Dreamforce 17: Live Blogging the Benioff Keynote #df17

I’m sitting here in the vast keynote chamber within Moscone Center in San Francisco again this year for Salesforce’s annual confab. Long since an obligatory pilgrimage for those in enterprise SaaS and cloud computing, Dreamforce remains the single largest business technology event in North America, and some say the largest software event in the world of any kind.

Dreamforce has once again taken over downtown San Francisco almost completely. The crowds are larger than ever and security is even tighter than last year, which was tight. With over 170,000 people here, the police presence is palpable this week, with some armed with what looks like automatic weapons. But the crowds seem more reassured than nervous about this, and frankly it’s a minor but notable shift in what has been an annual Kumbaya-style event that proactively celebrates diversity, equality, and social good just as much as the latest new technologies and products.

The Salesforce Economy Growth Projections Increase

The latest Salesforce econoy number are in as well. IDC estimates that Salesforce will 3.3 million jobs and contribute approxtimately $859 billion in new business revenue (yes, nearly a trillion dollars) by 2022:

The Salesforce Economy by 2022 (2017 Estimate by IDC)

A New Google/Salesforce Partnership for the Cloud

Salesforce has released a slew of announcements, especially around industry partnerships. The most significant is that Salesforce will integrate Google’s G Suite with multiple products and use Google Cloud Platform for international growth. The announcement is favorable for Quip, which will tie into Gmail, Hangouts and Google Calendar. Quip’s Live Apps will become embedded with Google Drive and Google Calendar with full Hangout integration. Data is shared as well with customer account details and information which can be used from Sales Cloud directly. More details on the Salesforce/Google partnership from Larry Dignan on ZDNet. Mostly, the announcement seems designed to head off Microsoft’s growing dominance in office productivity with Office 365, though there are some interesting analytics news as well.

The Salesforce Google Quip Partnership in 2017 #df17

The keynote will begin at 3pm PT and I’ll be live blogging is right here.

2:54pm PT: Will.i.am is doing a preshow on conversational interfaces.

3:07pm PT: Still getting in Ohana spirit as the usual Hawaiian commencement of Dreamforce begins…

Ohana Ceremony at Dreamforce 2017

3:09pm PT: Opening video roles. “The next wave is building. Digital and physical worlds are blurring. We’re in the 4th Industrial Revolution (also known as Industry 4.0). Revolutions never change the world gently. That innovations may only help a lucky few. We see another way. At Salesforce we live values of trust, growth, integrity, and equality of every individual in the world. The world is going to be changed by Trailblazers.”

3:11pm PT: “Welcome to Dreamforce. Let’s blaze a trail together.” Voice over now introduces Marc Benioff who comes out onto stage.

3:12pm PT: “The biggest job I have here today is to say thank you to our customers” say Benioff. “We are deeply grateful for all that you do for us.”

3:14pm PT: Now Benioff is talking about the 4th Industrial Revolution, which is apparently the theme for this year’s keynote. “I see it happening all around me. Incredible new tech like 3D printers, CRISPR, autonomous vehicles, and generation manufacturing.”

Marc Benioff Keynoting Dreamforce 2017

3:18pm PT: Now Benioff talking about luxury brand companies are becoming “so deeply connected to our customers. Coca-Cola is another great story. They have these incredible coolers. The next-generation of these coolers has a camera.” They can tell when the cooler needs to be replenished. “They are going through incredible transformation using this new technology. “Everywhere I go, I see this transformation. I recently stayed at Marriott. I’m a member of their loyalty program. But loyalty is dead. Now we’re on journey. Customer journeys, transformation journeys. They can even give me my key on my phone now.”

3:20pm PT: “That’s what all of us are doing, trying to connect better with our customers.” Now cites Ducati’s new connected motorcycles (see their CIO Piergiorgio Grossi’s vision for IT here at Dreamforce, a inductee to the Business Transformation 150 that Ray Wang and I selected this year.) as a new type of next-generation product. “Are these technologies united us or dividing us? Are we more connected or somehow less connected.”

3:23pm PT: “We have 2,700 sessions over the next few days” says Benioff.

3:25pm PT: Benioff continues to go over the major guests at Dreamforce including Michelle Obama, Ashton Kutcher, Kasper Rorsted, CEO of Adidas, and Ginni Rometti, CEO of IBM. Here’s the full list of major speakers at Dreamforce this year.

3:28pm PT: “Over 3,000 companies have adopted the Salesforce 1:1:1 model. And will do more than $12.5B in revenue next year. Thank you for what you have created. Business is the greatest platform for change.”

Salesforce Economy 1:1:1 at Dreamforce 2017 #df17

3:31pm PT: “It’s about the equality of every human being. When we see discrimination happening anywhere in the world, Trailblazers came forward and help change it. We’re committed to diversity and equality. We have to look at our boards of directors, management, and employees.”

3:32pm PT: “We are the largest net zero cloud company in the world. This is happening through all of you Trailblazers. We are the Number 1 CRM in the cloud. #1 in service and marketing. The fastest software company ever to grow to $12.5B in revenue. How did this happen? Because of you.”

3:34pm PT: “It’s amazing what you do with our platform every day. You’ve created that. And you’ve created this, the Salesforce economy. $859B in GDP impact by 2022, $1B in social impact, and 3.3 million jobs. Building communities, sales, collaboration, and industries. Trailhead is this tremendous educational environment. Einstein with artificial intelligence, Lightning, an incredible productivity environment for creating apps. Analytics in everything, and AppExchange with thousands of apps. So thank you for that. For inspiring us to build this.”

3:37pm PT: Now rolling video of Salesforce MVP Stephanie Herrara, on the power of Traiblazers. Now Benioff is up on stage with Stephanie, talking about her Salesforce Saturdays.

Marc Benioff with MVP Stephanie_Herrera at Dreamforce 2017 #df17

3:41pm PT: “Our platform gets bigger and stronger every day.” “Now I want to take a moment to talk about something new that you’re doing to see at Dreamforce this year. Our development teams have been working on creating tremendous next-generation capabilities. If you’ve been over to Moscone West to see that first floor on Trailhead. You’ve embraced Trailhead. It’s an amazing community in so many ways. 4 million badges have been issued so far.”

3:43pm PT: Benioff is now unveiling myTrailhead, “exactly for you. It’s Trailhead with your brand and your content. To make Trailhead exactly for you. This is your Trailhead. It’s the learning cloud, it’s the enablement cloud, and community cloud all in one. With myTrailbead, you can create Trailhead for your company. You don’t have to be a coder or programmer. You can create with clicks, not code.” This is one of the reasons I put Salesforce on my low code platforms ShortList recently.

3:46pm PT: You can deliver your own mobile apps without code. One last thing Trailblazers want to do, it to take all those things (coolers, motorcycles, and other physical objects) that they’re doing is to plug it into the Salesforce Customer Success Platform with (the just-announced) MyIoT. We want this as one single integrated CRM platform, that we can integrate declaratively without code. This is the more personalized and integrated Salesforce that you’ve always wanted. We want to show you in this keynote what this platforms looks like.”

3:54pm PT: Now Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris is up on stage talking about Salesforce and Heroku, claiming that they are the world’s largest platform-as-a-service (by what criteria I wonder, as AWS is certainly the largest overall.) “Employees can created ‘trailmixes‘ (which are described as ‘custom learning paths you create from your favorite trails, modules, projects, and superbadges’) and create their own education and playbooks.”

3:56pm PT: “Instead of having to hire new employees, you can send them to Trailhead instead” says Harris. Now talking about how Einstein will provide predictive forecasting. What if you could be a data scientist and create a custom field in Salesforce? What if you could build a smart custom field? We’re going to use Einstein prediction building to predict customer attrition. This can’t be generically put into the product, as it is very specific to your company. A beautiful new component. The Einstein platform is doing all the machine learning for you. Creating the scores and creating the insight. We’re going to get you dynamic layouts with dynamic Lightning Components.” A huge yell comes out of the crowd, as this is something that’s been sorely lacking up until now.

4:03pm PT: Harris continues to demonstrate mobile Salesforce experiences with T-Mobile. Wraps up all the news about the platform and hands the keynote back to Benioff.

4:04pm PT: “Salesforce technology has some incredible assets. One of them is strategic partnerships. Such as with companies like Amazon to deploy in Australia and Canada. And IBM, and Kone, with their CEO Heinrich and his talking elevators. So many companies are using the incredible capabilities of Watson. We have so many great strategic relationship. Today it’s my dream to introduce to you a new strategic partner: Google. You’re going to see an amazing new Salesforce capabilities in G Suite and running on the Google Cloud Platform. And you’re going to see customer insights like you’ve never seen them before, as we’re integrating Google Analytics in Salesforce for the first time.” Google execs come on stage to talk about it.

4:09pm PT: Continues telling the three customer stories. T-mobile story already told, now doing Adidas. Video: “We have to be able to respond to new consumer expectations immediately. If you’re not meeting their expectations at the first point, you’ve lost them right away.”

4:13pm PT: Now Stephanie Buscemi has come out asking if the 4th Industrial Revolution is bringing us together or driving us farther apart. Announcing 1-to-1 personalized journeys for customer using a tool called Journey Builder, whatever your preferred channel is: Mobile, e-mail, social, whatever. With Einstein Social built-in, Adidas is able to detect pictures of their product in social streams. “What all of you want is what Adidas needs to know in order to be successful. We made a really big bet last year. its called a DMP (Data Management Platform, a good background on DMP by Jack Marshall here.) It’s important to know and a game-changer in marketing. It captures Web online behaviors marries it with CRM data, and can then deliver personalized experiences.” Unfortunately, only ads apparently for now. My analysis: The DMP goes a good bit of the way towards mastering the critical “50 first dates problem” in engaging with and providing digital experiences to consumers today in an pervasively omnichannel world.

Stephanie Buscemi shows off the Data Management Platform in Salesforce at Dreamforce 2017 #df17

4:18pm PT: “Einstein bots are changing the world of service today” says Stephanie. Showing the DMP experience and how it’s unified across all customer experiences. Again, it seems about advertising right now, and not meaningfully customized consumer journeys.

4:27pm PT: Now the CEO of Adidas, Kasper Rørsted, is on stage showing off some 3D printed shoes that he’s wearing, which could theoretically print the custom size 14 show that Marc Benioff needs. “We see 1.2 million pairs of shoes a day. The more we can customized them, the more revenue we can produce, and the happier our customers will be” says Kasper.

4:30pm PT: Kasper says “we are opening an Adidas app today. We think by cannabalizing our industry we can completely change our industry.” Now Benioff is introducing the new customer story, of 21st Century Fox. Video rolling.

4:35pm PT: Now Leah McGowen-Hare is on stage talking about 21st Century Fox’s Salesforce journey, calling them a Trailblazer. They are using Quip, the “team collaboration platform”, with over 20,000 Trailblazers at the company. “Companies like 21st century fox have massive, highly engaged audiences. With Community Cloud they can share their enthusiasm and have a stronger connection with the brand.” See my analysis of Community Cloud here, which is one of the more underrated community platform in the industry. Now showing a highly customized Salesforce Sales Cloud that’s completely skinned for the company and called the Global Theatrical System (GTS) replacing Excel and e-mails.

4:40pm PT: Leah showing how AI, analytics, and Sales Cloud can accelerate sales for the new movie Deadpool 2. We get a confetti drop as well.

4:46pm PT: Marc wrapping up the keynote talking about how tech can divide or unite us. “Dreamforce and all of you are more important than ever before. The inspiration is in our own hearts, and where you’re going to take us. Welcome to Dreamforce 2017.

That’s a wrap for the Dreamforce 2017 main keynote, I’ll post my analysis of where Salesforce is going next on ZDNet shortly.

Additional Reading

Relevant for Trailhead: The digital transformation of learning: Social, informal, self-service, and enjoyable

Assessing Salesforce’s platform and ecosystem

Vital Trends in Digital Experience and Transformation | Dreamforce (34K+ views)

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In Digital Transformation, The Art-of-the-Possible and Average Practice Are Diverging

I’ve long noticed an interesting phenomena when it comes to more fully digitizing our organizations. Namely, that it mostly looks like what other organizations have already been doing. Because we are all almost entirely still early pioneers in a brave new technologically-infused world, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Since there are an almost infinite number of directions we could go, copying that which we see that works well just makes good sense.

This herd mentality of digital actually has numerous causes: Proven best practices for digital are too few and far between, successful experiments are often hoarded for competitive motivations, digital innovators by definition take on often untenable risks we’d prefer to avoid, and perhaps most of all, we are still trying to get used to the rapid pace of learning that digital requires to stay abreast.

A big reason for this state of affairs is because digital is inherently complex in its realization, intangible by nature (thus it can be hard to study and assess), and difficult to actually understand in context since it’s now so deeply connected to everything else today. This makes it hard to identify the root cause of any desired effects. Combined with the slow rate of change in people when it comes the requisite shifts in culture, skill, and inclination for new digital ways of working, and the result has been a clustering of most organizations around a similar level of digital maturity: Relatively low.

Digital Maturity: Technology Is Driving the Leaders and Laggards Apart

Digital Maturity is a Team Sport

This was made evident a little while back when McKinsey published their in-depth analysis of 150 representative organizations around the world and their digital maturity in 18 dimensions (see graph above.) It uncovered a wide range of digital maturity, but most notably revealed a sort of inverse Lake Wobegon effect, where most organizations were in fact performing well below average.

In other words, average practice is steadily and inexorably diverging from the art-of-the-possible in an exponentially changing era of technology evolution. This is leaving a great deal of space for leaders to find the leaps forward that are dramatically better and thereby own the market opportunities.

Yet, we also know that when applied for its unique strengths — for faster growth, better engagement, reducing friction in commerce, improved efficiency, and so on — technology can be a tremendous force multiplier (something noted about a decade ago by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson), propelling the leaders that focus carefully on these strengths far head of the laggards. This gap is real, which we can see from the data above, and it’s growing quickly in my experience.

Nevertheless, whether I look at the digital workplace, customer experience, or digital transformation efforts that I’ve been involved in over the years, I tend to see the same thing: The application of average practice that, while proven, will assuredly put most organizations into the also-ran list and fail to propel them forward digitally in a meaningful way.

Over time, this has led me to ask what the digital leaders are actually doing that has gotten them much farther out ahead. In short, my ultimate analysis is that they appear to be learning better and faster about digital in key ways — and from a larger variety of sources — than most other organizations. They also then apply these lessons effectively to their business. Digital leaders tend to eagerly gather lessons and evidence broadly and early, especially outside their organizations. Without this, they are limited to what they’re able to learn linearly on their own, through solely their own efforts. There is also good evidence that this is what most organizations do that have survived a long time, from the work of Shell’s Arie de Geus (and which I frequently cite in my keynotes and talks):

These companies were particularly tolerant of activities in the margin: outliers, experiments and eccentricities within the boundaries of the cohesive firm, which kept stretching their understanding of possibilities.

This same line of reasoning has led industry colleagues like John Hagel to conclude that scalable learning, especially across organizations as Don Tapscott has noted in his research on Global Solution Networks, is essentially the only sustainable competitive advantage. But as I mentioned above, competitors usually don’t like to share lessons learned, and it’s often hard to transfer lessons from one style of organization to another, say across industries or geographies.

The key existential question now is this: How can we use today’s capabilities to learn much better as organizations?

Overcoming Digital Transformation Maturity Barrier with Community Learning, Outsourcing, and Copying for Fast Follower

Three Roads Over the Digital Maturity Barrier

How then are digital leaders overcoming the digital maturity better? In my experience, they are doing one of several things that allows them to pool their digital experiences and investments, then tap much more widely and sustainably into shared lessons learned that they can each use and quickly build upon:

  • Community learning. Non-competitors can come together across organizations to share their digital knowledge and lessons learned, and especially, tackle digital challenges too big even for large enterprises. This kind of cross-entity learning primary comes in three forms, though there are numerous ways to do it: Industry consortiums, which we’ve long had, as well as more digital versions of consortiums such as collaborative multi-organizational Networks of Excellence and of course, the aforementioned Global Solution Networks. These require the highest level of effort but are also the most sustainable, effective, and most likely to reduce the risk of disruption by truly capturing and wielding collective intelligence.
  • Outsourcing. Pull in expertise gleaned from hundreds or thousands of other companies by building on someone else’s mature and evolving ecosystem or digital blueprints. Amazon’s cloud stack and Apple’s iOS platform are great examples of this that countless companies are using today (Netflix using Amazon, for an industry leading example), while increasingly we’re seeing industry blueprints emerging for digital transformation of their entire organization. See the overview of my Digital Transformation Target Platforms ShortList for some details on blueprints.
  • Copying the Leaders. This has long been a corporate strategy of so-called fast followers and it works well for some. This approach basically uses 3rd party investments, discoveries, and exposure to risk in an arbitrage fashion, for their own benefit, picking and choosing what works and avoiding the downsides almost entirely, though some have certainly criticized the fast follower approach, others have cited organizations like Samsung as becoming market leaders by using it. Although technically another form of outsourcing, this model also works in a group of competitors. Downside: You won’t have any “moon shots” or big digital breakthroughs on your own and so you’re still at high risk of disruption.

Clearly, this list is in rough order of preference, though all are workable strategies and will likely be used in combination. That said, the vast majority of organizations are taking the easier routes of the second and third items on the list. This means letting Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and SAP pathfind their future and build on their capabilities/ecosystems, or being content to cherry pick from the successful digital pioneers and hopefully to attain success in that way.

Digital Maturity Requires Harnessing Collective Intelligence

The third way (first on the list), which I see more advanced and mature organizations engaging in, is to work far smarter by combining knowledge, investment, and experience as whole together, creating a network that can learn many times faster than a single entity. The competitive issues can and are usually worked out.

Are there good examples of multi-stakeholder learning? Yes. Some of the most strategic can be found in the list of known Global Solution Networks, but others that I’ve had personal experience with are the famed Fraunhofer Society, open source software projects (many people/organizations coming together to collaborate on common goals via shared technology innovation and development, and the American Society of Association Executives (and indeed, the entire professional association space, which is becoming increasingly digitized and community-centric.)

There is also a fourth route, which many will observe seems to be the case with certain top digital firms: Hire the smartest people on the planet and turn them loose. This is certainly possible, but it’s also an unsustainable zero sum game that the vast majority of organizations simply don’t have as an option to employ (the smartest people always work for someone else, it has been observed.) Instead, we need additional options for reaching digital maturity that are generally attainable by most of us.

Thus, in the flat and hyper-competitive world of the Internet, average practice is just not sufficient to thrive, nor to survive. Organizations must find ways to learn and evolve faster, more widely, and with much more scale than in the past. Cultivating change agents has emerged as one such way to actually achieve this, but these actors need a steady stream of knowledge on emerging new practices in order to drive the organization forward. This is through scalable learning.

As Scott Brinker’s now-famous law (Martec’s Law) tells us, technology changes exponentially but organizations only change logarithmically. The good news is that it’s very much not clear if this is an inherent limitation of organizations, or that’s just that way because of how we have traditionally learned and changed in the past. From my experience in the field of mass collaboration, my view is that it’s almost certainly the latter. There we now have new and better ways to change if we choose to use them.

The reality is that if we don’t find ways to change more rapidly and effectively, the results are potentially calamitous for us as enterprises and institutions. Fortunately, we now have powerful new tools to apply when it comes to digital learning and change. I believe these approaches may be enough for most organizations for now. If it’s not however, I remain confident that we will find even more and better ways to evolve and grow. The digital future is bright, if we’re ready to learn.

Additional Reading

Using Online Community for Digital Transformation | Slideshare Storytelling Version

How Should Organizations Actually Go About Digital Transformation?

The Eight Essential Digital Strategies

Digital Transformation and the Leadership Quandary

Let the Network Do the Work

The Hardest Lesson of Digital Transformation: Designing for Loss of Control

The emerging case for open business methods | ZDNet

The Top Business Trends for the New C-Suite in 2017
(See: Digital Transformation Programs, Change Agent Initiatives, etc.)

Internet of Things Strategy: It Will Determine Your Organization’s Future

Few technology developments will ultimately have the global cultural, business, and economic impact of the Internet of Things (IoT.) While today IoT still looks like an industry largely concerning itself with factory automation, connected light bulbs, air conditioning controls and so on, the eventual objective is clear even to a casual observer: Nearly everything in the world is about to become connected and data-driven, from the most trivial object to virtually every significant item in our personal and work lives.

The implications of this shift are profound: We’re about to be able to measure and quantify just about everything that exists. While there will be the requisite debates about whether this is always a good thing, the implacable march of technology development will ensure it’s going to happen anyway. When a new enabling technology arrives and is useful, it finds its way into just about everything.

The implications alone for IoT and the healthcare, insurance, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, and energy industries — to name just the most affected — are profound: For the first time in human history, most aspects of our business will be measurable, and therefore to paraphrase the famous Peter Drucker saying, they can actually be managed in a more direct and effective way than ever before possible.

Internet of Things: The Next-Generation Customer Experience

IoT will also be critical to the next generation of customer experience, allowing us create more personalized and far more useful experiences while maintaining direct and continuous connection — and most importantly, value exchange — with our customers like never before. Customer experience is the product we must all produce in the future and IoT is how we’ll realize it. As Stuart Lombard, CEO of Ecobee, noted last week during his appearance on DisrupTV.

As the current wave of Internet of Things emerged on a scene a few years ago, I wrote an analysis on whether IoT is truly strategic to the enterprise (short version: it is.) Though the exact growth projections continue to be debated, given the inevitably vast numbers of devices and the staggering data volumes they’ll create (large enough that it’s even driven the need to push cloud capabilities back to the edge of the network), it’s now evident that IoT will be the largest new technology industry to date, far eclipsing even mobile computing.

In other words, tens of billions of connected IoT devices, many streaming rich media and other high volume data types around the clock, are already in the process of arriving today and steadily over the next few years. In the process, they will remake the digital and business landscape as they do, as they represent enormous opportunity for new disruptive new products, services, and business models. At the same time, IoT will also pose very significant infrastructure, operational, management, governance, and security challenges for most enterprises due to scale, skill shortages, build-out, and related issues. Organizations must prepare at the highest level for this and put IoT in the middle of their digital value chain as they digitally transform. The resulting IoT strategies will determine their future as a business in profound way.

It’s evident that IoT is a core part of the future of digital and is the next customer experience mandate. We will simply have to be connected to our stakeholders in this way, holding them close across myriad digital channels, providing value in a way that only real, sustained, and live connectedness and engagement can.

Deep Digital Connectedness Requires a New Mindset

To help frame up this story, I was pleased to contribute recently to a significant new IoT strategy ebook produced by SAP, along with many of my industries colleagues. The book does an excellent job teeing up the mindset and thinking required to capitalize on the historic opportunity of the Internet of Things. Thanks to Amisha Gandhi, Jim Dever, and the SAP team for inviting me to contribute. Note: My contributions start on page 7.

The Future of IoT ebook itself is free, has a nice digital customer experience of its own, and covers the following topics:

Future of IoT ebook: Insights on the Future of the Internet of Things (IoT)

1. Focus Forward on the IoT and Business
2. The “Intelligence of Things”
3. The evolution of smart devices and how business will leverage the IoT
4. The Customer Journey
5. How will the IoT affect the daily lives of consumers?
6. The Internet of Truth
7. Concrete data leads to better decisions
8. The Forward Focus of Business
9. Strategic advice on the IoT for business leaders

SAP eBook: The Future of the Internet of Things (IoT), with Dion Hinchcliffe

Other contributors were an all-star cast and include Ronald van Loon, Yves Mulkers, Maribel Lopez, Bob Egan, Christina “CK” Kerley, Bill McCabe, Ahmed Banafa, Joan Carbonell, Jim Harris, Daniel Newman, Evan Kristel, Chuck Martin, Dez Blanchfield, Isaac Sacolick, and Giulio Coraggio. Brian Solis also shared his thoughts about the ebook as well.

Additional Reading

The Essential Digital Strategies

SAP Leonardo, IoT, and Digital Transformation: The Strategic Implications

Visual: The Top Digital Shifts the Enterprise Must Take On Today

The enterprise technologies to watch in 2017 | ZDNet

Tech Trends AstroChart for The New C-Suite, Q3 2017 | Constellation Research

The Essential Digital Strategies

The reality today is that despite seemingly endless advances and a steady river of emerging technologies, many of the key insights, strategies, and lessons in the digital age have still yet to be discovered. Looking back, we are frankly still early in the pioneering phase of digital, despite significant early ground being claimed and several generations of impressive success stories emerging.

Therein lies the opportunity for most of us.

Thus, despite all the esoteric talk over the years of network effects, the red queen treadmill, strategic platform plays, and winner-take-all, it’s now clear that the digital market is so fluid, self-creating, and essentially infinite, that most of the value by far still remains to be created and captured.

When I say digital age, I do mean since the advent of the Internet, which as we look back on it now was a truly epochal event whose impact will be felt profoundly for the remainder of this century, both inside and outside our organizations. This isn’t an understatement: The vast, easy, simple enabling of global digital networks of people and organizations has been a genuinely a revolutionary one. Today’s networks can be of any size, any form, and can effortlessly enable us to come together en masse and collaborate for purposes of creating incalculable human value — many of which were hitherto simply impossible, and all at a cost that relentlessly falls towards zero.

Far too many people I talk to today, including many digital strategists I find, still do not fully appreciate this time in our history. Most of us are coming to terms with and beginning to understand what digital can do, both for positive outcomes and otherwise (as all technology is a two-edge sword.)

Digital Setting the Global Growth Pace

Yet while digital in all its many forms is now well down the path of transforming our economies, enterprise, and society, we do have a growing sense of what the art of the possible is. It’s clear that digital is now of the primary aspects of how we live and work, and so we must shape it into what we want it to become. We have only to look at tech firm exemplars like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and the 183 companies currently in the so-called “unicorn club”, namely digital startups worth over $1 billion, to find the companies that are creating the most new large-scale business potential. In fact, over the last 10 years, digital companies have surpassed the traditional corporation dramatically, now making up five of the six most valuable companies in the world by market capitalization:

The World's Most Valuable Companies: 2006-2016 - Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Exxon

Put simply, it’s far easier — and more valuable economically — to grow a company in a digital world than it takes to do it the traditional way with physical offices, departments, divisions, stores, factories, and vast workforces to run them all so that you can build products and deliver them to customers individually. The cost of doing it the old way is by comparison simply enormous and increasingly prohibitive, even if we’re not talking about eliminating the old world entirely. An amalgam of the two is happening, as we’ll see.

Note: In a digital world, you still need people of course, and some infrastructure, just orders of magnitude less typically. A canonical example of this is WhatsApp, which only needed 50 direct employees to deliver services to 900 million users at the time they were acquired for $19 billion by Facebook.

What Are the Top Digital Strategies Today?

There have been a good number of attempts lately to quantify what the top-level “known quantity” digital strategies are, since for all the reasons above these should be the top targets for the digital transformation process within most organizations. One of the most recent examinations of this is an exploration by Jacques Bughin and Nicholas Van Zeebroeck’s what they believe today’s 6 core digital strategies are. It’s a good overview, especially the insight that for over 2,000 organizations the value of such digitalization has in general been only a little above the cost of the capital to get there. In other words, most efforts don’t generate unicorn outcomes. (Though to be fair, they shouldn’t be expected to. Digital is a numbers game and it’s why VCs invest in pools of startups than in one or two efforts, but that challenge is another story.)

However, I’d argue that Bughin and Zeeborekc’s digital strategies tend to be ones that traditional organizations would be more able to carry out by their existing inclinations and nature. It’s far easier to move into e-commerce, for example, that it is to become a platform company, as the former seems familiar to traditional organizations, while the latter has entirely different rules.

Being a truly digital organization means thinking quite differently than an industrial age organization. I find the above mentioned strategies to be less transformative and meaningfully sustainable than what is possible and evidently required to get the gains that the more green field unicorns are seeing.

The Essential Digital Strategies for Business and Transformation Today

Instead, other research has come up with a slightly different list of strategies, notably recent research by Libert, Wind, and Beck, which shows a breakdown that focuses on price-to-revenue impact. They identify asset builders, service providers, technology creators, and network orchestrators, in that order, with the latter coming out far head. As we’ll see, this identifies more strategic value creators for digital than the previous set of strategies, yet I find that it’s also incomplete in terms of describing digital strategy by not taking into account some of the more tactical approaches.

In my own work with clients, I’ve used a more comprehensive and strategic list of digital strategies — along with applied integration with some of the many proven and/or emerging digital business models that now exist — to identify where organizations should be focusing their valuable leadership time, execution resource, and organizational capacity.

The 8 Essential Digital Strategies Today

With the disclaimer that we’re learning more all the time about which are the most significant and impactful digital strategies, here’s the leading models that exist today, in increasing order of strategic value:

1. Automation

This was the first generation of applying digital to business and didn’t even require networks, though they certainly added an inflection point when they arrived. ERP, CRM, and business process management (BPA/BPM) are all examples of IT automation of the business. The growth of corporate productivity as a direct result of technology automation is a well known story. There is plenty of value here worth investing in, but primarily of the cost-cutting and efficiency variety. Automation will not even prepare organizations for their digital future, so its score is the lowest of all the digital strategies, but is nevertheless the most common form of digitalization. IT vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle have long played a key enabling role in this strategy, but most of them have since moved their new products and services to other digital models below.

2. Legacy product/service digitization

This strategy involves taking existing products and services and putting a digital face on them. This was done by the entire airline and hotel industry in the 1990s and was finally taken up by the retail, media, and financial services industries in the 2000s, in the form of transactional Web sites. Telecom and other industries most affected by digital disruption have often done a very poor job of legacy digitization. While most organizations must look to digitize legacy products to sustain their organizations during digital business model transition, the rise of the unicorns shows us that the largest growth and value is in new markets and technologies. Unfortunately, the majority of traditional enterprise have done a relatively poor job creating effective customer experiences for digital, though the lessons are getting clearer now. Bottom line: Like automation, legacy digitization is a responsible and required investment, but not necessarily highly strategic nor likely to enable survival for the long term by itself.

3. Digital channel distributor

Getting digital products and services to market requires far more than a digital experience at a handful of touchpoints. Instead, it requires marshaling digital channels of all kinds, both self-realized as well as enabling 3rd parties, to flow value from source to customer. Digital affiliate programs (Walmart pays 4% or more gross commission to enable this, for example), marketplaces, arbitrage services, business app stores, open APIs, and other channel reach models such as Amazon’s Alexa Skills are all examples. Even the stodgy insurance industry has gotten into the digital channel game, with insurance giant Chubb partnering with Suning to distribute insurance products to the online Chinese retailer’s ecommerce network, with 230 million users.

4. Marginal market making

Once you have a digital audience, it allows you to expose them to new offerings and digital experiences. This enables incremental new gains that would have been cost-prohibitive without pre-existing investment in that digital market or channel. For instance, Amazon, a good example in so much of digital, allows any of its customers to become individual sellers, tapping into an existing marginal segment that would not have been worth the investment otherwise. While not a big business by itself, this strategy can further tip the competitive scales by generating additional revenue while becoming even more valuable to customers.

5. Technology creation

While having formidable barriers to entry due to capital expenditure, though certainly much less so on the software than the hardware side, there’s no denying that creating a must-have technology remains one of the top digital strategies on the market. Technology creation has created trillions in economic value over the years for companies that solve important problems for their customers. From hardware like smart devices to must-have apps for social networking and messaging to search and media consumption, technology creation can lead directly to value creation like few others digital strategies.

6. Digital platform ownership

Most of us are now familiar with the digital platform discussion, made famous back in the PC days with Microsoft vs. IBM, and now much more familiar to us as iOS vs. Android or Amazon Web Services vs. Microsoft Azure. If you build a platform that can be extended, instead of a just a single point technology, it can be enriched many orders of magnitude further by others, creating an unbeatable network effect over time. Apple and Google have attracted millions of apps collectively to their mobile platforms, while hundreds of thousands of businesses and software companies have built on top of AWS and Azure, making them indispensable foundations that will be vibrant and growing largely through the effort and investment of their platform partners.

7. Network orchestration

What if you could take the assets and technologies that already exist on the network, connect them, and turn them into business models? That’s the premise of this digital strategy, which the likes of Uber and Airbnb have shown pay off in spades. The essence of this strategy is the following: Use existing infrastructure and resources (connecting people who have cars with people who needs rides, for example) and make it the most appealing process. Organizations can create fast-growth new lines of business in very short amounts of time than using the traditional, slow, and out-dated approach of trying building everything yourself, a prohibitive and unnecessary cost today.

8. Ecosystem cultivation

Orchestrating your own platform and enabling it become an ecosystem is the most valuable digital strategy of all. Amazon does this with Amazon Web Services by extending it with marketplace built on top of it, as does SAP with its new but already large and growing SAP App Center. The key here is not just in owning a platform but in making it a recombinant living ecosystem that is directly enabled and extended by each and every new partner, through their own respective ecosystems. Apple does this by allowing other platform partners to build on top of it, a specific example is much of the consumer Internet of Things (IoT) industry, such as Philips Hue and other connected device product lines. Another important example is commercial blockchains, which are poised to become major category ecosystems in their own right, highlighting a path towards a major new digital future. Short version: Ecosystems are as much about their community of business partners, not just the technologies or platforms within them.

Digital Strategy: The Story of Disruptive Co-Evolution

Is this list of strategies an oversimplification? Almost certainly. Is it incomplete and will it grow. Absolutely. Yet it also provides a clear lens through which to look at the heart of an existing organizations and making momentous changes. Smart organizations will grow digital competency — largely through talent — that can quickly execute from the start to the end of this list.

How will such changes be made in large organizations? I’ve been exploring that and grappling with the means of digital transformation and the future of technology enablement in my work for years and some broad outlines are emerging. So in the meantime, brush up on these and get ready for one of the most interesting and challenging times in business history.

Additional Reading

In Digital Transformation, Culture Change Goes Hand in Hand with Tech Change

Vital Trends in Digital Experience and Transformation Today

22 Power Laws of the Digital/Social Economy

Old but still interesting: Fifty Essential Web 2.0 Strategies

Digital Transformation and the Leadership Quandary

The data now shows that a near majority of organizations today are undergoing digital transformation in some shape or form. By digital transformation I don’t mean IT automation of the business of course, but wholesale rethinking of some or all of the business in digital terms. It’s the greatest game in the business world right now, and necessary for long term survival, but such digital reinvention is also one of the hardest journeys to make.

Moreover, just like startups have a high failure rate (8 out of 10 don’t make it typically) in trying to do something new that’s relatively unproven, digital transformation is a endeavor fraught with high hurdles for success in any organization.

Enterprises, however, do have vast assets they can assemble on deck to ensure a successful outcome — everything from existing customer bases and supply chains to current market share and the ability to fund loss leadership to success. This drives the failure rate down much lower than typical greenfield technology startups. But as commentators such as Christian Frei estimate that two-thirds of companies still won’t make the journey successfully, and others have put the failure rate much higher.

Modern Digital Leadership Unleashed by Network Effects: Digital Transformation

Better and New Types of Leadership = Effective Digital Transformation

As Christian also notes, leadership is ultimately the root cause, for both success and failure in re-imagining organizations digitally:

After all these discussions, workshops, and coaching sessions, one point came out very clearly as the biggest threat companies have in this transformation.

It is not technology.

It is not their people.

It is not their business model and products.

The biggest threat and reason why most companies will fail to adjust and most likely either end up bankrupt, acquired, or marginalized…
… is their leadership mindset, which is embedded in their company culture.

The diagnoses of the reasons for implicating leadership is many and varied but essentially boils down to the reality that leadership has the most resources and control in hand, but is often lacking in digital vision and/or competency to wield these. The reality is that most leaders of large organizations today have limited experience in successfully leading either large digital efforts or enterprise-wide change efforts, and much more rarely both at the same time. While it’s likely we’ll see far more seasoned executives in this space in the next 5-10 years, that will be much too late for most organizations.

what then can leaders do now to ensure they’re doing their very best tap into and truly marshaling the deep experience, fresh thinking, and effective action they need from across their organization and indeed, from across the industry? To help address leadership in digital native terms, I’ve been promoting the concept of network leadership for some years now (and I’m not alone), realizing that all leaders must much more effectively tap into the full measure of knowledge and innovation in new channels they need to deliver on what has become the most important and challenging transitions in the history of business.

Leading (and Acting) With and Through Your Networks

Leaders have always had to work through others — their workers, business partners, and their industries — to accomplish what enterprises do. But we now have new ways and methods of doing so that are far higher scale, have more leverage, and are earned, rather than owned. Leading through the network is the only way to tap into broad enough talent, diverse ideas, and local action to accomplish the large scale changes that must be achieved today. I’ve written much about the new CIO mindset emerging and the need to better design our organizations for loss of control needed to keep up with the pace of tech change, and that these must be baked most deeply into the leadership thinking (both on high and at the root) of our organizations.

Underscoring this, I recently receive a note from a friend (who was also previously one of the top CIOs in the world in my opinion) that made me reflect that while we can (and must) let much of the network do the work for us — if we only know enough to harness it — that leadership remains critical in ensuring the ultimate outcome:

The leadership part (for what I had) was always my “secret” weapon.” Key parts of that leadership is:
– Human (recruit, develop, manage, balance)
– Technical (new and old tech, ops etc.)
– Business (core business (new and incumbent), finance and accounting)

From this we can see that people are the key to driving actual change. Technology and business, combined, are the vehicles, but not the agents of change. Leaders must cultivate, build, and tap into the best networks of people, tap into their knowledge, and empower them to create change at scale. (See the growing and vital change agents industry conversation for more thinking on this.)

Thus the essential leadership quandary with digital transformation is that leaders — formal and grassroots — simply don’t know what they don’t know yet. And many — and likely most — are simply not taking sufficient steps to learn more and faster or unleash those that know a given answer and can act.

My good friend and CIO advisor Tim Crawford put this another way today. Leaders in digital — both on the technology and business side (though the distinction is starting to get blurry these days) — must establish their network effect. For those not yet familiar with this key digital concept, it means establishing sustainable value through connection. For the CIO and other types of leaders, this means building relationship capital in all its forms (personal, organizational, industry, and digital), and then using it effectively.

Addressing the Leadership Quandary with Network Effects

As I noted in a reply to Tim, this means:

  • Engaging both upwards and downwards. Establishing deep and wide social capital in the process. Done in digital channels especially, this creates an inherent network effect when combined with the the other items on this list.
  • Being the conduit for change. By ensuring you empower and enable others through their relationship with you.
  • Sharing knowledge. By setting it free to spread and work for you forever.
  • Enabling and empowering others. Proactively, especially with change agents (which are the ones, by definition, that will effect needed change anyway).

In short, digital transformation requires a new type of leader with a digital mindset that is broadly encompassing, fueled by growing network effects, and strategically turning over non-essential control to their network of change agents to drive the many hundreds, if not thousands of local microtransformations that will collectively result in a holistic and aligned overall digital transformation. It’s a more organic, pervasive, and sustainable way and, I believe, the only real way most digital transformation will ultimately happen.

Why? Because a rich network always beats a poorly connected system in almost any situation.

Additional Reading:

How IT and the Role of the CIO is Changing in the Era of Networked Organizations

Using Online Community for Digital Transformation

How Should Organizations Actually Go About Digital Transformation?

When It Comes to Digital Transformation, Change Agents Matter Most

What is the most important factor in realizing technology change today? Is it having the right technology or tools? Perhaps leadership support, as that is cited by so many (including myself) as a top success factor. Maybe it’s the right strategy, or roadmap? However, when it comes to what actually matters most, I have found that it’s really none of these things, though they’re all important along the way, but not absolutely vital to success.

Instead, the single most important element in driving successful digital transformation, or whatever you call your large-scale or enterprise-wide technology change efforts, is the ability to execute. You can survive bad or lacking leadership, poor or no strategy, even mediocre technology, if you can actually get something done. And that requires a unique talent, though fortunately one that almost anyone can cultivate with effort. And when I mean get something done, I don’t necessarily meaning doing it personally (though sometimes it is that too.) Instead, it’s the ability to wield the environment around you to accomplish something.

The Attributes of Change Agents: For Digital Transformation or Any Business Change

Why this is so vital is something that we’ve learned the hard way over the decades from approaches like agile methods: Most of what we initially think we need to do in a technology project or change program is wrong. We can only find ground truth by acting and then seeing how it worked out. We then learn, adapt, and then try again. This makes action, or agency (see definition #2 in Merriam-Webster), the ultimate discriminator when it comes to getting things done. Without action, especially in a rapid sense-and-respond feedback loop, we can’t learn what we need to do and certainly can’t learn fast enough to matter, to ultimately drive the right changes.

What about the other components (leadership, strategy, tech?) The other pieces can literally be borne out of the proof points of real-world validation. Nothing succeeds like successful action, in other words.

The good news is that change is in the air in general. New ways of working are finding success. For example, organizations have widely (25% of all orgs by some estimates) begun using cross-silo collaboration, such as devops, to break down the long-standing sclerosis that has built up through the accumulation of technology in the proverbial Legacy Mountain. Trends like this poise change agents to have their voice heard and have impact like never before.

Who Should Drive Digital (or Any) Change? What Makes Them Change Agents?

The short answer is those who can. In a wide-ranging discussion I had recently with Gloria Lombardi, I noted that one of the biggest lessons of my career was not to try to change people who don’t want to be changed. Instead, find those that do and then empower them.

This post was inspired by an inspired Twitter discussion this morning between myself, Tim Crawford, and Jim Canto about what the attributes of a change agent are. My take is shown above in the visual, and can be summarized as:

  • Can identify or develop valuable new ideas. Change agents don’t necessarily need to have ideas about change, they just need to recognize good ones.
  • Has social capital to spread ideas. Change agents have some resources to take their ideas and convince others to join in to help realize them, especially as well-known CIO and industry colleague David Chou added to the discussion, to navigate the political waters..
  • Can communicate effectively. Having social capital is not enough however, one must also be a good communicator in order navigate the obstacles of change and ultimately gain buy-in, high low, for positive outcomes with the proposed changes.
  • Has ability to realize/drive org change. While change champions advocate for change, change agents actually are able to realize it through their actions and leadership.

My esteemed industry colleague, Eisenhower Fellow and the CIO of the FCC, David Bray, simplified this even further in the aforementioned discussion, noting: “#ChangeAgents are leaders who ‘illuminate the way’ and manage friction of stepping outside the status quo. Anyone can be a change agent.

Ultimately, in any organization, the only change happens through change agents, formal and informal, somewhere. Let’s learn how to cultivate them and enable them to help us create our digital future, at scale.

Additional Reading

In Digital Transformation, Culture Change Goes Hand in Hand with Tech Change

The digital transformation conversation turns to how | ZDNet

How IT and the Role of the CIO is Changing in the Era of Networked Organizations

What We Know About Making Enterprise Social Networks Successful Today

It’s a little hard to believe that it’s been over ten years now since the first early enterprise social networks (ESN) emerged on the market to make their initial forays into our organizations. They showed us then — and I believe even more now today — the bright new possibilities for how we might work together in more innovative and effective ways by becoming fundamentally better connected organizations.

We’ve certainly learned a great deal along the way through thousands of ESN deployments around the world since that time. I have tracked or been involved in a good many of these types of efforts over the years, and so I thought I’d revisit what I believe that we’ve learned so far from the more successful efforts. Sharing this knowledge is vital now, as I still see many practitioners starting almost from scratch. That’s because there is still no single source of knowledge on what works best when it comes to being successful in crafting a next-generation digital workplace with an ESN.

Note: We do have a useful body of industry knowledge now, but it’s currently spread out and must be put together to create a fully integrated picture. The three sources I that think are the most valuable currently are a) the Community Roundtable‘s annual State of the Community Management report, the latest edition of which I explored on ZDNet a little while back, b) Jane McConnell’s excellent Organization in the Digital Age report, and lastly, c) Vanessa Dimauro’s various work at Leader Networks, such as her new Business Impact of Communities report.

Making an Enterprise Social Network Thrive

Looking in the ESN Mirror: Far Too Much Attention on the Tools

Early makers of enterprise social networks such as Jive, Newsgator, and Socialtext blazed the trail initially, making it possible for workers to engage in truly open and self-organizing collaboration by adapting the social networking model that had worked so well in the consumer world to the enterprise. In particular, these early offerings were based on the early successes of consumer social media and social networking, namely services like Facebook and MySpace, as well highly successful online communities for business like the SAP Community Network. While wikis and blogs were the first genuine contemporary social software used in businesses (groupware, and arguably e-mail were actually the very first social tools), it was the social networking model that ultimately became the leading one.

Eventually, the hard knocks of marketplace competition ultimately led to the domination of the top part of the industry by a few players that executed well: IBM (with Connections and a host of associated platforms), Microsoft (with Yammer, Sharepoint, and now Groups, and probably Teams as well), Salesforce (with Chatter/Community Cloud), and finally Jive as the only truly dedicated enterprise player still standing from the inception of the industry.

But as useful as these platforms were and are in helping enable the right changes in digital workplace mindset and behavior, it was never the technology that was the hardest part. In fact, one of the clearest lessons from the first decade of the rise of the ESN was that virtually all of the major challenges with ESN success are about people, not technology. Making enterprise social networks thrive by fostering stronger, richer connections across organization silos while spurring widespread knowledge sharing and co-creation is an activity that is almost entirely made successful by how you situate the tools among the people involved, what skills you develop amongst them, and the type of goals, encouragement, support, and leadership you establish.

Thus, in the realm of digital collaboration, people come first and technology is second. In fact, I’ve often argued that organizations can actually become effective social businesses without any additional technology at all, like W.L. Gore (10,000 employees, $3.2B revenue) with its famously flat, open and self-organizing culture which was a social businesses long before the technology arrived. (They have since adopted the ESNs as one of their core tools.)

A Signature Lesson: People Must Change with the Tech, So Guide Them

I’d even go as far as to say this (to borrow a concept from the Internet of Things): The enterprise social network actually creates a side-by-side virtual “twin” of your organization, one that is more natural, organic, collaborative, scalable, and self-organizing. The digital twin represented by your ESN must therefore be nurtured in the same way as your business is (because it is the business too.)

Just like you’d never let your organization operate without a well-articulated vision, a relentless focus on growth and development, regular investment in better performance, careful strategic oversight, and passionate involvement by leadership as well as the rank and file, your ESN can’t lack for these elements either.

Thus, here’s the short list of the top factors I now believe drive success with enterprise social networks today. By and large, these factors are not technological in nature, though they often are highly reflective of — and can be directly aided by — the technology environment in which they operate. Instead these success factors represent the foundational types of human activities and skills that helps organizations more readily tap into the increasingly well understood benefits of operating as a social business. Lack more than a couple of these factors, and your ESN isn’t likely to be much of an improvement over say, an e-mail or unified communications system, in terms of the truly differentiated impact it can have.

The Hard Won Lessons of Thriving ESNs

  • Purposeful use case design. Unlike generic communications systems, enterprise social networks perform at their best when they’re designed around specific business activities. While having user profiles, activity streams, groups, and posts at a basic level is useful in itself — and that’s what ESN platforms offer out of the box — it’s designing for specific use cases like budgeting, recruiting, supply chain exception management, and dozens of other key activities where the real business value and impact comes in. For example, I am seeing a strong push in many ESN efforts this year to help teams collaborate more effectively in the field, particularly with sales teams, as that function matters a great deal to most businesses and is one of the best ways to demonstrate value early on. But the user experience of the ESN must be extended to natively support these use cases and make them better. This generally means bespoke experiences that extend and expand the ESN to realize the highest value use cases in an optimized way, instead of hoping that generic, out-of-the-box ESN functions will somehow enable them. While most ESN platforms have tools and APIs that make this relatively straightforward, I find that most practitioners expect that their ESN will do most of what is needed out of the box.

    This is simply not the case today. In fact, some of the most compelling examples of ESN solutions are found when specific high impact use cases are enabled through purposeful design, such as with custom-designed Plus Relocation’s Elo community, which lies at the very core of how they run their business, or the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s Bridge platform, which greatly accelerates the admission process via a carefully designed and gameified experience. All of this began to be understood back in 2011 when a widely discussed post by Laurie Buczek noted from her efforts at Intel were far too disconnected from the actual work of the business to matter very much. Well-known analysts in the ESN space such as Constellation’s Alan Lepofsky identified purposeful collaboration as a key success factor back in 2013. Attached below are a sample of the some of the functional use cases that enterprise social networks can be dramatically improved through open collaboration, which I’ll be exploring in more detail soon:
    enterprise_social_networks_business_use_cases_for_social_business

  • Professional community management. I am sometimes surprised how often I still encounter a poor appreciation of the vital importance of capable community management — see TheCR’s skill wheel to understand how involved a job it is — in ensuring the long-term growth and success of an ESN. Last year I even wrote an open letter, aimed at the IT department which often does the technology implementation for an ESN (and gets charged about half the time with actually operating it), about the criticality of developing this strategic social business capability. Short version: Digital communities are a new type of entity requiring a new form of support and enablement. Do not use interns for this, don’t use the inexperienced, don’t add it to someone’s already busy day job. Instead, use experienced professionals, like you would with any other important business function. Outsource if you have to (what I call Community Management as a Service.) Invest early and plan for the long hual as the Community Roundtable has correlated it directly with the maturity level of an ESN effort.
  • Working out loud. Of all the digital skills that workers should be developing now, perhaps the one that most naturally is an onramp to most of the others and leads to both positive outcomes and compelling emergent results is the act of working out loud (WOL) in digital channels. John Stepper’s Working Out Loud book and his push for organizations to create WOL circles to build skills around the technique is probably the best place to start. My industry colleague Michelle Ockers recently posted some fascinating insights into how WOL can work with actual results from a large organization. In short, working out loud will develop vital network leadership skills, cultivate social capital, and produce higher level of knowledge sharing, collaboration, and institutional knowledge, to name just a few of the benefits by virtue of simple and straightforward daily activities in the ESN.
    Working Out Loud Fundamentals for an Enterprise Social Network
  • Network leadership. As organizations become more virtual, decentralized, and digitally-enabled, it will be in social tools that leadership will soon be wielded most effectively. Managing our organizations through digital networks has become an essential skill, just not one that we’re training for in most organizations yet, and now we must. The majority of ESN deployments spend very little time developing these skills or educating team leaders, managers, and executives in the basic skills of network leadership, yet are often surprised when highly meaningful and impactful activity to the organization doesn’t take place there.
  • Digital collaboration skill development. In general, organizations are not developing the human skills as much as they are developing their digital workplace technologies. Almost every ESN effort I have encountered is under-delivering in some way on building the new skills required to get the most from social collaboration, as it depends on very different thinking such as letting the network do the work and designing your work processes for loss of control. These needn’t be — and shouldn’t be — complex digital skill education programs. Collaborate with your learning and development team and build some lightweight digital collaboration skill development content (videos, quick starts), add ESN education to new hire onboarding, cultivate WOL circles, and then evangelize and educate at every opportunity across the organization.
  • Supportive and engaged senior stakeholders. Perhaps the fastest and most effective way to get traction and sustain success with an ESN is to have active and fully participative leadership. This means both support and sponsorship as well as active presence in the enterprise social network itself. One of the first thing ESN practitioners should focus on is landing at least two senior executives willing to lend their reputation and standing in the organization to the effort. How important is this really? In the Community Roundtable’s survey data, year-after-year, it generally comes in as a top two factor, so it’s high on the importance scale.
  • Guardrails on activities that impede being a connected company. There are some easy ways that organizations can inadvertently reduce the benefits of social collaboration. One of the top ones is making it too easy to create private groups in the ESN. This is easy to remedy, if you’re aware of it: Leading social business exemplars like Bosch require users to submit a business case for private groups as a “tax” to place friction on keeping information hidden. Not retiring aging digital channels that are less open and participative can also be factor, as workers will initially tend to gravitate back to the tools and channels they know. In general, be diligent in not breaking FLATNESSES, which is a more detailed mnemonic I adapted from Andrew McAfee’s initial SLATES mnemonic describing what makes social tools different and more powerful than what came before.

ESNs are about people + digital technology: Focus in that order

Are there other success factors? Sure, and they vary widely depending on the organization, its culture, inclinations, and level of digital competency. If you want a deeper drive, I previously explored in detail, by pulling from several dozen client studies and industry case examples, what early adoption success patterns for ESNs were, since that phase was what most organizations were focused on then. We’ve learned some additional lessons since then — most of which are summarized above — but it’s still a useful breakdown if you need more techniques to drive success.

Does all of this sound overly complex? Not really. Social technologies themselves are getting very good at making the fundamentals easier, while there is a growing body of knowledge that can be used as a template for the structures and processes one needs to put into place. I’ve previous explored the structure side several times, both in terms of specific roles and organizational capability, while the process side is well-depicted in aforementioned community manager skill wheel.

In short, never before has it been easier to adopt enterprise social networks and achieve significant impact. It just takes a focus on what matters most, which is a steady choreography that consists of shifting human skills and supporting collaboration technologies together towards business goals. I now believe that most organization can get to ESN success quickly and repeatably, but only if they assess and adequately address the full dimension of people and technology concerns required.

Additional Reading

How Social Technology has Emerged as an Enterprise Management Model

Can we achieve a better, more effective digital workplace?