We should not forget that social computing is everything but tools and processes. It is all about the people! It is a philosophy, a lifestyle, i.e. that growing urge from knowledge workers to go out there, connect with other knowledge workers, build further up their relationships and share their knowledge.
That is where a new form of ROI for Social Computing should be based on.
This line of thinking is a BIG mistake. Sounding like a post-post modern Foucault derivative may be good in IBM land because that's how you can sell bags of consulting hours. But it is deeply unimpressive in the hard nosed office of the person who cuts checks. Far better to think about 'stuff' with which CFOs can identify. What do I mean?
Today I checked in with Suw Charman who worked on SocialText's Dresdner Kleinwort social media project. Listening to Suw discuss how social computing can be a paying proposition inside the enterprise gave me a sense of deja vue. We could have been talking about ROI and adoption patterns for ERP in the mid-1990s when the 'new' was treated with suspicion and where finding champions was a devil's own job. In other words, nothing has changed when it comes to figuring how to express value for new technology. Asked about her view on ROI Suw said:
"If you'd asked me a year ago whether traditional ROI matters I would have agreed with those who say 'no.' Today I recognize that getting beyond departmental Trojan mouse projects requires an intelligent measurable response."
Suw says most social computing vendors she meets are 'naive' in their approach and don't understand that social computing provides good opportunities to provide easy wins. However, she counsels that companies need do better figuring the problem they're trying to solve:
How many companies bother to measure the extent to which email overload is restricting productivity? Having those 'before' measures provides decision takers with the tools with which they can assess the value of alternatives like blogs and wikis in an 'after' analysis.
Listening to Suw state what seems obvious is painful because it seems that neither vendors nor customers have learned from past experience. Perhaps that's why 'we' need people like Suw. They disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.