Enterprise 2.0 and social business : what’s next ? (Part 2 : the tools)

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Summary : the predictable evolution of social and 2.0 strategies will cause a reorganization of a landscape that’s essentially crowded by social networks todays. The already-started evolution of business tools, the need for tools helping to manage and measure the human capital in a new paradigm will cause a radical evolution of traditional players as well as a new balance of power in the internal digital landscape. Except if a lack of anticipations creates a new and bigger imbalance.

We saw in a first post what the new challenges are going to be in terms of usages, now here’s what it means in terms of tools. Obviously both sides have to move together but putting it all together in a single post would have resulted in a too long post. Furthermore there’s a difference, very slight at the beginning but with dramatic impacts in the end between chosing the tools that will support change and chosing the change depending on the tools one has to fin them a use.

That said, what will change in the software landscape, providing vendors don’t miss the train and get the message ?

Let’s start with the low layers of people’s activity : what is more or less structured and fully mandatory (compared to what is not structured at all and even less mandatory regarding to people’s job description).

We’re heading toward the socialization of processes and that seem to be clear for everyone. But what will it look like ? It will take various forms at the beginning before an unavoidable convergence.

– tools related to business processes in the broad sense will get new functionalities allowing, among other, collaborative process design by those who run them and so who are primarily concerned, allowing exchanges and conversation in the flow of the process execution (and not outside). In short, they’ll provide users with the ability to mobilize information, knowledge and those who own them where and when there’s an exception to handle or a problem to solve. The whole with less user-hostile interfaces, inspired by what can be found on the consumer market.

– another option will be to catch business events from this tools and expose them in the good old enterprise social network. The event will become a social object that will appear in the activity stream of the concerned people, in a community or in a group modeled on the group formally involved in the process. Then conversations will happen around the object, the object will be able to be shared with an expert community to find a solution to a gap, make decisions. In the best cases, people will be able to act on the business application from within the social network.

In short, what’s critical for users is to benefit from the best of both worlds and deal with one constraint : everything must be be possible without having to switch tools.

By the way, this has nothing to do with a prediction : it’s already coming at a gallop and that’s only the beginning. The offer will dramatically increase in the next months. But the problem may be that the only people who don’t see it coming are the people who are currently owning current intranet and social networks projects because they’re most often part of the world of communication and not the world of business processes.

So we’re left with one question : how should businesses react to that after having invested, more or less successfully, in a social network project ? Knowing that in a near future, tens or hundreds business application will become socialized (depending on the industry and the size of the organization).

– don’t do anything, let each platform live its own life. That’s not the best strategy. Pure social employees will keep on using the social network, process-focused employees will find an added value in their refreshed business app and those who used to like both will find it more comfortable to collaborate in their business tool and the center of their activity will slowly but surely move to the detriment of the social network.

– bring the flow of business events into the social network. At least for critical applications because, due to the number of applications at stake in many organizations, it’s going to be a colossal work. That’s a pretty good option because, if the APIs of their networking and business tools are good they’ll be able to anticipate the vendor offers who won’t all be able to socialize all their apps in a couple of months.

Anyway, the risk (but is it a risk ?) of seeing social networks loose traction to the profit of business applications allowing to bring social principles in the flow of their day to day work is real, the community and networking side being more seen, despite of its added value, as something vital by employees, all the more since it’s an optional activity. And since people will tend to focus on their work and own objectives before anything else, the matter will soon be settled. 20% for social networks, 80% for socialized business applications.

But the question, except from a vendor of non-business department that are running global projects, is not to know who’s going to win the battle but how to bring the two approaches together. As a matter of fact, both are complementary but the have to admit that one is the reason for living of the organisation while the other is more seen is a long term investment that’s not directly productive. But, in fact, the one is the tank where the other takes the fuel and make them work together will help to be done with the usual criticism addressed to social networks : a lot of information and exchanges which impact on operation is hard to measure because operations happen and are measured elsewhere. Add to this that for many employees, there’s no way asking them to make themselves the bridge between the two approaches, what lowers participation in networks.

The real question is to know what makes sense for users. In the previous post I addressed the management and usages side Tools will follow. Users will adopt tools that allow them to meet their priority and vital need. They don’t care about what’s going to be the social center of the workplace. They know why they’re here…and their managers know it too.

So, after phase made of trial and error, DIY and “bricolage”, the trend will be about convergence. On this point, if the large majority of the contents of a socialized intranet are produced by users and not by the organization, we’ll soon realize that the large majority of activities will be about socialized business activities instead of communities.

Social networks as we them today will become the front end of business activities, enriched by networking and communities functionalities that will, in many cases, leaning back against business process driven activities. Let’s call it a digital workplace if you prefer.

As a matter of fact, in the same way we reached a sufficient level of maturity on communities, social networks platforms will soon plateau in terms of functionalities. So, to demonstrate their ability to actually support value creation, ESN tools will have to expand outside of their original scope and explore new horizons.

With the same players ? Yes, provided they anticipate the situation. But if they content themselves with minimalist integrations (integrating business events in the social flow is a nice start but the real objective is interoperability) there’s a possibility of seeing the vendors that own the processes coming with their own front end. A strategy that’s very likely to be successful provided they can offer a better integration in the social front end that pure social vendors do…and if they allow their front-end to work well with other vendors’ solutions.

So a new balance of power can emerge with new players (new on this field, not on the market) and the pragmatic nature of the benefits they bring may be enough to onboard business managers, CxOs and It in strategies that will technologically diverse from the social network one if the people in charge of this last one don’t anticipate.

Anyway, let’s keep in mind these wise words from Trilog’s CEO Alex El Homsi, paraphrasing Metcalfe’s law :

The value of the social business network grows exponentially with the number of people included in the network, and is multiplied by the number of processes that those people perform in the network

Last consequence of the evolution I introduced in my former post, there will be a dramatic need for understanding what’s happening in these social spaces. In the business process activity parts, measurement will become easier because collaboration and conversations will happen where the process is ran and measured. But there’s all the rest. It’s impossible to keep on saying that the intangible part of the enterprise capital and the informal and tacit part of work represent up to 80% of the global capital and work and still measure only the 20% left because there’s no tool to do that. If decisions are made and the organization managed relying on indicators that reflect 20% of the reality, there’s no surprise that decisions are at best biased, at worse made on a totally wrong vision of reality.

To understand people’s activities, measure the benefits of behaviors that don’t fit well into today’s taylorian system, recognize and reward those who helped to create value outside of the scope of their assigned work, recognize hidden talents and offer training and learning proposals that match both people’s aspirations and the enterprise needs, to manage internal mobility…organizations will need to be able to understand what this increasing mass of unstructured signals tells. Human Capital Management solutions (in the broad sense) will need to interface with all what was described before and massively invest on Big Data and Social BI. The matter is already available but everything has to be invented to make the most out of it.

We used to be told that ESN solutions have revolutionzed the digital workplace. In fact it’s only the beginning. They triggered a revolution that’s only starting, a revolution in which they’ll play a pivotal part but that will now happen in other tools, with other players. There will be room for everyone but we can bet that those who’ll dominate will be those who own at least two of these three cornerstones : ESN, business process applications, Social BI/Big data.

A new balance will come but we need to be careful : lack anticipation and vision can bring a new imbalance. One thing is sure : tomorrow, when we’ll speak of enterprise social software, we’ll talk less and less of social networks. Social Networks are there, they’re a given. Now they need to connect to what matters, to what makes sense of them. Social networks are the front-end of how the enterprise lives and works, their relevancy will come from back-ends that will exist through them.

To end, please have a look as this great deck by Alan Lepofsky that explains a large part of this coming evolution.