The business value of social

The business value of social

Summary: Real time social initiatives are often hamstrung by old fashioned measurement and process paradigms

old tape


The business value of 'social' computing has been one of the great riddles of the last few years: walk into any company today and there are all sorts of collaborative social technologies being used both formally and informally, and often to great effect.

Getting things done in bureaucracies often entails using informal channels prior to concluding and documenting initiatives and projects 'properly' in sanctioned formal channels…which typically involves checking boxes in enterprise systems and filing concluding documents in content management systems.

Most of the real work is actually done with mobile and social - conversation, networking and the sort of iterative activity based on fresh information that the old enterprise software generations are so poor at. 

Management consultant Peter Drucker's logic was excellent for the pre real time era he was focused on:  “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it" and “What's measured, improves”.  However, that era relied heavily on regular retrospective measurement and post mortems over time to make sure businesses were running efficiently.

Like overworked and under-recognized practical and innovative people in an organization, social software doesn't get the respect it deserves - all too often the wrong people and tools get the credit for successes, when in fact the people and processes who made things happen in real time should get the glory. 

Today way too many companies still measure everything retrospectively rather than in real time. There's a huge push to sell them pricey 'big data' enterprise analytics software to give a sense of being in the moment, but this sensible post by Christopher Mims points out that most data isn't that 'big'. Mims argues the concept of huge volume data analysis is highly questionable and pricey when taken out of context: I'd add that 'in the moment' quality over quantity is very high value given the rapid pace businesses operate at today...however it's entirely dependent on all the the humans involved. It's the surrounding collaboration and design by humans that unlocks the value from data, not applying blind number crunching and seeing what shakes out...

I'm fond of saying that social technologies are the mortar between the rigid enterprise technology foundational bricks (finance, supply chain, HR etc etc). Today these foundational tools have often had a superficial layer of 'social' technologies overlaid on them, typically by their vendors purchasing and tacking on enterprise 2.0 software companies, but these are usually self serving add ons to encourage vendor lock in. Blending these old foundations with appropriate new technologies is highly contextual and specific to the business problems that need to be solved, a reality that often gets overlooked as a result of pretentious and overreaching vendor marketing and 'thought leadership'.

Social tech which is perceived as valuable typically is seen to successfully lubricate activity between people and processes to achieve business outcomes, but those technologies have often been outliers at the edge of the organizations they serve during the eight or so years they have been available. Today, partly due to the economy restricting broader initiatives, most companies have many flavors of social technologies serving different parts of the organization - the result of multiple timid 'adoption' and 'pilot' strategies. There are arguably often too many 'real time' collaborative information flows and social channels, and efforts are now being made at convergence. (Silos definitely have their place in some parts of organizations). 

The weed like persistence of the digital filing cabinet/content management systems are the anchors which keep companies in a previous less efficient business era, whether we are talking about Sharepoint or Dropbox. These repositories are often where the results of business endeavors are posted to and stored, and many still confuse this storage with real time activity. 

Two much more timeless Drucker quotes:

“Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.” 
“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old” 

The convergence of cloud, social, mobile and associated analytics is driving highly efficient and cost effective new business paradigms, but all too often last century measurement tactics are being used as strategy...and that is a significant barrier to successfully accelerating business performance...



Topic: Social Enterprise


Oliver Marks & Associates provides seasoned, technology agnostic independent consulting guidance to companies on effective Digital Enterprise Transformation business strategy, tactics, infrastructure & technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models and management.

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  • Focus on business outcomes?

    Hi Oliver-

    There is one principle and two mental models I would suggest complement your post.

    Everything we do, be it technology or business related, needs to support directly or indirectly business outcomes.

    Mental model 1- Kotter's Dual Operating Systems
    Professor Kotter (the change management guru at Harvard) has recently introduced the concept of two operating systems within one organization. The first is the traditional hierarchy you mention, which is super-efficient at accomplishing known business outcomes- the basis of the industrial revolution. The second, Kotter calls the "new, agile network" which is most familiar to many of your readers as the strategic projects structure typically used to build new capabilities- focused on the critical business outcomes like product launch.

    Mental model 2- Business maturity correlates to social scope
    Recently we have studied the splintering of capability maturity models to more and narrower (focused?) areas of business function. As we analyzed dozens of capability maturity models, we observed a trend: with each increase in capability maturity model level, is an increasing step in scope of collaboration. For example, "ad-hoc" level is made up of individuals and small groups, while the top level of maturity, innovation, generally requires collaboration beyond the borders of the enterprise.

    If we begin with business outcomes, think about how to get them done (à la Kotter's agile networks), and realize increasing our capabilities is dependent on social scope- the technology becomes the enabler to speed, efficiency and effectiveness of results.


    Tom Reeder
    See @Thomas.J.Reeder for tweets to links on both of these topics
    • Typo on twitter account

      twitter should read @thomasjreeder
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