The business value of social

Real time social initiatives are often hamstrung by old fashioned measurement and process paradigms
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor
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...



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