Is technology the last cool thing in Social Business ?

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The times where anyone attending a event on enterprise 2.0, social business or anything in this field came back to the office with stars filled eyes are gone. Today, feelings are much more mixed even if this half-hearted impression is quite unfair. Anyway : when a feeling exists it exists, no matter how biased it is.

Improved technology did not help to go further

That’s easy to explain : 5 or 7 years ago (yes…7 years..)successes used to be few and achieved by courageous pioneers while they are more numerous today. Even if the large majority is still trying to find their way, the number of organization that have achieved “something” is growing and no one gazes anymore upon the more or less successful adoption of an enterprise social network. This is the paradox : more and more try, more and more manage to do something but this something hasn’t changed over the last years. Leaders’ practices are not more advanced than at that time despite of the impressive progress made by technology. Organizations worry about their ability to follow the leaders but are not impressed anymore by what leaders do. It must mean something.

Have a look at what leading social platforms looked like in 2008/2009. In terms of user interface, ergonomic and user experience the least we can say is that they were rather “user unfriendly”. Same for functionalities that are richer now. What’s the result of technology improvement ? It make it easier to reach a certain level of success but not to go further in terms of new practices and impact.

We’re facing a paradox : businesses logically favor functionalities and look and feel (even if it’s proven that the most appealing solution at first sight is not always the best one when it comes to support advanced business practices) while very few users users are able to make the most of it individually. And it’s even worse from a collective standpoint. How many businesses are able to have advanced practices adopted by a significant number of employees ? 5% at best. Because what matters is the collective adoption of a model, not to have many different incoherent practices coexisting in the workplace.

People have always been the slow factor of any transformation and will always be. There won’t be any collective transformation until a critical mass is not ready to change individually. Most of all at the top of the company. In the meantime the need for a significant participation which is critical to any social business initiative won’t be met.

Technology is moving forward while our ability to make the most of it is stagnating

In Race Against The Machine, Andrew McAfee puts that the current slow growth was not due to a lack of innovation but to our inability to change the way we act and operate as people, businesses or society to make the most of it. It’s caused by the inability to reinvent the current models. The same is at work in the workplace : businesses over-invest in technology, hoping it will solve problems that are not in its field.

theweb2point0thing334So even if nearly everyone keeps saying that business transformation is neither digital nor technological but human we can’t deny the growing space technology vendors take on the stage at industry conferences. Paradox ? No. When practices stagnate and that the ability of organizations to change and adapt is the bottleneck, technology is the only thing that can make a “Wow” effect every year even if businesses will take years to really be able make a meaningful use of what’s shown on the stage.

But this should not lead to hasty conclusions and make think that it’s only meant to draw attention and make businesses buy things they’re not able to use. Quite the contrary we see tools that used to be passive platforms supporting employee participation becoming more and more “active”, embedding a new kind of of intelligence that anticipates user’s needs, make information more accessible and easily actionable, what decreases the need for participation, making it necessary only when it brings a real added value.

People need dreams and only technology can deliver it

We’ll have occasions to discuss it later but something is becoming obvious : the people centric enterprise faces so many hurdles that it’s going to make a pragmatic move towards a people’s data centric one. Even if in the end data always come from people, that’s going to radically change the model.

People need to have dreams when it comes to take an path they expect to be uncomfortable. Like it or not but today only technology and the power of data make people dream, not collaborative practices and the problems that come with. Technology is nothing when it’s not used but it helps to raise enthusiasm. That’s something.