Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business : the end of denial ?

sbfWhile many people are questioning the actual impact of Social Business and Enterprise 2.0 projects, while it seems we’ve reached a crossroads, the Social Business Forum I attended in Milan last month was the occasion to see a change in discourses. What is not surprising because that’s things I’ve been used to hearing in the backstage for a couple of years, discourses converging towards the need for a takeover and approaches more focused on business and less on a “care Bears” philosophy.

What has changed, as some speakers confirmed, is that the audience seems to be at last ready to hear some truth that used to be bothering until a very recent time. A situation that may be due to the increasing number of surveys and reports that show how things are actually and, without questioning the idea, show that it was not applied in a relevant fashion.

What follows is a quick overlook of what seemed key to me…

Enterprise, employee and management of today and of the past

I’ll start with Jacob Morgan‘s presentation on the future of work (the occasion to remind you of Jacob’s excellent book on the collaborative organization). Nothing new at first sight but that’s a good introduction to what will follow. As I endlessly repeat, making Goldratt’s words mine :

We should not expect an application to work in environments for which its assumptions are not valid

we need to acknowledge that the current environment we can find in enterprises makes invalid any initiative aiming at adapting work and structures to the context and market that are ours today.

Social Networks are the new production line

Then comes Sandy Carter’s presentation on the trends in the social business area.

I won’t comment the whole presentation but I’ll focus on two point. First one stands in one sentence “Social Networks are the new production line”. If some will find the analogy irrelevant because of the Taylorian image it implies, the message is clear : social is not something people do, is not one more task but is the way things are done. Duly acknowledged. From my own french perspective, it reinforced my idea that we should get rid of this pointless cultural exception that makes us see social as a means to gather people and create links and adopt a more productive approach. Second one is the growing importance of data : beyond interactions and conversations, there’s a need to transform intangible elements in tangible, rational and factual ones making decision making possible. Here again, the need of turning a potential into outcomes.
Then it’s up to Sameer Patel to emphasize on a very operational performance driven approaches, something he’s always been good at.

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Social Business and the art of closing loops

Sameer reminds us that Social Business is a big, huge thing. Both for industry players and businesses that will manage to make the most of it. But he also see things are they are : as promising as it is, it still does not work. Or far under expectations. And he asks : “where’s the business in social business ?”.
I fully subscribe to his answer : it’s about closing loops. What does he means ? Businesses have activities, processes and the point is not to change what business do but to improve the way they do it. Today, processes are incomplete so they are executed incompletely : unadapted to a world where exception is the norm and where businesses need to mobilize their social capital to fix their execution, adapt to imperfection, deliver what’s expected and close the loops. And he came with lots of examples. Moreover his presentation is very interesting because it shows how each kind of business process has a social matching piece that is not there to replace it but complete, improve and eventually transform it. It’s not about social activities in parallel of business ones as it often happens but a single activities making the most of the synergies between the two worlds that are actually a single one.
Once again it backs by opinion that a social activity that is not deeply rooted in an identified business process is going round in circles and creates an infinite loop people can’t get out of and that leads to nowhere.
Last thing, maybe obvious but still worth being said. Why trying to find new ideas, approaches and concepts that CxOs won’t get ? Social Business needs to learn the vocabulary of business because, whatever the response is, concerns are still the same. Increase revenues, lower costs and mitigate risk. Period.

Business talks, IT watches

This leads us to the panel gathering some of the major industry vendors. IBM, SAP, Tibbr, Cisco, Telligent and Microsoft. Not an easy kind of panel. As a matter of fact, many similar panel I saw in the past suffered from the techno-centrism of speakers and their propensity to sell their technology, making the business audience lose track and patience. For the first time, business prevailed with discussions on how to make social business contribute to business, manage enterprise transformation and not on the advantage of such or such software. Very lucid and responsible talks with only one exception, with a speaker saying that the need for change was not that important since people were used to Facebook and twitter in their personal lives (yes…still in 2013…).

Many obvious things that are even better when stated in public. KPIs ? We already have them, they are those businesses use to measure their business outcomes and that’s not because things are done in a social fashion that they need to be changed. Except if they were wrong. As Sameer Patel says “we confused programmatic indicators with business ones”. ROI ? Even if it as a new dimension that we still don’t really master, a large part can be identified through the contribution to business activities and the impact on traditional business indicators.

Social Business is business, not a nebulous layer superimposed over it

Something that becomes easy to measure as social business programs are rooted into traditional business processes. As I often say, any social activity that is not backed with a business process can’t be measured and brings nothing. I remind you of this very of post that goes deeper into it if you still need to be convinced that nothing will come from intangible assets if they’re not used jointly with business processes.
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The imperative reconciliation of social and business

Last but not least, the Esteban Kolsky and Ray Wang duet. An original staging with one playing the role of a CMO and the other a CTO, aiming at make the audience aware of the dialogue of the deaf that often happens between both but, most of all, of the legitimate constraints each one had. The conclusion was the need to move forward together because if marketing wins then the business will collapse because of lack of reliable systems and if IT wins business will collapse because of unadaptation. A new approach and and productive dialogue that may be embodied by a new role, the Chief Digital Officer both wished for. Once again, the need for a reconciliation between social and business to the profit of the enterprise and the vanity of what often looks like the war of worlds.

As for my own presentation on business transformation and the need to adapt organizations instead of relying on adoption programs only,  I already shared it a couple of weeks ago.

One more thing : chance or not, the day after the Social Business Forum, I came across this post wondering if Social Business was only talks and no trousers. It was high time for new approaches…