible to drive deeply into many organizations by virtue of their existing structures and processes. As they say, culture eats strategy for lunch.

Many of you know that I’ve been exploring how to foster social business approaches in large organizations for a number of years. When I see successes, they seem to have much in common with what made things like social media so successful. Yes, that’s network effects but also, and more to the point, about enabling an environment where emergent change can actually take root and thrive. A network effect can’t take hold if everything about the traditional way a business operates is to lock everything down into fixed transactional processes. That just doesn’t work in a fast changing new era where the value is in sustaining dynamic relationships and not fixed transactions.

As JP Rangaswami recenty wrote, it’s now all about “The capacity to change. Designed as an integral function. Native.

How then can businesses “fundamentally remake” themselves? What critical changes are at the heart of moving from regular business to things like social business? I’ve been exploring the answers to that question recently in quite some detail, but I’d start with these three things:

  • Local autonomy. Effective, resilient response to business change can’t only be driven by top-down, hierachies. It’s far too slow, low in innovation, and far from problems on the ground. Restructure the organization so that change along the edge is not only possible, but well-resourced, common, and effective.
  • Freeform collaboration. Going beyond Enterprise 2.0 to reinventing the way business models scale and provide value. I’ve previously written about the orders of magnitude cost reductions that are possible and the things they enable, plus how to get there.
  • A culture of experimentation. Of the three, this is the hardest. The first two are different; it’s always possible to create a startup culture at the edge of organizations and it’s also possible to drive mass collaboration. We increasingly see it done all the time in large companies, though it takes time to really establish itself in a transformational way. But to get an organization to be fundamentally more accepting of innovation is very difficult to instill when it does not already exist. Some of it is a skill problem, but a lot of it is more systemic. Solving this is going to be one of the great generational challenges of the social business era.

There’s a lot to consider when undergoing the large-scale transformations that businesses must undertake today, but a focus on these core issue will go way towards getting started.

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.

Exceeding the Benefits of Complexity? A Fractal Model for the Social Business Era

Over the weekend my friend and industry colleague JP Rangaswami wrote an insightful post that pondered how we have gone about delivering on customer experiences as connected to our back-end capabilities. Specifically, he explored an issue that is increasingly challenging many of the large-company CIOs I speak with these days: That the present rates of change demanded of the accumulation of 20-30 years of legacy business systems is greatly exceeding the ability of our enterprises and associated software “stacks” to deliver on them, particularly as cloud, social, and mobile dramatically transform computing today.

The problem lies in our classical views of enterprise architecture and business architecture both. But JP puts it more poetically:

Development backlogs are endemic, as the sheer complexity of the grown-like-Topsy stack slows the process of change and makes it considerably more expensive to change. The stack has begun to fossilise, just at the time when businesses are hungrier for growth, when the need to deliver customer-facing, often customer-touching, applications is an imperative.

Which makes me wonder. What Tainter wrote about societies, what Shirky wrote about companies, are we about to witness something analogous in the systems world? A collapse of a monolith, consumed by its own growth and complexity? As against the simpler, fractal approach of ecosystems?

This fractal aspect of user systems, Web 2.0, and SOA is one that I deeply explored in the 2005-2007 timeframe, and my ideas on this even made the cover story of the SOA/Web Services Journal at one point. This is when we began to see successful, composite systems sprouting up “in the wild” that were eminently natural and highly successful, such as Amazon’s, Flickr’s, and many others. Innovative new open API-based businesses had definitively emerged and shown us — in fact, virtually proved to anyone willing to observe — that business/technology ecosystems could be routinely produced that were far more successful than the ones virtually any traditional business had managed to produce for itself internally with methods like SOA. It was clear something important and new was happening and we tried to learn from it.

Traditional Closed Business Stack vs. Open Networked Supply Chain API

The signature lesson in this time period was that being “in the business” of ecosystems, at multiple levels, was the key to resilience, growth, and sustainability. It’s still a far cry from how most organizations are structured today, but I do see the first hints that this is starting to change. Companies like Best Buy and Sears have been getting the message among the old guard firms and looking at integration, partnership, and engagement as an open network activity.

The Web has also shown us that complexity, as important as it is to address and resolve the many inherent vagaries of dealing with the real world, is largely the enemy, whenever it exists needlessly. Our assumptions of where the complexity should be, in the transports for example, was wrong. It was in the ecosystem itself and we paid dearly for half a decade (and running) based on that misapprehension. But we’ve learned. SOAP usage has almost completely shifted to REST, complex WS-* stacks have largely moved on to simple standards and methods like Web-Oriented Architecture.

But technical discussions obscure the very important truths about what we’ve learned in the interim between the “aha” moment when we realized that what was happening so successfully “out there” was something that would make us just as successful inside our organizations, for internal and customer-facing needs both. After all, this holistic ‘integratedness’ — usually triggered via our connections to the Internet — was a part of our businesses increasingly and we simply had to realize this and engage as Internet natives. But back then, Andrew McAfee worried that focusing on the plumbing was the wrong emphasis to have on the exciting changes taking place, and he was largely right from a communication perspective.

However, building fractal architectures that addresses the old and the new isn’t as easy as just deciding to cast off the old, less effecive ways, as JP notes:

What I’d established in my own mind was a growing belief that the issue was to do with rates of change and costs of change. Vertical integration paid off when the rate of change was low. Networked small-pieces approaches paid off when the rate of change was high.

We are clearly living in times of much greater rates of change. Unfortunately, the old systems, the old architectures, the old business “stack” is often running the core of the business. It’s usually deeply vertically integrated, and not made of small networked pieces, loosely joined that are truly agile, deeply harness innovation on the edge, and turn IT into a profit center instead of a cost center.

So, while I have a lot more to say about this, because I believe that social business context will be at the root of the future of our how we design our products, services, processes, and workplaces, below are a few basic rules you can take away that if you stay true to, can indeed help you make the transition to the future. Note that customer and worker experiences are outside the scope of this, this has more to do with the new business stack below the social layer:

4 Ways to Create Sustainable Business Ecosystems

If resilient, networked, recomposable, open business capabilities are the future of business and IT architecture, getting there then requires a substantial change in stance:

  • Open Your Business Stack. To everyone, internally and externally, generally in the order of the systems and data that are most often requested for integration. Make it easy for anyone to onboard themselves and use the simplest and most egalitarian technology possible to deeply connect the world to your business. Self-onboarding is crucial because it enables the killer asymmetric business advantage of systems that respond to external engagement best: Export most of the change effort to outside your organization and impose it on those that wish to participate and integrate with you. Enterprises that close the “clue gap” with Big Data will have an enormous advantage.
  • Go Into the Business of Ecosystems. Stand behind your open supply chain: Invest in it for the long term, market it, evangelize it, support it, and stand behind it like your customers — again, internally or externally — will be building world changing products and services from them (if you do this, the track record is that they will.) Be fair and generous with your IP and enterprise data; you are under-utilizing it by several orders of magnitude until you do this, leaving much or even most of the potential of your business on the floor. Worse, until you treat it like a business, you won’t get external contributions to enrich your ecosystem that will drive down the cost of change while greatly increasing the velocity of new solutions and local adaptations.
  • Begin Fractal Reconciliation of Your Classical Systems. While hanging a trendy Web API off an ancient COBOL accounting system might be a step in the right direction, long-term success will mean going well behind the API. The existing business/IT landscape must be converged and rationalized so they themselves are made of “networked small pieces” that are faster to change as well as more resilient and responsive to being so much more connected (and therefore useful and valuable) to the world.
  • Spin Up New 21st Century Business Models. All new possibilities, many of which will be foreign to non-digital native firms, are reachable once you have created a fractal enterprise stack. Dominating classes of data, metered business knowledge, all new monetization methods, and more become possible once the three transformations above have started.

Unfortunately, after having advised and directly assisted many large companies in doing much of what I’m describing here over the years, it’s clear that most organizations are at a major disadvantage in making this transformation. The organizational will required is actually quite low, since most of this is fairly easy to do now with cloud technologies, increasingly capable technology partners, and the latest development stacks. Instead, it’s the understanding of how important it is to kill excessive complexity and focus on ways of thinking about business and technical architecture that will propel companies into bright futures.

We must leave behind vertical integration and radically collapse the size of our seams (APIs) in our businesses, while radically increasing the number of useful endpoints such that we look at them as the very fundament of our enterprises. The benchmark for success is how many others are depending on your ecosystem for their own success. Starting now, the activity in your organization must be focused on optimizing for growth of this number. That is the only way we’ll ensure we’re building businesses that are the most relevant, meaningful, and valuable to us going forward. The enterprises that don’t simply won’t survive in their present form. I believe that much is at stake here. Unfortunately, the “cultural gap” John Hagel wrote of back when this conversation started between the enterprise crowd and the Internet crowd is still much too large and is still hindering the move forward for many organizations.

I look forward to continuing this discussion and exploring just how much we’ve recently learned about the future of business and enterprise architecture.

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?

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