Enterprise 2.0 and ROI : do we ask the right people ?

2
2012

Summary : when talking about the ROI of Enterprise 2.0 projects, people often focus on the ROI of the software they’ll use to achieve their goals. But social software, morst of all in the enterprise world, has no ROI by itself but a potential ROI that needs that need technology and new usages to be coupled together to become real. In fact the ROI question does depends on software vendors who are often asked it as much as it depends on the the enterprise that knows how far they are ready to go in its transformation process. So there’s so surprise businesses don’t get the answer they need from vendors and suppliers : no one has the answer except themselves.

I recently has the pleasure to moderate a panel on “ROI 2.0” at the last MIS  conference(Management, Information, Strategy) in Paris.

Many interesting things came from the discussion. Some are slowly but surely becoming mainstream, some others being more specific and demonstrating that maturity is improving what allows some new approaches to emerge.

In the first category, there’s the fact that ROI as both a qualitative and a quantitative side. But, even when one decides to focus on the qualitative sides, it does not mean that it should not be measurable. Other point : progress is hard to measure because lots ot improvements are about things that did not use to be measured before/

Another very important point is the consensus on an activity oriented operational vision. If one want to measure anything worthy, it need to apply on an activity, a process which execution needs to be improved. Social networks are generic tools which use has to specifically target one’s need in the context of his work. Of course, the “above the flow” dimension will still exist and matter but it’s better to start focusing on practical  things, meeting identified needs and bringing tangible improvement in people’s work.

Last, it’s difficult and even impossible to propose hard numbers beforehand (but is it useful ?). What can be done is to target activity oriented usages that ensure a potential improvement, then measure on the flow to align and improve.

What leads us to the most important point, what is the consequence of what  precedes : changing tools without changing the way work is done does not improve anything. In oter words, what makes a potential ROI become real is the will to change processes, organization, rethink HR models etc… What is not anecdotical since it sends back the ROI question to the one who asks it : the enterprise.

As a matter of fact, enterprises tend to ask the question to their suppliers and vendors first, while the latter only master a small piece of the approach. They are responsible for the tools, its functionalities and a part of the potential ROI. But they have no impact of delivering the ROI because it will depend on what the enterprise will do, how it will use the tool as a part of a global transformation program. The same reasoning works for the implementation of new work practices ? What’s their ROI ? It will depend on whether the enterprise will decide to change as less things as possible, just to say “we’re doing 2.0 things”…only for show.

Organizations ask their suppliers and partners questions they have the answer to and only depends on a factor called willingness (or courage). Those who supply the tools or methodologies can only provide a potential ROI, sometimes advise to make the first steps. But, to get significant results, enterprises should ask themselves : “how far am I ready to go ?”.

As a conclusion on “ROI 2.0” :

– 2.0 or social tools are inert tools : they do nothing but allow people to do things. They don’t have any ROI by themselves but enable the ROI of a global approach.

– rather than the ROI of a tool, organization should focus on the ROI of the tool/usage couple. Then, couple this duet with activities and processes. What provides a potential ROI.

– to move from potential to real ROI, it’s all about the courage and ability to align the work context (ROI, processus etc…) with the project in question.

– the ROI word, in its usual meaning, does not mean a lot in such projects. Talking about tangible, observable and measurable improvement is more relevant.