Unified Collaboration: How Social Business and Other Forms of Digital Engagement are Intertwining

The rich history of digital collaboration in the last 30 years has been a long and winding one. Fortunately, it’s also been a highly rewarding story that has led to literally historic advances in workforce productivity and efficiency for most organizations. Along the way, many of these advances have led to and made possible entirely new and powerful types of work scenarios.

However, I find that many organizations still treat digital collaboration as 1) a largely tactical activity that doesn’t require much deliberate enablement, structure, or process 2) mostly separate from digital engagement in general and 3) a needed capability to be solved primarily through deployment of technology, rather than from the point of view of enabling activities between people. These three tendencies alone lead to much of the shortfalls I’ve seen when new collaboration efforts sometimes underperform.

The Intertwining of Unified Communications, Lightweight Collaboration, and Social Business into Unified Collaboration

The three new categories of digital collaboration

As collaboration has evolving during the rise of the social and mobile era, I’ve found that the last decade in particular has lead to some of the most significant and increasingly disruptive refinements in the practice:

  • Social Business (internal). This is the high concept rethinking of how we work together to be more community-centric, open, and participative. It consists of a varied set of practices — depending on whose model you are following — that typically consists of business processes redesigned around new social tools such as enterprise social networks, content/document management platforms, online communities, or even enterprise microblogging services. Needless to say for those of us who have been involved, a tremendous amount of energy and thought across the collaboration industry has gone into how organizations can achieve numerous benefits if they can reorganize the way teams and even entire companies can better work together using the potent model of social media. Techniques typically include Working Out Loud, the redesign of business processes to be more participative, and all the other activities involved in large-scale social business transformation.

    Organizations have seen results across the spectrum with their social business efforts, though there have been common pitfalls, especially when the notion of ‘Facebook for the Enterprise’ has been the goal, instead of solving urgent business problems (like trying to resolve poor collaboration between specific internal groups, or making certain key processes more transparent and efficient) The general consensus however is that there is a 25% enterprise-wide benefit in terms of productivity. Lately, the drum beat on social business has taken a bit more of a back seat to full-spectrum focus on digital business transformation in many organizations. Social business has continued to evolve however, and we’ve just now reached the end of the beginning in my opinion.

  • Unified Communications. Rarely considered at the same time or in conjunction with social business initiatives, unified communications has been making steady inroads into the corporate world, despite some fairly rocky evolution over the years. The unified communications industry has attempted to sort out and make consistent the various digital communications channels within the enterprise, but has often missed major developments in the industry. The most inexplicable oversight was that unified communications vendors missed the social media revolution almost entirely, though that has now been partially addressed in some of the leading platforms now, though it took years to resolve. This meant unified communications was sometimes anything but. The issue continues to persist as new and emerging enterprise collaboration channels such as mobile apps, the explosion in enterprise file sync and sharing such as Dropbox, and even legacy content/document solutions are often still left out in the cold by unified communications solutions. Despite these additions — and I think the continuing rapid rise of new collaboration channels will remain the top problem for the approach — unified communications has become increasingly capable of delivering a core set of well integrated solutions for chat, voice, video, and presence, and now finally e-mail, social, and mobile.

    Notably, unified communications has taken nearly the opposite approach of social business. Instead of a fundamental rethinking of work in digital/social terms, it’s a much more workman like approach to providing handy new digital communication toolkits to the worker that can be used for collaboration. In the final analysis, however, the unified communications approach has been slow to deal with the important strategic issues that social business aims to address: The unfortunate “evaporation” of digital knowledge in older tools, poor visibility and participation (not enough eyeballs) in legacy collaboration methods, and the still pervasive inability to find knowledge or people in most organizations, to name just a few. Despite all this, the market for unified communications, particularly in the cloud, is now poised for a major wave of growth.

  • Collaboration suites, next-gen intranets, and lightweight collaboration apps. Recently, a number of new collaboration approaches or digital methods have emerged, some full collaborative toolkits, others just filling in still-unaddressed or just emerging point needs within organizations, or both, a strategy Google is increasingly following with their cloud offerings. These are not as comprehensive or one-stop-shop solutions for collaboration or re-imagining how workers interact with each other and produce value, but organizations are broadly considering them in general as white spaces emerge, often without considering their collaborative workplace strategy as a whole.

Given these three rough buckets of new collaborative focus within the enterprise, most of which happen in isolation from one another in the average organization, it’s been interesting to see how they’ve operated either as genuine silos or as so-called ‘frenemies’, working together a little but competing for each others user bases. But, gratifyingly in my view, some organizations are increasingly no longer so accepting of these fragmented efforts, and are proactively trying to do something about it.

The emergence of unified collaboration

I’ve been spending most of 2014 looking at what large organizations have been doing to evolve their collaborative environments and I’ve noticed several distinct trends:

  1. A strong drive for meaningful integration between collaborative silos. I’ve noticed there has been a sharp drop in tolerance for collaborative processes to be stuck in one place, platform, or audience, and not searchable or visible elsewhere. For example, I’m seeing that organizations are now seeking to connect intranets, enterprise social networks, and content/document management systems in much more meaningful ways. As Alan Lepofsky has observed recently, mail and social networks are starting to merge as well. Unified comms is also getting embedded everywhere and within many applications. I now believe we will witness considerable investment in the next couple of years in creating bridges between collaborative silos and meaningful presence for collaborative tools in business applications in general.
  2. Development of a true enterprise-wide view of digital collaboration strategy. Organizations are increasingly getting their act together and making sense of their collaborative efforts well above the level of the technologies themselves, putting together more purpose-driven plans that eliminate confusion, fragmentation, and inconsistency with collaboration technology while updating worker skills and shifting company culture to take better advantage of the possibilities. This includes, as Stowe Boyd has noted, the measurement and quantification of the collaborative environment in real-time, which I’ve found has been vital in producing feedback to guide a collaboration strategy in flight towards impactful results.
  3. An advanced notion of unified collaboration. As a direct results of the first true trends, I’m seeing the organic emergence of an important concept I’ll call unified collaboration. This is the strategic knitting together of plans, the full portfolio of collaborative technologies, and business objectives enterprise-wide into more cohesive whole. It stands out from mere unified communication by being much more overarching, contextual to the business, scenario-centric, and goal-oriented. It also reflects the understanding that there is more to collaboration than just the next big thing (aka social business), and that collaboration in all its many forms must be better and more comprehensively supported, reconciled, and enabled.

I think these trends — along with important ones like enterprise-wide knowledge streams — herald great things in the enterprise when it comes to collaboration and represents a sort of maturity proof point. I’ve begun collecting industry examples of these trends and will share them soon. Please send me your stories and case examples if you’d like me to add them.

Additional Reading:

How to Deliver on a Modern Enterprise Collaboration Strategy

Realizing Effective Digital Collaboration in the Enterprise

Rethinking Work in the Collaborative Era

Finally, I’ll be talking about this topic and others later this month at my afternoon keynote at the Enterprise 2.0 SUMMIT 2014 in London. It would be great to meet you there.
Dion Hinchcliffe will give the afternoon keynote at theEnterprise 2.0 SUMMIT in London

Going Beyond ‘Bolt-On’ Digital Transformation

Much has been made recently of the imperative to fully transition our businesses into the modern digital world. It now hardly needs to be said at this point. There is even some encouraging news for traditional enterprises: The latest data from Forrester shows that companies are indeed at long last making digital transformation a top priority, with 74% of executives saying that they currently have a strategy to get there.

Yet “having a digital strategy” can also mean just about anything, depending upon who you ask. At this point however, there are basically two main forks in the road to digital for most organizations:

There is the ‘bolt-on’ strategy, which typically means adding a few new digital channels to existing touchpoints — typically social and mobile — and maybe creating an associated but minor sideline business with some digital revenue.

Then there is the ‘digital transformation’ approach to digital. It’s a full-on, meaningful reconception of the business, often using a startup or incubator model, with the intent to re-imagine a digital native organization with all that it entails, from new business models, culture shifts, remodeling of the structure and processes of the business, and rethinking of the very foundations of the enterprise across the full spectrum of digital possibility.

Enterprise Digital Business Transformation

Unfortunately, the latter approach also has many of the characteristics that corporate leadership tends to avoid: a) The big bang initiative which has a high likelihood of failure, b) cross-silo involvement, meaning it will encounter numerous bureaucratic and political obstacles, and b) the likelihood of of success being dependent on securing rarefied talent with scarce expertise that crosses the domain of the business, the world of strategic emerging technology, and next-generation IT.

The reality is that both forks have real risks: The bolt-on approach is too little and too incremental to have the requisite strategic impact, though it’s certainly a valid interim approach (as long as it’s not the only one.) On the other hand, the full digital transformation model entails a major investment and commitment across the organization with a seemingly all-to-uncertain outcome.

Yet, the latest data tells us unequivocally that the act of doing nothing — or just too little — is also sure to fail. The march of technology is wiping out traditional companies faster than ever before, and the pace is only accelerating.

Another way of putting it is that the CEOs, CIOs, COOs, and CMOs — the four roles most directly responsible for guiding this transformation — will secure rewards for their organizations that are directly commensurate with their commitment to drive broad digital adaptation and change. For the data is unambiguous: Those that don’t fully align with the state of the marketplace will be absorbed by those that do.

Forrester Digital Business Strategy Not Yet Business Strategy
Many industries even today are resistant to digital. Source: Forrester

Thinking Like a Digital Business

What can organizations do if they are serious about their responsibilities to lead the business into the future? Several clear options are emerging:

  • Seek out digital change. Avoid having it imposed. Successful next-generation enterprises — see the start of my 2014 NGE target here — won’t wait until adopting new digital channels, tech, and business models are unavoidable. They will pro-actively seek them out, learn them early on, experiment, and be ready to grow when they mature. Even fast-followers will be at risk if they don’t avidly seek out new opportunities. Dave Gray has previously pointed out research from Shell showing that the longest-lived companies are pro-active seekers and explorers of new markets. What’s more, digital change is now nearly continuous, and the organizations must establish long-term processes that tap into and pull these changes into a new “digital metabolism” that makes incorporating strategic innovation both routine and sustainable. Organizations that only respond to change will always be several steps behind those that are change-seekers. Finally, be bold it seeking out these changes. As the latest McKinsey report on digital transition notes, the winners will “be unreasonably aspirational.”
  • Cultivate capabilities to support multiple operating models. As John Kotter pointed out this week, there is now “an inseparable partnership between hierarchy and network.” We will have two and probably more major operating models in our organizations going forward, at least the legacy and the digital. We must operate and exploit each of these systems to their fullest — and together — to produce competitive and effective results today. To get there, successful leaders will strategically enable the shift of hierarchy into much more network-centric models, while cultivating the strengths of both simultaneously. Since most organizations currently have significantly underdeveloped networked operating models, this will require special investment and integration into the digital transformation process.
  • Understand and absorb the new competencies of digital across the organization. If one thing stands out clearly when I look at digital transformation efforts, is that they are often led by those who are experts in the existing business, who often don’t have the competencies in the digital space. It’s not that it can’t be learned, but it is a fast-growing and already enormous field. The profound difficulties that many transformation efforts have encountered, despite the vast on-hand resources including thousands of workers and millions of customers, has been to the distinct boundary of and very different rules for success between legacy business and digital business. I recently summarized what many business leaders don’t quite get right in their mindset and assumptions when it comes to digital transformation, but it boils down to deeply understanding and emulating what those successful in digital have done to get there. Understand the power laws of digital business, deeply absorb the concept of engaging with and co-creating new products and services with digital ecosystems, and wielding powerful new ways to scale innovation.

This is not to say that businesses have not already extensively digitized. They have, but as Sameer Patel recently pointed out, they generally have not transformed. The single biggest obstacle to successful digital transformation is a broad shift to a ‘native digital’ mindset that will consistently inform broad action. I’ve come to believe that traditional companies can make this transition, but only if they decentralize tech innovation that is coupled with a supportive new network operating model, while carefully controlling downside (typically security, data control, etc.).

So, while bolting-on a digital mindset may lead to some short-term successes, it will certainly stunt the future of your organization. Instead, employ internal and external networks to create a naturally-supportive environment where digital change is far more scalable, emergent, adaptive, and continuous.

Additional Reading:

The New Top Level Operating Models of Business

Digital diaspora in the enterprise: Arrival of the Chief Digital Officer

Designing the New Enterprise: Issues and Strategies

I’m looking forward to traveling to Paris, France the week after next to provide the opening keynote to the Intersection Conference. Intersection is an intriguing new multi-disciplinary event organized by Milan Guenther that’s intended to explore how we should design our organizations for the future. Milan also wrote a terrific book by the same name, which I urge you to read as well. The write-up for the conference itself says it best:

The role of design in economy and society is shifting. We see disciplines such as Service and Interaction Design moving beyond individual services and their digital components, to tackle experiences between enterprises and their audiences.

Enterprises and entrepreneurship are everywhere, playing a vital role in our lives. They are ubiquitous in the mass of organisations of all sizes we are in touch with as consumers, employees, investors, or in other roles.

This event is about designing the new enterprise, making it less awkward and more humane. We will explore how to design enterprise-wide brand experiences, social organisations, and digital businesses. To do this, design practitioners, consultants and architects combine methods and models from Service and Experience Design, Information and Enterprise Architecture, Systems and Design Thinking, to drive innovation and transform complex enterprise ecosystems.

Those who’ve followed my most recent musings on how our organizations are trying to change to adapt to a rapidly transforming world, and being changed even more by external forces outside their control know this has been a prime focus of mine. Technology in particular is the author of so much of what is reshaping markets, communities, corporations, and even our cultures. The growing question is whether our organizations will break under the loads of so much change, or are there paths we can navigate and steps we can take to transition more gracefully?

Additional Reading: What is the Future of Work?

Business Architecture: Change and Designing for the Future Enterprise

It’s very clear that most companies feel an imperative to update how they operate to match the current state of the marketplace. But as I pointed out in ZDNet recently, the data shows that the average lifespan of the enterprise continues to drop steadily, due to poor adaptation to the latest marketplace conditions.

In addition, to make matters worse, due to misalignment between our constituents’ respective goals, we also see that most workers in the typical enterprise are generally are poorly engaged. Only 40% of workers are ‘well-engaged’ according to recent analyses. This is a unacceptable state of affairs, but we’ve really only ourselves to blame. I believe we can do better.

How do we adapt sustainably to constant change?

The big question is there an intersection between change, the role and function of businesses, and the future of work that will allow us to adapt more readily? Can we still do this while creating an environment that enables far better and more satisfying work and outcomes for everyone, including employees, customers, and yes, even shareholders? What skills must be brought to bear to realize a fundamental restructuring — in the face of the many major new modes of work — for how we absorb, adopt, and manage the external march of change facing us — and therefore frequently imposing serious business challenges — that we are encountering at an ever accelerating pace?

Personally, I believe getting to equilibrium between our organizations and external change will require a specific set of modifications to the core of most of our organizations. First, achieving this will require a much-more pragmatic and decentralized view of business and enterprise architecture. It will also require that we honestly look at technology and how we metabolize and assimilate it into the way we work and then seek ways to reconcile with it. We’ll also need to cultivate workers that have effective skills in design thinking, which they can use within and across the organization to locally redesign it for current realities. And finally, we need to update how we collaborate in a fundamental and more focused way, and by that, I mean all modes of collaboration between all stakeholders.

These then are the issues I’d like to explore in Paris in just over a week. I hope you will join me. Milan has assembled an all-star cast for this discussion, including corporate strategist, author, and futurist Chris Potts, branding, innovation, and design expert Erik Roscam Abbing, and the lead designer for Dassault, Anne Asensio, to name just a few of the leading thinkers who will be speaking and collaborating there. Either way, I encourage you to join this vital conversation.

You can view the deck for my keynote talk at Intersection 2014 here.

For more background, you can also view my Slideshare profile with sampling of my latest keynote decks on this topic.

For More Information:

Intersection Conference - Paris, France - April 16-17, 2014

How We Gave Up Control Over The Social Web

A short but pithy piece over the weekend by Dave Winer titled “Why the Web 2.0 model is obsolete” got me thinking about where we’ve ended up with social media after nearly ten years. Blogs, wikis, and other tools of easily shared self-expression from the early days have given away in recent years to a much less diverse social media monoculture. A few large social networks now control our social identity, content, and behavior, and through their terms of service, often literally own our online existence legally and de facto.

This evolution was perhaps inevitable given the rules through which networks operate and certainly the result has its strengths. It’s far easier for consumers and businesses to adopt a hosted service than set up their own social presence, with all the complicated bits it requires to set up a fully functional social identity on your own these days. It’s also probably more secure, safe, and reliable long term. It’s certainly the shortest route to connecting with the vast captive audiences that the leading social networks now wield.

Yet in the process of making many short term decisions in the name of reach and convenience, many of us have given away our social capital, and along with it much of our online autonomy and freedom. I’ve long since stopped advising companies to drive their traffic to Facebook (disclaimer: I am a shareholder) and build their own online communities and digital ecosystems if they are intending to be strategic about things like social business and open APIs.

Network Effects, Social Media, and Centralized vs. Federated

The impressive thing is that we’ve largely achieved the original vision of Web 2.0 and it’s just how we do things now. We share by default. We use social media more than any other digital activity. Social media is now woven into so much of what we do today. Yet the majority of all of this user generated content and online community is now centralized in a few large social silos that can no longer talk to each other.

Even worse, if we go the opposite direction that might seem better long term, we’ve discovered issues with that model too. For example, we’ve learned that when we create many smaller, self-controlled, and more autonomous social environments we then create fragmentation. We can’t easily communicate or collaborate with each other across these social islands. Thus, for as many downsides as the monolithic social networks have, they do achieve one important thing: They create a very large single social universe that we can all communicate across.

So what should we collectively do? Should we cave in and trust that the corporate owners of the social world will be benevolent, even when they clearly have business models that are very often at cross purposes to our needs and desires? Or should we find a way to solve the problem of creating our own social corners on the Web and then connecting them together, all while making it very easy to do so? Personally, I’m hoping it’s the latter. Certainly I’ve explored previously how open social standards have a genuine shot at helping with this, even if it might be a bit of a long shot.

The reality is that social media silos are now holding us back, both as individuals and as businesses. We can do much better if we want. But getting there requires a little long-term discipline and plenty of widespread demand. That makes it pretty unlikely in the face of the enormously strong network effects of the largest social networks today. But perhaps there’s a third option to regaining control over our social lives. In fact, I predict the next big breakthrough in social media is likely to come from the need to resolve this tension between the unfortunate long term consequences of centralized social media and the benefits of a much more federated and user controlled model. Unfortunately, recent history has been a steady march towards the former.

So until then, we all need to mull over where our collective decisions are taking us, for as social media is perhaps the greatest communication revolution in history, its intrinsic power cuts both ways.

Imagining the Future of the Enterprise

This afternoon at a workshop in Stuttgart, Germany at the KnowTech conference I explored our latest conception of the many transformative technology changes happening within our organizations today. The majority, if not most of these trends, are now being driven by the so-called “big shifts” — and our response to them as people, organizations, and society — that are largely being imposed from outside the walls of the enterprise. Consumerization is clearly here to stay. This is not to say that businesses aren’t innovating. Certainly they still are. But they are greatly outnumbered and frequently outclassed by the tsunami of new ideas sweeping across us from the consumer world.

The pace of advance today can seem overwhelming. It is new mobile devices, social media, cloud services, avalanches of sensor or crowd-created data, all brought to our doorstep via new digital channels and platforms such as mobile apps, app stores, open APIs, new social networks, gamification tools, to name just a few of the bigger and more disruptive technologies.

To proactively deal with all this, I currently advise most companies to develop a “strategy book” that they can readily use to identify important new advances, understand their abilities and ramifications, and then determine the impact to their business, both in terms of opportunity and challenges. Note: The aforementioned workshops typically provide the basis for such a strategy book and the processes required.

Unfortunately for most companies, there are often more challenges than opportunities, since many of these new technologies go against the grain of how traditional companies are structured and operate. Openness, decentralized processes, mass participation, network effects, and radically new distribution models for communication and work are not merely typical of today’s consumer technologies, it’s how they fundamentally work and compete against each other.

Put simply, to survive these generational shifts, organizations must figure out how to absorb new technology changes effectively and at scale. This will require potent strategies that will begin with requiring genuine rethinking of service delivery within our organizations and ultimately arrive at a profound transformation of the company. This will ultimately include its business models, motivations, and sometimes even its reasons for being. One can look at Amazon as an exemplar of this, starting out in e-commerce, and ending up a true and surprisingly pure digital platforms company, successfully wielding mobile, platforms, cloud, and big data to achieve market domination. Amazon is the most well known, but there are others and the route is repeatable, just as it is sometimes difficult.

The end point of all this is where everything is a service, as Dave Gray famously predicted. But also it’s more than that. The future of the enterprise, what I’m calling the next-generation enterprise, requires a mindset that doesn’t think in terms of fixed markets or point products or services. Instead, we must create, cultivate, and control fast-moving and highly competitive ecosystems of people, information, and value across a virtually unlimited number of channels. Those who can move first, co-create, and own the best class of information and then deliver it in forms the market wants, when it wants it, will be the winners in the short-term and long-term. Companies organized to do any less than this will falter and fade.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about and exploring how organizations can get there. There’s still a lot we need to learn, but we’re beginning to see the broad outlines. Unfortunately, there still more questions than answers, even today. Can most organizations make the transition? Does the transition to a next-generation enterprise have multiple routes, if so, what are they? How much investment is required and what is the likelihood of failure? Can we quantify and manage the risk of transforming? All of these questions and more remain difficult to answer.

Related: How Digital Business Will Evolve in 2012: 6 Big Ideas

However, we do know with a fair degree of certainty that most large organizations will need to begin changing faster — starting now — if they intend to survive. Most will need to become next-generation enterprises in a meaningful way within the next half-decade. And they need to have started several years ago.

As we enter the age of digital engagement, the untapped possibilities still largely exist. Most organizations should be utterly thrilled by the uncharted territories in front of them. Unfortunately, I see that most do not even see these as more than a threat, if they see them at all. That then is the first challenge: Changing how we regard our connection and relation to the world, for the biggest changes happening today are not only digital, but to ourselves and what makes our companies work.

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!

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.

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