Social enterprise adoption – update

As an update to my previous post on social enterprise adoption, some research I saw by the Aberdeen analyst group on The Collaborators’ Advantage, has some interesting information.

Three-hundred and one of them were active users of collaboration; we then split those users into two groups: those whose organization had an official ESC (Enterprise Social Collaboration) initiative, typically with Senior Executive support (the “ESC Users”) and those for whom there was no official program, and for whom their use of ESC was primarily self-provisioned and ad hoc (the “Ad Hoc Users”).

Business performance and enterprise social collaboration

click to enlarge

So if having a social enterprise program supported by senior executives made a difference in performance, I wonder how organizations that didn’t even have any program would have performed. Anyone think they would have done better?


Social enterprise adoption: can business break away from Taylor?

The views of Frederick Taylor on scientific management have defined the way organisations have operated for over 100 years. The view that to improve efficiency and profits you need to focus on processes, has dominated the culture of business, and has led to the emergence of a market for various solutions to cater for this view – the ERP software industry is one.

A new approach is starting to emerge now, one that I think challenges the Taylorist view. This new approach is more a product of, and holds value for, the way business will work in the 21st century. The new approach is referred to as the social enterprise. Another term for it, enterprise 2.0, is described by its author, Prof. Andrew McAfee of MIT, as:

the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.
Social software enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities.

Social enterprise puts the emphasis on people, not processes.

In his book, People Buy You, Jeb Blount points out that a major problem for business is that the balance of forces has swung far towards the side of technology, process and systems as the way to improve business, and far away from interpersonal skills. We have wrung so much efficiency out of process management that it is becoming an increasingly marginal return to find greater efficiencies. Human interaction and interpersonal skills are going to be the new competitive edge for business.

Geoffrey Moore, author of classic technology marketing books Crossing the Chasm, and Inside the Tornado, has been pointed out that business has spent the last few decades on improving their Systems of Record – the systems that handle business transactions like sales and purchase orders, inventory and supply chain management, production planning, customer relationship management, and others. He now believes those systems are no longer a source of competitive advantage. Moore argues that business needs to transform, to empower its employees by providing better communication and collaboration mechanisms, both inside the business and between businesses. What will enable this transformation is a new set of Systems of Engagement, which focus on communication and promote collaboration.

Doesn’t that sound like an emphasis on interaction and people, rather than process?

The problem at the moment is that businesses are run by people who have grown up with the Taylor view of the world. When it comes to enterprise strategy, that “social” really doesn’t count for much when it comes to enterprise strategy, according to a study by KPMG.

importance of social enterprise

What is the state of social enterprise adoption? An Altimeter report mentioned:

social media is extending deeper into organizations and, at the same time, strategies are maturing

A Deloitte survey showed that many C-level executives are starting to recognize the importance of social enterprise.

I have to admit, however, that I am not yet convinced that reports like these paint the true picture.

Why should sceptical, Taylor-oriented executives consider Moore’s systems of engagement? The answer is because the business world has changed, we are now in an era where agility and adaptability is required, not rigid command-and-control structures; where mobility and cloud computing are the key technologies, not mainframes or client-server. According to Moore, the questions that need then to be asked are:

Systems of engagement do not make competence cultures more competent. They make collaboration cultures more collaborative. The key questions are: 1) Is that a good thing in your industry today? and 2) Are the people in your enterprise—specifically your CEO and your CXO peers—really up for this?

The second question is important because it requires the equivalent of making a square peg fit into a round hole.

If the artistic argument appeals to you, I liked this interpretation by Hugh MacLeod:

New hierarchy

What do you think about social enterprise? Is it a fad, or a new way to which businesses will have to adapt?


A blog has appeared on Brian Solis’ site – Social Business is Dead! Long Live What’s Next!  We may have to come up with some other responses to the Taylorists

Elucidating “Confused of Calcutta”

One of the deep thinkers on technology is JP Rangaswami, whose blog Confused of Calcutta I have been reading for some time. But while he writes with erudition, he sometimes misses his targets, especially when it comes to enterprise software. As Dennis Howlett has commented – his approach is “way too esoteric for operational people to get.”

I have been sitting on two of JP Rangaswami’s (JPR) theoretical musings for some time while I tried to figure out what they were getting at. One is Thinking about the Social Enterprise, the other is a concept he proposes about application types (pillars) of enterprise software.

In the social enterprise blog, JPR talks convincingly about customer-centred communication, but there is still something missing for me. A socially-enabled enterprise should be able to include any object – what about being able to follow entities inside the enterprise, not just people but also things, like orders, parts and processes? From a financial and operational perspective, how could social enterprise activities be interpreted in terms of measurable outcomes?

Last year, MIT professor Andrew McAfee put the social enterprise movement into context, referring to an InformationWeek article which noted:

Part of the reason social networking tools still aren’t mainstream at most organizations is because Enterprise 2.0 is still considered more of a “movement” than a business imperative. The movement’s evangelists employ the kumbaya language of community engagement rather than the more precise language of increasing sales, slashing costs, and reducing customer complaints.

The good news, according to McAfee, is that he and others are working on creating compelling evidence for the operational guys.

Turning to the other topic, I discovered JPR’s concept of “application pillars” sometime later. It’s been around for a while, in 2005 Phil Wainewright summarised it.

Publishing: Any application that generates data will act as though it’s a content publisher, using RSS or similar to publish its data. The significance of this is that it reduces all of these applications to the level of raw feed generators …

Discovery: This is the application that gives everyone a “Google experience” — a single, homogenous database where everything is stored and where everything is discoverable … the information database is open access, with access and authorization controls added only as necessary for specific items or classes of information.

Fulfilment: This is the application that makes things happen, most notably for customers. Identity management plays a crucial role here, controlling the catalog choices that are shown to each user and their rights to approve shipment.

Conversation: All the channels of collaboration between people, either inside the organization or beyond its walls.

It took me a while to grasp the concept because it didn’t seem right, in fact rather simplistic. In my opinion, the pillars fails to recognise that enterprises are not just about data.

For organisations that make and store physical things, rather than just move information around, I struggle to see how the pillars would cope with the activities of a transaction – something that involves ordering, making, storing and distributing an item.

Moreover, one of the critical aspects of business that ERP systems help to manage – processes – doesn’t seem to fit into the pillars concept. Perhaps what is needed is a modification to include two more pillars – transactions and processes.

I apologise for taking so long to comment on these two concepts, but I believe the issues raised by JPR deserve to be given serious attention as the basis for a new framework for enterprise software – not just left as vaguely academic ideas. JPR comes from a background in banking (Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein) and telco (British Telecom), which makes me wonder if there are aspects he doesn’t appreciate about businesses that actually make or sell things.

Let me know if you think I have mis-understood either, or both, of these concepts.