Enterprise 2.0 and social business : what to expect in 2012 ?

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Résumé : what will be the enterprise 2.0 / social business in 2012 ? It will highly depends on choices organizations will make to deal with the paradox of finding ways to go out of the crisis while not having much money to invest. 2012 will certainly be the year where window window-dressing projects and deeper corporate ones will diverge as well as those aiming at adding a community layer to the existing organization vs those aiming at reinventing the organizational structure and operation models. Should the world be perfect, we’ll see budgets shift from technology to organizational transformation, from adding new layers to integrating existing ones, community approaches becoming more operations-driven, social becoming more a transformation than transplanting an external body. In a non perfect world we’d see window-dressing projects surviving a little bit before the final collapse, because of approaches too disconnected from the enterprise world to deliver results and sustain long term engagement.

A new year is starting…with the usual prediction challenge. It does not matter if these predictions become true or not, that anticipation is confused with taking one’s dreams for granted : predictions are a part of the landscape and even those who don’t take them seriously expect them. So I’m trying to play the game one more time.

First, let’s be clear on what prediction means. Even if I’m happy with what I “predicted” these last years (understand “I was right”), don’t expect to find anything revolutionary in the next lines. What we usually call predictions is nothing more than common sense (or lack of). Predicting the iPhone en 1990 would have been a prediction. Prediction the need from bringing social into the flow of work in 2009 was only common sense. Rather stating the obvious.

What leads us to a very important point. As long as one is lucid and clearly understands that, even social or 2.0, the real point is enterprise and business, with all the constraints and context that comes with, it’s not that hard to identify where things will block and what concerns will arise. Finding how organizations will decide to respond is much harder. Anyway each one will respond in its own way depending on its culture, its culture, the courage of its executives when it will come to make strategic decisions. Because of all that, we’ll surely see much more diversity than before in social business approaches…

So, here are the trends I seen for 2012.

1°) Budget : from technology to organizational transformation

Before being about people or technology, that’s a matter of money. Technology, accompaniment, internal efforts… And we all know that in 2012 money will fall from the sky and anyone will be able to spend it on any shiny initiative. Or not. So it all depends of a strategic choice for enterprises facing crises : getting ready for the crash or finding the winning way out.

Finding the winning way out may mean many different things. One of them could be keeping the investments and even making more efforts because it’s “now or never”. Another could be of not changing the amount but the allocation. I recently mentioned a survey saying that HR seem to refocus on organizational transformation to the detriment of some other points. I read another one, about services budgets, saying something like “less software and integration, more on building new business and organizational models”.

The most meaningful choice will on whether to favor technology or its usages. It seems that the second may win or at least not being the least considered part of the job anymore. Such arbitrations will be key facts to understand 2012.

 

2°) A more operations-driven approach to social dynamics

Some of us have been discussing this point for years but it seems that things are becoming more mature now. In 2009, anyone talking about a social approach to business processes was considered as an heretic. Today things seem to be converging and enterprises are more ready to listen and understand to such discourses that make more sense for them. Or maybe the disciples of the “Care Bears Social Church” have given up and admit that the word process was not a blasphemy anymore.

So, the job is not about keeping the old organizational structure and adding a community layer on its top, out of the flow of work, but :

1°) Bringing  social into the flow of work even it means fixing the flow to make it agile and adaptable

2°) Jointing flows of work and out-of-the-flow community approaches to ensure all the efforts will contribute to value creation. If not, the final conclusion will come quickly : communities = unproductive silos…and once again we’ll have missed a great opportunity to improve things.

But being aware does not mean acting accordingly. Even if a consensus forms on such an approach, it will take time to implement it because it needs organizations to put their hands in the organizational mess and out of age processes. That’s what the “E20 = E1.0+communities” was designed to avoid. Unsuccessfully.

Depending on the choices made in each organizations, we’ll see forks forming in the the social business world. And, in my opinion, one of them is a dead end.

Behind this point lies something deeper…that’s my third point.

 

3°) Adopting one’s future instead of adopting social

We’ve been talking about “adoption” for ages. Even if I can understand it, it did not take much time to see the limits of such an approach. It’s like saying “that’s new, you may not see the interest but you have to love it and get used to live with it”. It sounds like having to deal with something exogenous. Adoption being about how not to reject a transplant.

There’s another approach, much about a wide and deep corporate project. What challenges for the next year ? How to create more value, more efficiently ? How to make resilience a part of the corporate DNA ? One thing leading to another, if enterprises start to design their organization accordingly, in terms of management models, processus, HR models etc… social won’t need to be adopted but it will grow and spread naturally. Do you want to design an enterprise adapted to its challenge and tool it accordingly or try to make new practices and tool fit in a mould that’s not designed for them and in which they make no sense ? Overlay or structural integration ?

In short, do you want to adopt the social approach or adopt your future, social being only a consequence. What I also mean is that there is not one social model that fits any organizations. It has to be designed to fit specific cultures, needs etc… Organizations that understand they’ll have to design a whole global model for their own purpose instead of copying what they can see elsewhere will be more likely to succeed in their transformation.

The answer to this question will take you on one or the other of the ways that will follow the fork I mentioned above. Enterprise projet or social project in the enterprise ?

 

4°) Integrating instead of adding

That’s a three dimensions challenge : on technology, organization and people.

These last years, many enterprises have ran many projects, most of time without much coherence, what lead to building stacks. Stacks of technology with no connection between them or with the previously existing ones. Stacks of rules and processes, often contradictory, while making things more simple was the best way to efficiently handle exceptions. Stacks of constraints, exhortation to adopt new behaviors depending on the context.

This lack of coherence weights on projects and does not help to make sense of anything. The consequence is known : less engagement and motivation over time, even unproductivity. Maybe cuts in budgets will have positive impacts. Rather than rushing ahead without properly addressing the problem, organizations will have to learn to make the most out of what thet have and is often wasted or under-utilized.

We’ve seen above, that instead of adding a social part to people’s work, organizations should invent a model that joints in a logical way both the structured and unstructured parts of work, formal and informal ones. It will be the same for technology since, as Bill Ives noticed, it seems that, instead of adding new technology layers, organizations seems to start investing on integrating the existing ones better.

Integration will take place on many fields :

• the organizational one, by replacing adoption by redefining and redesigning roles, tasks, activities and flow of work.

• the human one, by making HR policies more coherent (evaluation, reviews, goals, incentives, competencies location and management…)

• the technological one, by integration the business and social layer, with the help of new standards as we can see in the “social business framework”.

5°) Customer first ! But for how long ?

I hear more and more voices complaining on how social media budgets are allocated. There’s a lot of money available to look nice on Facebook but almost nothing in comparison to transform the organization in order to deliver as promised. Unfortunately we can see few signs that improving the organization through the human and organization will get more funds than social soliciting projects on Facebook or elsewhere. Looking nicer will still more important than executing better…but for how long ?

More time is needed to replace make-up programs with a comprehensive approach that will joint internal and external activities and consider that execution is at least as important as branding. But 2012 may be the turning point. Things may change as budgets shift and social business projects not considered as a part of the social media stuff anymore but as organizational projects that deserve their own (and well sized) funding.

Anyway, some organizations already get it well and will increase their advantage.

 

6°) The year of culture !

This will be discussed in some future posts but something is sure : no transformation happens without strong leadership and culture. When one lacks and the second is weak, we often see projects that aim  at changing without taking the risk of changing and the golden rule is “ohhhh, we can’t to this is our company”. 2012 will be the year of judgement since organizations will need to arbitrate under the constraint of smaller budgets. Only the projects relying on a strong leadership and culture will survive and move forward. Expect lots of breakage.  These projects will certainly come back later with a new approach but, unfortunately, their project won’t be about anticipation anymore but survival.

 

Conclusion

No one knows what choices will be made but organizations will have to make meaningful ones in 2012. I mentioned some possible logics here. Between the brave choices deserved by a real enterprise project and “no-choices ” caused by a poor understanding of what’s at stake, social business projects will diverge more and more. Last step before the final collapse of window-dressing ones and the generalization of the rational/pragmatic/business driven approach.

I also think that we’ll discuss a lot the “adopt social vs adopt your future” as it will become more and more obvious that social business is more about transforming the DNA than transplanting a new body.