The great convergence

Talking SMAAC and actually achieving business goals are two very different things as digital business needs mature
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

A warp-speed history of digital business collaboration takes us from the brittle on-premises Ethernet local area network computing systems to the dawn of web 1.0's boom and bust, on to the broadband and mobile revolution and web 2.0's read write web connected networks ... which then mutated to become our socially networked and tracked planet.

Europe from space
Europe from space.
Image: NASA

As social, mobile, apps, analytics, and cloud (SMAAC) converge into business planning components centered around customer engagement and other fashionable outcomes, it's often been hard for planners to put the jigsaw pieces together to achieve vision because of business unit Balkanization.

Grass roots viral uptake of the old enterprise 2.0 toolsets was in large part due to sheer frustration with inflexible enterprise tools, which looked increasingly archaic compared to the consumer web and mobile explosion. Fast forward to today, and many of those ad hoc enterprise 2.0/social environments were not planned around deep or well-thought out foundations to be able to survive in our more sophisticated world.

What was shiny and new and fit for purpose four years ago has often gone though numerous corporate reorganizations and personnel changes, resulting in substantial groups of people communing in digital environments that have lost their sense of purpose over time beyond informal water cooler hubs and fluid knowledge capture locations.

ESS (Enterprise Social Software, sometimes also confusingly called Enterprise Social Networks by some analysts) should logically be the central backbone of the potent SMAAC convergence, with analytics, data, contextual knowledge, and insights feeding into the center of operations from the various digital tributaries at the edges of the enterprise offerings.

Mark Benioff sold this grand vision as a vendor tools pitch with Salesforce's "Social Enterprise" messaging until last year, largely coming from a rip and replace perspective. Most companies have layers of technology owned by many different parts of the firm, making holistic change hard to achieve without concentrated and clear top-down directive and goals.

Marketing needs and budgets are very attractive to tools vendors and their partners because of short horizon needs and goals and urgency to stay current with the rapidly evolving social marketing world, resulting in a fast path to seat license sales. The drawback to these customer conversation-focused episodes has been short termism and rapid leadership and direction changes (the average CMO lasts about 18 months).

The huge focus on listening to and engaging prospects and customers in dialogue has inevitably resulted in as many strategic and tactical red herrings as successes, and arguably obscured the more fundamental challenges of employee and partner engagement.

Where individuals choose to hang out in the ever-changing digital social whirl on their time is a totally different dynamic to getting people to interact and share information with each other around work goals. Identity management, governance, and compliance loom large as precursor requisites to collaboration, and those dynamics need to flow through an ESS platform (typically tied into system of record) in order to achieve the much-quoted term "system of engagement" made popular by Geoffrey Moore.

Many of the now mature community-focused ESS tool sets are not fit for purpose to achieve this new SMAAC reality at scale, despite increasingly strident marketing hype and broadcasting opinion shaping. The current tool sets tend to be terrific for specific projects, so long as there is focus and people management and goals in place — the next generation of ESS platforms need to enable the great SMAAC convergence without getting in the way as a point solution for communities.

As our social digital world matures globally, distributed workforces — often working remotely — have ever-greater needs to operate at scale both inside, across, and outside the firewall. We are entering a new era where designing unified work experiences that anticipate the accelerating convergence of social, mobile, apps, analytics, and cloud has taken on a new urgency.

Point solutions continue to have great value, but collective intelligence and agility at scale are increasingly important and are likely to be a huge business differentiator in the coming months.

Editorial standards