Social enterprise: Is it dead or alive?

Summary:Dion Hinchcliffe and Brian Sommer face-off on the role of social media in business.

Brian Sommer

Brian Sommer

Dead

or

Alive

Dion Hinchcliffe

Dion Hinchcliffe

Best Argument: Dead

48%
52%

Audience Favored: Alive (52%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Simply evolution

Some would have us count email, messaging and some collaborative technologies as proof positive that businesses are becoming social enterprises. Most of these are evolutionary extensions of older technologies businesses have used for decades (like a phone call or chalkboard). I’d argue that businesses have always been social enterprises and the new technologies only make more of that happen. Social enterprise is not a ground-breaking, earth shattering transformation that is permanently altering business as we know it, it’s simply more evolution.

Sure, embracing social content makes sense for consumer marketing types and recruiting functions but it's a tougher sale to a company that stamps out metal products used in industrial products. Remember, social is a tool for some firms. It's additive for them and not transformative. It's that additive aspect that makes it an option for some companies and not a competitive prerequisite.

Social enterprise isn’t dead or dying. It’s just this tech-driven space hoping a blockbuster product comes along that finally makes it the killer business app of all time. It hasn’t happened yet as social enterprise is more of a journey than a ‘thing’, ‘product’ or new process.

All-time high

Rumors of the death of the social enterprise are greatly exaggerated. In fact, use of social media by businesses -- whether that's for internal collaboration purposes or for external marketing and customer support -- is currently at an all time high. What's perhaps at its lowest point though, is the hype itself.

The reality that social media is a very different way of working has now sunk in, yet because of this its application by organizations is often still superficial. This also means that social business is still just getting started. More and more success stories accumulate every day, even as some became disillusioned by early experiments that didn't quickly match the levels of the flowery rhetoric employed in the early days.

What is happening now, however, is the useful -- and inevitable -- process of maturity of the social business industry. If anything is dead, it's the notion that our businesses can simply continue as usual, using out-dated channels of communication to achieve their goals.

 

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Mic check: Are my debaters standing by?

    We'll kick off with the first question at 11am ET / 8am PT. 


    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    All set, Larry!


    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    Standing by and looking forward to it


    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    OK, first question:

    The social enterprise looked like some magic elixir just a few years ago. Now comes the backlash. Is the social enterprise played out?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Social enterprise is like a house guest that’s still camped out on your sofa years later

    I remember when my old employer licensed Lotus Notes in the 1990s. It was going to connect thousands of colleagues, create huge opportunities to collaborate and create value for clients. Our firm, like many consultancies, got a lot of value out it but it was a tide that didn’t lift all boats.

    The ‘why’ is the most important angle here. To make these solutions work, it takes the right kind of people, energy and strong management backing to get these social technologies implemented, populated, used regularly and grow. Too few firms had the right incentives and people to get the early solutions to succeed in large numbers.

    Today, many tech companies have cracked the code on what inhibited prior products’ success. They get how to create the network effect. They understand the psychology needed to get people to voluntarily create content and spend hours doing it – every day!

    But, while the tech companies are smarter now, I’m not convinced that all businesses and their executives get the social enterprise. Some do, some don’t. And, for some, it’s just a fun feature or waste of time. Some simply see it as a component to their sales and recruiting processes and no more.

    Is it played out? No, it’s not done but it’s not the next iPhone either.

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    A long and rich history of ahead of us

    While it seems that we've entered the disillusionment stage of the hype cycle for the social enterprise, it was also pretty clear from the outset that social media wasn't always a natural fit for the business world. Yet, there's little doubt that many companies have seen impressive results, including leading exemplars like the SAP Community Network, BASF Connect, and Intuit Live Community. However, there's also been those that have created social experiences for workers or customers and have been disappointed.

    Is this a flaw in social media or in the way that it was employed? Given the predominance of social media in virtually all other areas, I think the case can be made that it's largely the latter.

    Frankly, given that the concepts of social media are often in clear opposition with the hierarchical command-and-control nature of traditional corporate management methods, I think that 'played out' maybe isn't the appropriate phrase. It's really an alignment problem. Fortunately, I think there will be a long and rich history of social enterprise ahead of us as corporations and governments begin to adapt to how the rest of the world has started working together.

     

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The role of reinvention?

    What is the role of process reinvention as social tools are extended in corporations?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Huge!

    Marketing and HR functions no longer resemble their old selves anymore. Job seekers use all sorts of social media and content to find and vet opportunities. Employers are reviewing the web content of job seekers. Marketers are mining consumer sentiment from tweets and blogs. They are also directing more of their spend to micro-niche groups via segmented slices of social networks.

    Some functions will face radical redesign while some others won’t. In fact, if someone at your firm wants to do something radical in how you account for fixed assets, watch out. There may be a criminal indictment in their future! Fixed asset accounting probably will not get reinvented as part of this social revolution. Expect the most impact of social on processes that touch lots of external constituents (like customers) and less impact on those less ‘social’ functions.

     

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    Hard lessons

    One of the hard lessons of the social enterprise is that social tools can't be relegated to the margins of corporate activity, and then expected to deliver dramatic results. Business processes must be redesigned to be more open, participative, and transparent using social media if significant and tangible results are to be expected.

    Fortunately, that this is a reasonable expectation isn't much of supposition any longer. We can see that organizations that make key business processes more social are the ones that encounter real benefits. The crowdsourcing of product design, the reinvention of customer support through social CRM, the overhaul of our supply chains to handle exceptions through social media, are common examples. These are no longer just theories, but realities encountered through many actual recent transformations of how businesses work.

    In short, businesses who have processes that are more social are typically more effective.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Is cultural change the biggest obstacle...

    ...to social nirvana in the enterprise?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Again, HUGE obstacle

    Some people just prefer to do business certain ways. Different parts of the world do business differently and the social norms, psychographics of different generations of workers, etc. make the adoption of social enterprise technologies tough.

    People, contrary to what they may say, actually hate change. Look around, there’s probably a co-worker you deal with daily. For years, they come into work and carp about their job. Do they ever do anything about it? No – they’re still there. They don’t want to change. Change is uncomfortable. People crave constancy and the social enterprise concept is one big, big, big change.

     

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    Almost certainly, culture seems to be the biggest obstacle.

    Technology and infrastructure for social media is now pervasive and inexpensive. Even skills in social media are now commonplace among workers. What's missing then? The cultural expectations that business processes and team activity are naturally open and inclusive.

    What does this mean for organizations that aren't naturally aligned with the way social media works? Largely that their core strengths and potential for growth doesn't depend on the the ability to tap as much as possible into the resources of their workers, business partners, and customers.

    From my research, I see that a few companies will have intrinsic strengths that will trump the advantages of social media in the short and medium term. The data from McKinsey, Frost & Sullivan, and others show that market leaders will find the easier route through social media. In fact, there will likely be a growth gap between social and non-social companies over time. This early performance data in the last few years seems to bear this view out, though time will tell.

     

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Social sprawl an issue?

    Every application I see these days has some social element. Is social sprawl an issue in the enterprise application landscape? If so what does that mean for adoption?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Great question...

    ...and I’m glad you asked it because I’ve wondered this very point in countless software briefings.

    It seems every vendor I know thinks the world revolves around them. So, naturally, if they offer a social tool with their amazing ERP product, then every worker, supplier, customer, job seeker, etc. that touches this ERP customer will willingly, lovingly embrace this social-product-du-jour. Dream on!

    Honestly, how many social tools does a firm think a person is actually going to use? HR wants to tap into a person’s LinkedIn and Facebook contacts. Operations wants the workers to use a mostly internal social tool to promote faster problem resolution. IT wants everyone to use a cloud-based office automation toolset that has some collaboration and file sharing capabilities. Oh, and some big customers of the firm expect your employees to use their, altogether different social tools, to work with their product designers, procurement and others. And then we get the CRM vendor with their tool, the social network vendor with their tool, and so on, and so on, …

    Yes, we’re drowning in an abundance of social products with no clear enterprise leader. Facebook may have crossed the billion person mark but this is mostly a consumer solution. The business social leader has yet to emerge.

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    I've been saying the last couple of years...

    ...that IT departments now feel "surrounded by social." It's coming from many vectors, including social layers to existing enterprise software suites, lightweight social apps like Yammer and Socialcast, functionally-specific applications like Salesforce and SharePoint, and more.

    Thus, social sprawl -- and the associated fragmentation in conversations and community -- is very real and an genuine problem. Research shows that unlike previous communication revolutions, enterprise social media is often highly siloed by audience, business function, or tool. Because social media is made special by its ability to access many unexpected points of view, this siloing seems in direct opposition to today's social sprawl but is in fact caused by social technology emerging in a growing number of social applications.

    Interoperability and standardization, as has rescued the tech industry many times before, appears to be a solution here. OpenSocial and the W3C, as well as other industry approaches like OAuth will help.

    But technology isn't the only solution to social silos, nor is it likely to be the only solution. An insistence on connecting our social experiences together, of all kinds, offline and online, will likely be the key to addressing the proliferation of social tools by making them all aspects of a unified social experience. In the meantime, enterprises will be wise to be limit the number of social environments to a manageable level. One is too few, while dozens are far too many.

     

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does social software replace anything?

    Or does it fall into the "yet another tool" category? For instance, does social software take out a piece of unified communications? Email?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    A cannibalizing impact

    Email has taken away a lot of the US Postal Service’s first class mail. Social technology is encroaching on business email, instant messaging, plane travel and meetings. So, yes, social software has a cannibalizing impact on other technologies and services. I’d be stunned if it didn’t.

    Remember, this technology is a social, not net-new, technology. Social interaction is something early hominoids accomplished eons ago. Social technology is bringing new tools to supplement and/or supplant some of the old tools. Yes, there are some unique innovations buried in some of these things.

    What we should be discussing though is this: Why can’t these tools do what some old-tech does so well. For example, if you want to foster a deep, long-term friendship with someone, take the time and visit them or have a long, old-fashioned telephone call with them. Reading about their latest adventures on their Facebook page is not a two-way interaction. It’s not building a deepening relationship either. In fact, if you want it to be a REAL relationship, you might have to turn from your smartphone, step away from your desktop and actually SOCIALize with this person.

     

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    The jury is still out on how social media will reconcile itself with other communication methods.

    Certain the activity stream seems like a good candidate as the new centralized focus of worker activity, which pulls in email, unified communications, document/content management, and other forms of digital collaboration into a seamless user experience.

    While many know that I am biased towards social media, unified communication has been resurging recently and may end up being the top-level centralizing technology, at least for internal uses. E-mail itself is clearly a legacy technology, though not likely to go away any time soon. A natural integrated model for all of these technologies would be nirvana, but a quick resolution of the current morass of communication tech isn't likely soon. I think channel fragmentation will continue for a while, until a new breakthrough emerges is my guess. In the meantime, social media will continue to carve out a growing share of business attention.

     

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    How should value be mentioned in social enterprise software?


    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Note to software vendors:

     “If your product has no clearly articulated value proposition, it will likely fail.”

    We’ve moved beyond the cool, neat stage of a lot of early social tools. The value proposition for these was tough to articulate. I remember one exchange years ago where I was told that the user couldn’t calculate the ROI of the tool as they could not estimate how many problems they were going to head off prematurely. The ROI of older tools was squishy, if not outright non-existent.

    Newer tools are getting their ROI story better honed. In HR, the new value metrics involve things like lower cost of hire, longer retention, etc. but even here some of the value, like creating better visibility and relationships with potential new hires, is still hard to monetize.

    The better a social vendor or a potential user of social technologies can articulate value, the greater the chance it will get green-lit. Moreover, when executives can explain in concrete terms how the company’s fortunes will change with these new social tools, the easier path they’ll have in driving acceptance. Sounds simple – but – it usually isn’t.

     

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    Value is as value does.

    When enterprise social media delivers improved productivity, lower operational costs, faster business processes, and more innovation, then it's value is clear. And certainly some companies are seeing results in these areas.

    Yet it's also fairly obvious that many companies haven't seen social as a central way of operating their businesses. For example, Gartner's recent list of CIO priorities doesn't explicitly name social media.

    But for perceived lack of connection with business value, a growing body of evidence shows that social media improves how work gets done. Companies that focus on optimizing their operations in a way that leverages how social media works, are often the ones that report outsized benefits.

     

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Social enterprise vs social business?

    If we relabeled social enterprise and called it social business would your respective views change? In other words, is there a difference?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Not really...

    Potato Potatoe

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    The labels certainly don't seem to matter that much...

    ... to those that are focused on business results. Making customers happy and delivering results for shareholders still get the highest marks and most respect ultimately.

    While social business perhaps has the most aspirational thinking behind it, both concepts focus on largely the same thing: Using social media to produce benefits for how we work together.

     

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does social business software need an enabler?

    And if so -- what is it?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    A tele-evangelist

    Social business/enterprise has plenty of other technologies to help it get traction but to really take off it could use a big Fortune 500 CEO who becomes the tele-evangelist of the space. You know, that sort of charismatic visionary who convinces hundreds of CEOs to get social or get left behind.

    How cool would it be if Warren Buffet, the Oracle of Omaha, suddenly started telling Fortune, BusinessWeek, the Davos attendees and everyone else that he speaks with that social is their future – deal with it now in a constructive way or perish? People listen to folks like this. That’s the enabler the space needs.

     

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    Certainly, social technology helps...

    ... even if it isn't absolutely required. 

    Perhaps most important is a perspective that maximally harnesses the knowledge and capabilities of people. Those that seek to lead their organizations while failing to tap into their human potential are at a significant (and growing) disadvantage.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Will social business techniques be pushed by the CIO or another C-level executive?


    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    The CEO

    The CEO is the best person to push it if you want better odds of the solution’s success. 

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    CIOs are on the hot seat with social enterprise, for sure.

    Yet CMOs seem to be ascendant as the interaction with people takes front seat in an uber-connected digital world. The next five years are likely to be dominated with competition between these two roles, and perhaps a newly empowered Chief Customer Officer.

     

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What are the most promising parts of social business?


    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    It's not the social technology

    Initially, a lot of vendors thought social, mobile and cloud were the big new thing. They were big but mostly this was a consumer phenomena that BYOD helped propel.

    Then, people discovered that social and other big data sources along with analytics and in-memory technologies could be huge. They very well could be.

    Social’s “Hugeness” will stem not from the social technology itself but in its ability to provide outstanding content to other applications and tools that will fuel corporate growth. Find the ways to let social propel a business and that will be the promising part of the technology.

     

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    Uses cases...

    We can see that there are certainly use cases where social media clearly benefits the enterprise. These include team collaboration, marketing, customer support, and product innovation. With some other functions, such as accounting and legal, the benefits are not yet as clear.

     

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Where are the biggest landmines?


    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    In no particular order...

    • Luddites, laggards, unimaginative leaders
    • Poor change journey capabilities
    • People who only want to take information from these systems and never add to its richness
    • Software vendors that try to own your content

     

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    Pushing the technology too much without addressing the business culture.

    Also, not appreciating how long it takes to absorb into the organization. I also see that trying a few tentative experiments and then giving them up quickly is too easy a route to failure.

     

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Are social software vendors better off independent or acquired...

    ... to have the best chance to push adoption?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Adoption is complex and tough

    95+% of software companies either fail or experience a material change of control within a decade or so. Only a smidgen remain independent. So, the independence angle, while somewhat interesting, isn’t the real question. The real question is adoption – how’s it going to happen?

    Social initiatives need champions – especially champions who see the potential for how businesses could operate and how work could occur. To get the adoption though, these champions will need:

    • vision
    • an abundance of political capital to expend
    • support from the CEO (and lots of it, too)
    • persistence
    • ability to inspire
    • public speaking skills
    • persuasive skills 
    • and 25 other qualities


      Adoption is complex and tough – the reason some initiatives fail (or just return mediocre results) has more to do with leadership, culture, politics and vision issues not the vendor’s commitment to the space. It takes both parties, customer and vendor, to make adoption happen and without one of them, all you have is unrequited love.

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    It depends on the organization.

    Big social enterprise vendors are a good fit for large global enterprises. Smaller vendors with unique capabilities for certain industries or business functions are often a better fit for medium size organizations. Adoption is a matter of actual utility at the end of the day.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Last question, gentlemen:

    Is that "Facebook-for-the-enterprise" pitch officially dead and buried now?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    That would make a great Christmas gift...

    ...for all the industry analysts hearing those pitches, but I’m sure some polyester sport coat wearing software salesperson will still be uttering those words a decade from now.

     

    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    It's certainly a powerful vision...

    ...and paints a picture that's useful for sparking thinking about apply social media to our businesses. But as a strategy it's lacking in business depth. Certainly, most enterprises have looked at and evaluated if they need such an internal social network and made their decisions.

    In the end, more important ways of clarifying their business priorities and aligning them with social media are taking a front seat. These days, the short candidates include using social media to improve the customer journey and using social data to drive better optimized business operations.

    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thank you, Dion and Brian

    Some great arguments on both sides.

    Readers, please check back tomorrow for our debater's closing arguments. And again Thursday at 2pm ET, when I deliver my final verdict.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    My pleasure!


    Brian Sommer

    I am for Dead

    Thanks Larry and Brian!


    Dion Hinchcliffe

    I am for Alive

Closing Statements

Some traction, mutation ahead

Brian Sommer

I get it. I get the power and potential of these social technologies and I've even worked for a firm that really embraced what a social business/enterprise could be. But, I've also seen the dark side. I've seen firms that won't or can't embrace the concept. They lack knowledge workers and enlightened executives. Oh, some of them will embrace the social enterprise concept years from now when a competitor, customer or supplier dictates that they join the modern world.

But, for now, adoption of the social enterprise concept is not anywhere as brisk as social adoption is with consumers, teens and other non-B2B demographics.

I suspect we'll see the social enterprise not as much "dead" but something that's slowly, steadily gaining traction. But, along the way, I also suspect it's going to mutate a time or two.

We need the tools landscape to sort itself out some. We need more visible proof points emerge from businesses. But, what's really needed is a new perspective. Too many firms see social as a bolt-on to their ERP-centric world view.

WRONG!

The promoters of social enterprise see a universe of different constituents and users plugging into a boundary-less social fabric while the old-guard is still seeing the world from an internal ERP-centric perspective. There's the problem. The universe doesn't revolve around the Earth anymore than business information revolves around ERP. It's this flawed and nostalgic view of management and systems that's holding back social enterprise.

If the fan-boys behind social enterprise want to see it take off, help people get their heads around the other users of information, where they get their information and how they like to engage.

Huge and inevitable

Dion Hinchcliffe

Frankly, the path of social media through the enterprise has been a convoluted and interesting one. Even though we've tried hard to adapt its new methods and technologies to the enterprise, social media stubbornly remains its own unique creature. In fact, however, it's really just a mirror of who we are and what we do, all visible on the Internet or at work. Unfortunately, this rich yet unpolished public narrative is not always what we're prepared to unleash when it comes to how we operate in the workplace.

That said, all the data today show that social media is inexorably moving into our organizations. Even Gartner, that oft-quoted barometer of IT trends, thinks that most organizations will come to rely on social networks as a primary tool of communication within three years or so.

My erstwhile debate partner has made a few good points, however. One is that the CEO can push social media into the organization faster than any other role, even though it often quickly devolves onto the shoulders of CIOs ad CMOs. He's also right that change is hard and we often only pay lip service to the process. The social way of life, working out loud and narrating what we do while we invite as many people as possible into the process, isn't for everyone, even as it becomes the norm for many of us.

However, I would quibble with a couple of Brian's points. First, we do now in fact see that a few clear social leaders are emerging. IBM, Jive, and even Microsoft, have risen above the sea of literally hundreds of social enterprise solutions that exist today. While there's no doubt the market will remain fluid as social technology continues its fast pace of evolution, we can point to leaders in social analytics, security, and other categories as well.

Second, social technology is huge, even if it's NOT the most important aspect of being a social business. Many traditional business thinkers are not savvy about digital networks and what makes them special. Without a basic appreciation of how social media taps into the intrinsic power of today's global interactive online medium, it's a long, long road to getting ROI out of social. A major shortcut is to apply the technology that already does this. I've said before, you can be a social business without social technology, but it has rather limited utility. Do yourself a favor, and build a great organization on top of a strong social media foundation.

 

 

Could go either way

Lawrence Dignan

The social enterprise debate was among our best in my view. Both sides were presented well and, frankly, this debate could go either way. And something tells me that this debate will continue. In the end, I have to go with Brian's argument that the social enterprise is dead. Like a veteran of way too many enterprise software implementations and negotiations, Brian outlined why the social enterprise rap falls flat and needs to go well beyond the underlying technology. In a large part, Dion agreed. People and processes are key to the social argument. I'll give the win to Brian in a squeaker. My personal belief is that the social enterprise will be widely adopted with one catch: We'll be calling the category something else in the future.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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