There's one idea I've been coming back to again and again, over pretty much the last decade. It's what I like to call "right time information", the idea that our businesses systems are there for one purpose only: to get the right information to the right person at the right time to make the right decision for the right business outcome.
It's an idea that's at the heart of key trends in business IT. It's why organisations are rolling out tools like SharePoint to quantify and share knowledge, it's the idea behind the democratisation of data at the heart of the new generation of business intelligence tools that's built into the Tableau visualisation suite and into SQL Server 2012. It's also at the heart of the social networking tools that are making business inroads, tools like Salesforce.com's Chatter, like Yammer, and like Moxie Software's recently launched Spaces.
I recently met Moxie Software CEO Tom Kelly, to talk about how businesses move from working with structured line-of-business tools, like the channel management features of traditional CRM packages, to a more flexible set of social tools. Kelly described Moxie Software's strategy as one of convergence, working with departments in a business for very focused initial deployments that could then be used to deliver best practices to the rest of the business. It's how organisations like Turner Broadcasting start using social tools, sourcing the news stories that aren’t the headlines today, but could be soon.
Getting businesses to understand social is harder, but it turns out to work well with transactional business processes, fitting neatly into how businesses sell to and support their customers, and connecting into those existing communication channels and extending them back into the business. Adding social tools to these processes is an approach that then lets organisations take advantage of those extended channels, crowd sourcing answers from inside the business, from staff who wouldn't normally have contact with end users – but who know the answer to a problem.
That last bit is the tricky bit, as it does entail a change in most corporate cultures. But if a tool like Moxie Software's is in place then you can start applying analytics to the conversations and the information (while wrapping it all in a nice, user-friendly, FaceBook consumer-style user interface). Those analytics can drive further interactions, and can also be used to find the true sources of knowledge in your organisation, knowledge that needs to be captured and retained for use by everyone.
And that's where things get really interesting, as it turns out that social networking tools are actually really powerful knowledge management tools – without all that formal structure. They look, and are, user-friendly, making them easy for users to pick up, and at the same time, they're manageable and quantifiable. They're even suitable for deployment to both knowledge and task workers, with the same tool on the desktop of an engineer and a call centre employee.
Design your social enterprise well, and you also deliver on that right time promise, delivering (in the case of Moxie Software) happy customers. And if one thing is true in business, it's a lot cheaper to make a happy customer return than to go out and find new ones.