In a provocative piece in ZD Net, Larry Dignan picks up on a thread doing the rounds in the online business/technology sphere suggesting social software vendors are feeling the pinch when it comes to social adoption within the enterprise.
On the one hand I wholeheartedly agree that having the coolest technology alone “won’t magically cure your enterprise”. However I find it hard to go along with the prognosis that we are currently in a period of disillusionment awaiting an ‘enabler’ to turn the field around. Enterprise social software has some factors on its side which differentiate it from the large-scale ERP, CRM and BPM systems that superseded it:
Social software is now coming with a ‘cultural attaché’
Social business software is fortunate enough to be riding the coat tails of a seismic cultural shift. Social media has become entrenched in politics, entertainment, sport, retail… the list goes on. We’re surrounded. Any naysayers out there are encamped. Whilst we may argue whether it creates revolutions or not, the one thing we can’t do is escape it.
Just like the web that preceded and spawned it, there has been hype and over-promotion, but just like the web, social media is rapidly becoming essential to our lives. Don’t believe me? Venture onto a campus near you and observe the students. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to do that over the last 18 months and one thing I notice is that it’s hard to find a student who isn’t a social native. Even if they don’t immediately realize how powerful social networking can be across the enterprise, it only takes a slight nudge to make the connection.
Social software has groundswell support, and whilst it may not be the external networks of Facebook and Twitter that are employed within the enterprise, the core concepts around social networking are becoming engrained in the new generation entering the workforce.
Our work is going mobile
I’ll use myself as an example here.
I work from home and for the last eight years or so have relied on a PC to do my job. However I have now joined our company mobile pilot and am tentatively letting work find its way into my pocket in an effort to make better use of my time. Having access to my calendar is great and email remains useful. But connecting to our intranet social network also makes a lot of sense for me.
For one thing, it feels less like work and closer to the social browsing and grazing I might do on Facebook or Twitter. For instance, we have an activity stream which allows me to see when people in my network (my team, my boss, others I work with) either post updates directly or engage with the social network tools, say to update a wiki page. This helps me keep a closer eye on what is going on around me
In addition, social software helps deal with the navigational problem thrown up by devices with limited screen real estate: I can eliminate clutter and focus on the people in my network. I’ll take this over our intranet which spills over thousands of pages any day.
There’s no need to boil the ocean
It’s feasible with social to ease an organization into adoption by running a pilot with one team or department. You can then measure productivity or improvements in time-to-market or other benefits before pitching a company-wide deployment. This is, say, different to a CRM system where you may need to tie in sales, marketing, support and finance before you can start showing the real value of the software.
OK, maybe there is one enabler that’s missing: personal big data analysis
The one area where social software still currently falls short is in the analytics that can help prove its value for adoption. Whilst inroads have been made into the ROI and TCO calculations that a CIO requires, I’m thinking here of analytics around collaboration that exposes value to the employee and the direct management chain. Think of an internal enterprise Klout score for employees which is used as a factor to judge performance. Speaking personally, if my performance is reviewed against my reputation and authority, this is a strong motivator for me to spend more time with the tools and at least attempt to realize the benefits that social software vendors proclaim.
Now it could be that I’m just too close to the issue, being currently employed by a social business software vendor, but I do believe that social software will have a transformative effect on the way we work and how businesses realize value.
Do you agree?