Driving Social Adoption by Understanding the Power of Habit

Thanks to Mark Fleming for recommending The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg to me earlier today, and reminding me of Charles’ TED Talk on the topic.

I often talk about the key to social collaboration adoption being changing people’s behaviours, so it is important to remember that most behaviour is driven by habit. Changing those habits is often the biggest challenge in social adoption.

As the video shows, when employees are carrying out habitual processes, doing what they always do, the are effectively asleep as far as actively helping the company achieve its goals is concerned.

In his book (though not the video), Charles talks about how Paul O’Neill, when he was appointed to be the new CEO at Alcoa, focussed on changing employees around health & safety and in turn was able to drive the other changes to processes necessary to transform the company.

So, when you are building a social adoption plan, don’t just think about the behaviour changes you need employees to make, but think about how you are going to help them to change the habits that drive their current behaviour.

Video Interviews on Social Business published by IT Pro

The IT Pro web site recently posted three short videos in which their group editor, Maggie Holland, interviews me about different aspects of Social Business:

These complement the Special Report IT Pro published recently with IBM on Are You A Social Business.

While on the topic of IT Pro, they have a couple of relevant articles on this topic on their web site in which I am quoted: Going social: implementing a social business strategy and The importance of compliance in social business.

Much of this content is also available through the Cloud Pro web site.

Social Business Trends for 2014

Traditionally I use the journey back from IBM Connect to put together a blog post based on buzz at the event to forecast key trends for the year(s) ahead (take a look at my 2012 and 2013 predictions and see if you think they worked out – most of them continue to be major areas of focus).

So, following on from the review of 2013 that I wrote on the way out to Orlando, here are the new themes that I expect to dominate in 2014:

Social Business Design

Social Mail: The most exciting new announcement at Connect 2013 was IBM Mail Next. Until now, the infusion of social collaboration into the mail client has built out from the mail box. It has taken the form of sidebars, business cards, links and embedded experiences that seamlessly take the user from their mail to adjacent social content. IBM Mail Next reimagines the inbox in terms of the conversations you have having with other people and the actions and projects they are part of. By thinking about the context of the conversations, rather than the mechanism of the email messages, and by applying analytics and task management capabilities to help you keep track of your different activities, IBM Mail Next offers a user-centric tool for managing collaboration.

Social Intranet: IBM Mail Next is browser or mobile app based, and is part of a broader trend to move all forms of collaboration, from collaborative document editing to real-time multimedia meetings, into pure browser applications that are also surfaced as mobile apps. It has become clear that users prefer to do their collaborating from mobile devices, so this aiding the transition to a post PC era whilst significantly reducing desktop support costs (one of the biggest parts of the IT Budget). Indeed, bring your own device is rapidly showing that users would like to choose their own tools, and where organisations embrace this they can improve the user experience at the same time as reducing costs. All of which makes the Social Intranet increasingly the core of enterprise IT: a single integration layer that provides role based, personalised access to applications, content and processes to each individual user via a browser or their mobile device.

Social Ecosystems: But in today’s world, an intranet isn’t enough. Modern enterprises can’t deliver what they need to through internal collaboration alone. Companies need their ecosystem of suppliers, partners and channel to deliver their brand value, and close collaboration with those organisations is critical to success. So just as the mobile trend is challenging the traditional concept of the corporate firewall, since most of the devices that need access to it spend most of their time outside of the firewall, so the need to provide access to applications, content and processes by external parties is forcing organisations to question their approach to the enterprise perimeter – and in the process giving them the opportunity to position Software as a Service (SaaS) as a natural extension to their intranet environment as part of a hybrid cloud infrastructure.

Social Projects: But this trend towards external collaboration with your ecosystem cannot be addressed by simply throwing open the gates to your network. What organisations need to do is define specific projects to deliver identified business value and then design a solution to address them. This is very different from the way IT traditionally create enterprise-wide infrastructures – but again, Hybrid SaaS comes to the rescue, avoiding the need to spin up new server infrastructures but instead reusing integration that has been done with SaaS services to create a model that accelerates return on investment by deferring costs until business value is realised.

We are also seeing a revolution in the way we design these projects – no longer thinking about the data and applications you have available and how can they be delivered to the users, but thinking about the user journey required by the multiple actors within and outside the organisation to execute a required process to deliver maximum business value. Implementation is then about putting together those user journey (by integrating content, applications and processes from the intranet, leveraging the service oriented architectures of the last decade and cloud services of this decade) and delivering them through compelling browser and mobile app experiences using open, standards based integration.

Users will access many of the processes delivered via these social projects from their new social mail environments, the social intranet will integrate them with the resources needed and the participants will not just be internal but spread across the whole social ecosystem – as a result driving new levels of personal and organisational productivity by making business processes easier, faster, cheaper and more satisfying to use.

Social Business in 2013

The last year has been pivotal for Social Business as organisations shift from being concerned about the issues that the new Social, Mobile, Analytics & Cloud (SMAC) technologies raise for their IT strategy, to accepting that they are irreversible and adapting strategies to accommodate them. The question is now when and how each organisation should embrace them.

There is an emerging acceptance that sharing knowledge across organisations will increase their ability to deliver more effectively on their business priorities – and that better tools than email are needed to raise users’ productivity and leverage the organisation’s talent effectively. Have you noticed that job roles with Knowledge Management in their title have suddenly started changing to say something like Social Media? The question now is which tools and platforms best address this need and how to introduce them.

Companies that would have said, only a couple of years ago, that their strategy for mobile was Blackberry, and that it wasn’t going to change any time soon (well, apart from some senior executives that were allowed to connect their iPads to the network – in an echo of the way Blackberry penetrated enterprises by winning the hearts and minds of senior managers), are now making bold statements that “Bring Your Own device is our strategy.” It’s just a question of when and how.

Similarly, Big Data and Cloud have become acceptable technology choices and organisations are working on their IT strategies to figure out how they fit and where to prioritise them.

Social Business is rapidly moving from the latest fashion fad to business as usual. But does that work? Can organisations successfully adopt collaborative ways of working without changing their command and control hierarchies, and their competitive organisational structures and employee compensation schemes? Can the commoditisation of the users access point and shift to user selected and managed devices be reconciled with traditional “locked down” IT management? How will employees and customers privacy concerns be addressed when using analytics to derive information from every fragment of content they produce and every conversation they have? How will we change traditional views of enterprise security management and confidentiality regimes when, not only is the data being stored in some Cloud service somewhere, but we are pointing powerful analytics at it specifically to find new insights while providing transparent access, as far as possible, to all employees from the privately owned devices in their pocket, so they can use it to increase company profits?

Or is it true that social business technologies are disruptive, and therefore will disrupt current enterprise structures, processes and policies as they are adopted. Is this an inevitable part of becoming a Social Business?

Here is my favourite graphic from 2013:

It makes the point that social business is primarily a cultural change, with significant organisational and operational implications, but one that can only be made if it is supported by the right technology. It’s a bit like the cultural shift from the Internet being something you used when sitting at a desk in front of a PC, to something use while walking down the street. It took the right package technology (initially the iPhone and App Store, then it’s smartphone siblings and their ecosystems) to enable that shift to “suddenly happen” – even though the 3G networks and devices with similar capabilities (for example Nokia’s Communicator range) had been around for a while without catalysing the change.

As a sweeping generalisation, I see companies that use a proper, integrated Social Business platform from the leading vendors are generating successful adoption of the cultural and process changes they are looking for, while those that think that can make this transformation with tools they already have, or legacy technologies that just offer document sharing and communications, are failing.

Proper social platforms are built from the bottom up to facilitate effective collaborative working, have deep embedded social analytics to surface the information users want and can integrate with existing business applications through open standards to add value to existing processes. They are not, primarily, a content platform (indeed they should be able to integrate with and use the content platforms an organisation already has in place), rather they are a platform for building relationships between employees (and between employees and partners or customers), and for discovering experts and knowledge (whether that knowledge is in a document internally, or externally, or exists only in someone’s head). They are people centric, not document centric, collaboration platforms.

In 2013 we also saw the start of change in the market. Social business discussions had previously been focussed in two areas: Marketing, to engage externally via social media, and IT, as a better collaborative infrastructure than email. Now there are enough proof points of the value of social business techniques to get attention from all parts of the business: from the sales force to customer support, from HR to financial planning, from procurement to catering.

So Social Business technology vendors will tell you that 2013 saw the rise of Line of Business (LoB) as the key influencer in purchases, rather than IT. Sometimes signing the cheques (especially for cloud based services) and sometimes driving IT’s procurement priorities. This has implications for how technologies are acquired, since LoB are project based whereas IT are focussed on infrastructures for use across the organisation.

Projects often are not large or important enough to justify the purchase of an entire enterprise infrastructure, and that has led to a recurring theme in discussions with IT as they discover that the company is all ready running 4, or 5, or 10, different social business platforms for different projects (some in cooperation with IT, some independent but with acquiescence of IT, and quite a few without the knowledge of IT). Not only is this causing increased financial costs, but it also creating silos of knowledge and reinforcing exactly the sorts of barriers within the organisation that social collaboration is trying to remove.

This trend is also driving one of the characteristics of the age of Social IT. Big, enterprise wide, mega-projects, fully costed (and with all the risks taken out) are no longer seen as the way to succeed. Rather the right approach is to start many, small projects and evolve them, accepting the innovation risk of failure and investing in and developing the projects that prove they can deliver real value to the business. The mantra is that of continuous proces improvement, not wholesale process reengineering.

This is leading to organisations starting to put a strategy in place of acquiring an enterprise infrastructure which can start small and grow, hosting the evolution of divergent existing social projects, and being used as the platform for new ones. It is starting to require organisations to rethink their security policies and integration architectures to allow projects run on external cloud platforms, so as to avoid large, up-front investments (even if they could afford them – simply creating a large project drives behaviours and metrics which are ill-suited to the sort of agile, collaborative organisations that innovate successfully and outpace their competition).

Integration is key here. Not just with existing content and applications, but also across different solution domains. For example, it is increasingly becoming clear that the separation of marketing’s social media activities from internal social collaboration platforms has negative consequences. Organisations are realising that they cannot get benefits from their social listening if they cannot effectively communicate the insights it generates to the employees who need to understand them (and act on them). This requires internal collaboration with the employees that can take advantage of the insight to improve the company’s products, services and processes – and who knows where in the organisation they might sit?

And anyway, enterprises are starting to realise that external social engagement isn’t just something just a skilled social media team do. More and more of their employees are present on social media already and they understand that they can use interactions through social networks with their customers, partners and suppliers to do their jobs better and deliver better business results.

Gartner calls Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud a “nexus of forces,” which encapsulates the idea of synergy between them – the sum is greater than the whole. But look back previous waves of related technologies – like the Internet, the World Wide Web, email and laptops, that enabled nomadic workers, new corporate structures and globalisation. That wave of change was also synergistic with wider trends (e.g. affordable mass air transportation, 24 hour satellite news and the dominance of free market capitalism) to drive significant business changes – and with them broader cultural changes.

All of which set the stage for what came next: social media, always on mobile employees, vast quantities of unstructured data and utility computing available at low cost in the cloud.

Today’s vision of social business won’t be frozen in time and gradually adopted by all organisations – it will continue to evolve as each organisation adopts it, as each vendor evolves their offerings, as each entrepreneur brings a new idea to the market, and as each individual user provides feedback on what they are using, to contribute collectively to innovation in the space. The rate of change shows no sign of slowing down.

In the early 1990′s I worked for a company (Soft-Switch) that had great success connecting corporations’ separate, siloed email systems together. By the end of the 90′s that business didn’t exist. Not only did most organisations run only one enterprise email platform, but SMTP integrated the remaining systems seamlessly with each other and with applications.

Social Business platforms are still at the maturity level of those early 90′s email systems. They have a lot of evolving to do. There will be a lot of consolidation I the market. So businesses need to invest at the enterprise level with a social platform that will survive (and IBM is clearly the market leader).

I asked above whether Social Business will disrupt current enterprise structures, processes and policies? I think it is starting to do this already in some companies (like IBM). The interesting question is whether it will deliver on its promise and give those companies enough of a competitve edge that the rest will have no choice but to follow their lead.

Talent on tap: how social businesses identify leaders

Talent on tap: how social businesses identify leaders

Earlier this year, I published the article linked above on the Personnel Today web site discussing the role of social collaboration in identifying future leaders, developing them and realising their potential.

A source of frustration for many current leaders is their inability to communicate corporate strategy to every employee and engage them to align what they do every day with those goals. At the same time, succession planning and capitalising on talent is a priority for many businesses today.

By focussing on building employee networks and relationships to create an engaged workforce, social businesses create an environment where a new breed of Social Leaders can emerge with a high level of insight about how the business works, and an ability to influence and lead that goes far beyond what was possible before using typical management hierarchies.

Social Business can transform Public Sector

Further to my last post on social business in the public sector, I recently published an article on the topic on the Scottish Policy Now web site. It discusses some of the frequent patterns for success in social business, and interprets them in a public sector context.

It is becoming clear to me that, while rapid viral adoption of social collaboration can deliver a quick return for organisations, the long term transformational opportunity comes from changing your processes – making them more efficient and more effective by using social, mobile, analytics and cloud solutions.

This diagram shows just a few examples I put together…

The potential benefits are real. Achieving them requires a cultural change to make organisations engaged, transparent and nimble by empowering staff to improve business outcomes, and process owners to be willing to change the way the organisation works to deliver better outcomes. But it also requires the right collaboration tools that encourage the desired behaviour and integrate with existing systems to allow process improvement without wholesale replacement of systems.

However just creating a new social knowledge silo which employees can choose to use or not as they please is not going to create this sort of transformation either – commitment and leadership from the top is critical.

 

Social Business in the Public Sector

I've had the pleasure of presenting multiple events in the last year, in England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, discussing ways of applying social business in the public sector (as well as meeting with many organisations working in the sector) and energy and expertise of the enthusiasts in this space continues to amaze me. While I understand their frustration at how hard it is to move a social business agenda forward in the organisations they work in, there is a growing appetite (indeed, demand) at the top of governemnt to drive the use of digital to deliver better citizen outcomes.

For these events, I reworked my digital engagement chart for the public sector, and as I listened to the other speakers it became clear that the message I use with commercial companies is even more true in the public sector. Successful external engagement requires a culture of social collaboration internally and the true value of external engagement comes when you can connect all your staff, across the organisation, to the insights you are gaining.

This week's Scottish Public Sector event organised by Mackay Hannah really highlighted these messages. Whilst its agenda ostensibly focussed on social media and the web site, the theme to emerge most strongly was collaboration across organisations and departments.

As Kyle Thornton Chair, of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: “having a Twitter Feed isn't enough, it's what you do with the information you get back that matters.”

In the opening keynote, John Swinney, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, clearly set out the need and the promise of the digital age. To move from government programs that are what they are, and either match a citizen's needs or don't, to delivering the personalised services that each individual citizen requires. This goal, he pointed out, can only be achieved by joining up many public sector and voluntary sector organisations, sharing knowledge, linking processes, spreading best practices and creating a culture of collaboration.

When discussion got on the how to deliver those digital services, it was the mobile device not the web site that dominated the discussions. It might be true, as Colin Cook, Head of Digital Strategy and Programmes for the Scottish Government said, that “the critical word is SOCIAL not MEDIA” but you'd better deliver the media where people want it. There's little point in tweeting a link to your web page if it isn't readable on a smartphone.

So should you have a mobile web or mobile app? The answer is both, but each for its own purposes. Web sites must become responsive and mobile apps need to be rethought in terms of their relationship to the user, not the capabilities they deliver.

It's written before about the way multiple technologies combine to provide disruptive change, and this is often the reason adoption seems to happen suddenly and quickly when technologies have been around for a while (digital is hardly new, so why is gigital government suddenly happening now?). We saw it when Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (which are starting to be labelled SMAC) came together to enable the social business transformation. This is why whole industries seem to move forward in unison when the conditions are right – and at the moment, it is this happen with digital in the public sector.

Social Media gives the consumers a voice. Mobile devices enable digital interaction when you are not sitting at a desk. The economic downturn drives a need for governments to invest in delivering services at lower long term costs. Open data creates new ways of using multiple organisations to deliver services. Social collaboration enables employees to work together across silos. A perfect storm driving the digital agenda in government.

In Scotland, the devolution debate is providing the impetus for government to use these technologies to deliver a better citizen experience, providing an extra impetus that seems to be driving this transformation faster than in other countries. But around the world we are going to see dramatic steps forward in the near future as social business is applied to the business of government.

Tomorrow I'm back in Edinburgh for the Innovations in Public Sector event, and I'm really looking forward to participating in moving this social business agenda forward again.

 

Social Business in 2013

For the last couple of years I have done a blog post about trends in social business following IBM’s major customer conference on the topic (previously Lotusphere, this year called Connect 2013). For a change, I decided this year to reflect on trends last year and this while on the flight out to Orlando. Then I can blog about whether the emerging trends for 2013 at the conference align with my thoughts, things that I had missed and revelations that I can glean from the many smart people who will be at the event.

Social business certainly emerged as a top of mind topic for many (most?) companies during the year, with CIOs giving it room on their agendas and other parts of the business (like marketing, customer service, HR and internal communications) being forced to pay attention by the people they serve. The sheer volume of interest, internally and externally, meant the topic got the attention of CEOs as they struggled with the need to drive both increased sales and reduced costs in a tough economic climate.

In some ways, it reminded me of the email adoption boom of the early 90′s, when comments like “we’ll never use email” gave way to conversations where CEOs asked their CIOs “Why do all of my peers have an email address on their business card, but I don’t?” The concept of leveraging social media and networking for internal and external conversations is clearly Crossing the Chasm (in Geoffrey Moore’s words), even if it is not yet mainstream.

One might observe that a consensus about what capabilities are needed, and what cultural, behavioural and organisational changes will be the dominant manifestations of social business, is only now starting to appear. At the end of the last century, the use of email was just one of a number of coincident changes that drove new organisational models. It combined with wide area networks, laptops, mobile phones, videoconferencing, mass air transportation and acceptance of English as a common language for business to turn work into something you did from anywhere, not somewhere you went, a shift to services industries as the engine of growth and to globalisation as the dominant organisational trend in business.

Similarly, today social media is combining with mobile devices, cloud computing, analytics on big data and (in all probability) congruent non-IT tends like the emergence of major new economies and mega-cities, low cost airlines and high speed trains, rural broadband and true “always on” networks (I am writing this on a plane over the Atlantic, with mobile phone calls and data available as needed). I wonder what cultural shifts and organisational transformations these changes will drive?

When I look around, I already see the start of a shift from homogeneous, heavily advertised global brands towards a consumer demand for local, artisan products. This trend has reached a level where large companies must respond: I read this morning that Molson Coors, a global brewing conglomerate if there ever was one, has set up an “Emerging Markets and Craft Beer” unit to manage the growing number of small, local breweries it is acquiring around the world – not to reuse its brand names for standardised products as it has in the past, but to allow it to bring local products to other, targeted markets. Then I see Starbucks deciding to “voluntarily” pay more local UK tax (instead of shifting profits to more tax efficient countries) in the face of a local consumer revolt, driven by a belief that it was not committed to the country where it was operating.

Today, organisations need to engage with their consumers in a personalised way (including on their choice of device) to create a loyal relationship, instead of commoditising their products and allowing an anonymous price comparison site to mediate between them and their customers. For example, sitting here on my IP enabled flight, my gas suppliers mobile app pinged to remind me it is time to submit a meter reading to ensure that my bext bill is accurate.

Smart marketing teams are starting to understand that differentiated customer experiences, at all points on the price curve, are essential to maintaining profit margins as services are becoming just as much of a commodity as gadgets already have (unless there is an Apple to differentiate them).

So, what does this mean for the social business industry? Several themes emerged in 2013.

For high value relationships with clients, direct engagement with your staff is increasingly a key differentiator – but using the customer’s choice of channel (not just face to face, email and phone).

For volume business, customer service excellence is key; and social media (like Twitter and Facebook) is a more cost effective way of delivering it than telephone call centres, and a more customer friendly (personalised) way than traditional web sites. But these conversations will span multiple channels over time, and require the “Tweet Centre” staff to have access to a much richer set of knowledge and experts than a traditional Call Centre (as the focus shifts from “time to resolution” to “best customer outcome”).

Organisations that just put in a social collaboration platform and leave the users to figure it what to do with it, face problems getting the level of adoption they expect or see elsewhere (sure, it’s easy to get a few enthusiasts on board, but most employees will continue to do their job the way they always have until they are convinced to do something else).

Even more importantly, just putting the platform in doesn’t automatically deliver either of the benefits summarised above – only adoption of the platform for the right purposes does that.

In many organisations, successful use of social tools is happening today when small groups of employees with a common pain point figure out how to address them by finding a suitable social platform and focussing on their problem, not the tool. While the choice of a poor tool will prevent success, you will not hear about those projects – just the ones that succeed – and there the selected tool only needs to be “good enough” for the specific problem in hand.

This trend results in real innovation and business success – but also in a proliferation of tools, which themselves produce knowledge silos and (in many cases) are not interchangeable (as they were selected to solve a specific problem). This is not a bad thing in itself – the projects are delivering business value. However when the tools are chosen locally without regard for security, compliance or even regulatory needs, this approach, while good for getting early successes and starting the social business ball rolling, is not a viable long term, scalable strategy because of the cost of supporting a different social tool for every project (just as organisations in the mid 90s realised that replacing their multiple, departmental email solutions with an enterprise infrastructure was a more cost effective solution than linking them all together).

A particular problem is emerging in companies that respond to effective corporate controls by outsourcing their whole social project – e.g. by using an external agency to manage their social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, etc. This may seem logical in an environment where marketing does not have the internal expertise and IT amplifies their problems be preventing staff from getting to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the other critical components of marketing’s modern armoury, from their desks.

But it causes real issues: instead of engaging with their market and customers, the organisation is putting an intermediary in the way which, without care, will filter the messages to what their customer wants to hear; and the intermediary cannot get the access to internal knowledge and expertise they need to service the inbound engagement that the customers expect (or rovide a view of what the market thinks to everyone who needs to hear it).

This is just one manifestation of a broader problem. Many organisations are in danger of finding themselves in a situation where marketing creates a perception (or even an implicit brand promise) in their customers mind that the organisation is ready to engage in a two way relationship or conversation via social means – an expecation that the operational side of the organisation is simply not prepared to live up to. The result is sure to be customer dissatisfaction, social media storms and negative publicity.

Organisations can only avoid this by becoming social businesses internally, as well as externally. Effective expertise location, knowledge sharing, social analytics and cross organisational community building, as well as close collaboration with channel and supplier partners, is key to delivering the sort of external customer experience which customers, and prospective customers, now expect.

So if traditional social adoption approaches have resulted in only patchy usage, how can organisations change users behaviour so they exhibit the traits that characterise a social business: engaged (between staff, with partners, with your customers and with the market), transparent (so employees are empowered with access to the expertise and knowledge they need to deliver an exceptional customer experience) and nimble (rapidly responding to customer issues, reacting to market shifts and innovating to outperform competitions)?

The answer is to approach the problem from two sides:

1. Focus on adoption from the perspective of business processes not individual productivity, team collaboration or organisational effectiveness. Look at the end to end process needed to address a known business pain, improve an existing process or start a new initiative. Figure out how to build in social ways of working to improve the process. Don’t let knowledge sharing, expertise location and community building become something users do “as well as their job,” make it they way the processes work, and so the way emloyees do their job. Then there is no incremental cost or maintenance effort – it is built into the process.

2. Focus strategically on introducing a generic social business platform that lets the team owning a business process create their solution with minimal effort & cost, and maximum effectiveness. You can start with just the capabilities and capacity needed to address some initial target processes, but must select and architect a platform that has the capabilities and scalability needed to address future needs as they arise. Don’t force the business to adapt their processes to one inadequate tool, provide them with a rich toolset that let’s them build the processes that are right for the business.

I am already having conversations with customers about how they can consolidate the social platforms that different parts of the business have started using – especially ones that are unauthorised and do not conform to corporate policies. But please, please, please: don’t let this become just a migration project to a social tool that provides just enough capability for the existing projects – creating, effectively, a cost only project that delivers no new business value. The objective should be first and foremost to deliver a flexible platform that can integrate into all your core systems and provide capabilities which business users can apply in future to solving new business problems.

Depending on cost and risk you can move existing social projects onto your core platform (especially those using platforms that do not comply with corporate policies – when those policies are still valid), but the real value is that the ability to support existing projects will give you confidence that the platform provides the capabilities needed for other purposes – as required for future projects. If there is a compliance exposure or another reason to migration, then by all means focus on that, but otherwise the owners of the business process can prioritise the migration once they see the success the new platform is bringing in order to reduce the inherent costs of running an alternative platform. It is more important to do new things that bring new value to the business.

Ensuring that your chosen platform has a sufficiently rich set of capabilities, an ability to integrate with current and future infrastructure, and a long term future itself, are the critical things, even if that slows down its acquisition and deployment (which can be mitigated by adopting tactical solutions for tactical requirements in the meantime).

So, my initial set of trends for 2013 are:

1. Focus on social enabling business processes.

2. Adoption is key (there is no business value without adoption) but it will happen because the business process requires adoption, not because the social tools are irresistible.

3. Many companies will use a diverse set of tools (sanctioned and unsanctioned) for initial projects, because it’s hard to build a business case for a strategic enterprise platform in order to solve a tactical business problem.

4. This will result in a need for consolidation onto an enterprise social platform in the future to reduce the costs of supporting many tools and, more importantly, to allow the business to rapidly deploy new socially enabled business processes at a lower cost.

Interestingly, none of those trends are about technology innovation – they are all about how the business adopts social tools (which, I guess, is the meta-trend here). But I would like to end with a technology viewpoint on this.

During the 90s we went from >20 different email tools, primarily built for departmental use, often from niche players, and each focussing on differentiating features, to two dominant generic email platforms, which were differentiated by their enterprise-wide scalability, their standards support and the functionality to addressed the core user needs.

I don’t think that sort of social platform consolidation will be obvious in the 2013 timescale, but it definitely will be the key trend of the next 5 years, and standards support & integration capabilities will be what differentiates the winning solutions.

The Importance of Tagging

I was on a panel discussing Social Business at ICWSM-12 this week (they recorded a video so I hope it will be available for replay soon). We got some great questions. This led to a discussion about what features of the social collaboration platform were most important for finding and leveraging experts in an organisation.

Roja Bandari tweeted a quote from my answer:

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It reminded me that I had been intending for some time to blog about some of the essential but underrated features of enterprise social collaboration platforms – and tagging is a great place to start (recommendations is another, that was highlighted by Igor Perisic of LinkedIn in his keynote at the same event – did you know that 50% of new LinkedIn connections come from recommendations?). Many companies think they can successfully implement social collaboration using previous generation collaboration platforms which do not have these essential capabilities – and then wonder why they are not adopted in the way they expect.

So, why is tagging so important? Well first, let’s make it clear what I mean by tagging in this context.

  1. The ability for users to assign free format words to objects. These are not selected from a restricted taxonomy, but rather allow users to associate words that mean most to them in their context. This allows the tags used to change over time as vocabularies, technologies or practices evolve, it makes it possible for different communities to use tags relevant to them (e.g. I might just think of something as a “Daffodil” while a biologist would label it “Narcissus” and add additional tags for its species) and gives users of different languages the opportunity to create local language tags (perhaps as well as international ones).
  2. Tags can be assigned to any object: a blog post, a shared file, a person, a community, a wiki page, an arbitrary URL, etc.
  3. Tags are not only assigned by the owner when an object is created, but also by any user who finds the object (so they can make it easy to find it again) with the effect of greatly increasing the pool of tags across the organisation (and also ranking how interesting objects are to users based on how many tag them).
  4. When tags are assigned, the system should show suggestions (based on what other users have used to tag this object), using Web 2.0 techniques for type-ahead to make suggestions as the tag is typed (because knowing what tags others have used helps the community to converge on a common set of tags without introducing lots of small variations in spelling, abbreviation, etc.)
  5. Users need to be educated that they shouldn’t try to choose one, “correct tag” but rather “more is better” and to think about the different ways they might want to find the object in the future.
  6. The system should make the tags as useful as possible to users to encourage their use. It should show tag clouds (not lists of tags) that can be easily searched by users (showing the most popular by default) and should allow easy filtering of large lists of objects or results by simply clicking in the tag cloud.
  7. Enterprise wide search of all tags should be provided (rather than having to search separately for different content types of in different repositories) and results of all kinds should be displayed (blog posts, files, people, communities, wiki pages, forum discussions, web pages, etc., etc.)

Two key points here. First, tagging people as well as content (and allowing other people to tag other people they find, rather than relying on people to tag themselves). This is one cornerstone of expertise location (knowing that X has helped other people with topic Y, even though they may not see it as their area of expertise, and providing a way to compensate for lazy people who do not tag themselves – automatic tag generation, e.g. based on courses people have taken, can also be useful here).

This allows results to show both people and content. In practice, users are often searching for a document containing the answer to their question or if that does not exist the person who can help them find it. This reminds me of another underrated capability, the business card. Whenever you see a persons name associated with content (the author, or someone who comment on it, recommended it or downloaded it) you should be able to hover over the name and immediately find out key information about that person, like who they are or how to contact them – and also what other relevant content they have shared.

The second key point is the tagging of URLs (or web page addresses). Very often you come across useful content that is not inside the enterprise social platform (e.g. a news article on a web page, a file in an enterprise content management system, a profile on LinkedIn or Facebook, perhaps even a Tweet). Most solutions call the process of tagging an arbitrary web page social bookmarking as it is similar to creating a bookmark in your browser, but you are doing it on the social platform and so contributing to the total set of bookmarks (links) available across whole the enterprise (for example, allowing me just now to quickly find the most popular of the 321 web pages that IBMers have tagged with “tagging” – the answer, inevitably, being Wordle).

Providing a simply “bookmarklet” for popular browsers that allows users to quickly and easily tag a page and save it as a public bookmark is a key capability all social collaboration solutions should provide. Users soon realise that this lets them simply tag all the web pages they come across that they might be interested in going back to in the future – and then to use the tag cloud to actually find them again with minimal effort (which I certainly couldn’t do if I tried to keep my >3,000 tagged pages as bookmarks in my browser!)

The social bookmarklet implements a couple of key requirements for essential social collaboration. Firstly it generates the maximum social capital with the minimum effort (I see this web page and I would like to tag it so I can find it again – but as a side effect I have contributed to a set of tags which provide even more value to all employees across the company). A well implemented bookmarklet takes this even further – for example by allowing the bookmark to be automatically added to one or more Community spaces the user belongs to (sharing the link more widely and helping keep the community fresh), by letting the user to provide a few lines of text and have a blog post automatically created explaining why they find this page to be interesting to all the people reading their blog, and by facilitating the creation of an activity around the link so the user can manage any follow up actions. Creating as much social content as easily as possible is key to effective transmission of discovered knowledge to other people in the organisation who need it.

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In addition, the bookmarklet allows a user to generate social content from their browser when viewing a web page – without needing to go somewhere else. This is an example of the overall need of social collaboration solutions to integrate with the users’ desktop applications. If the user had to copy the bookmark, navigate to another page, open a form, paste in the bookmark and add the tags, they are far less likely to do it. In the same way they need to be able to save a file directly from their document editor into the social file sharing repository (or drag and drop an attachment from their mail client or a file from their desktop), post to their blog from their favourite word processor and post a status update from where they are working. Ease of use doesn’t just mean being able to figure out how to navigate an application, it means being able to do what the user wants from the context where they need to do it with the minimum of clicks.

I often talk of social bookmarks (or, more likely, of tagging, since I think it better reflects what we are doing here) as “Indexing the Intranet” (although, in practice, it is indexing the parts of the Internet that your colleagues find useful as well). Most users have a negative perceptions of enterprise search – and one that is historically justified since the nature of intranet content and they way it is linked does not offer the search engines the context that cross-site links in the public Internet provide to Google so it can build its page ranks so it can offer user the most relevant responses (alongside those most lucrative to Google). Tagging pages addresses this need since it can let a search engine show at the top of the list the hits that were most often tagged by all the other employees across the company (as long as the enterprise search solution is able to use this information.

That said, once the social collaboration platform is populated with a rich set of tags, many users stop using enterprise search and instead use the social search capabilities – since social bookmarks provide reach to find content outside of the social platform (including on the broader Intranet since the user searching wants the best answer, irrespective of where it can be found) which are displayed along with the blog entries, wiki pages and files shared on the intranet. Also, social search finds both people and content for the topic, and makes it easy to move between documents, web content and experts until the user has found the information they need to do their job effectively.

Finally, tags are also a key input to the social platforms recommendation engine. Not just explicitly (e.g. finding new content be recommend because its tag matches the users tag) but also explicitly (e.g. understanding that users who are tagged the same way, or who create posts with the same tags, have common interests and so are probably more interested in each others content). Meanwhile surfacing the links between users, or between users and communities, enhances other employees ability to find alternative experts when the person they want to contact is not available.

Hopefully this post has made it clear why I find tagging (both in its explicit form and as an aspect of social bookmarks) be an essential capability of social collaboration platforms. It also highlights recommendations, business cards, social bookmarking, integration with desktop applications and social search as key capabilities required to deliver not just knowledge sharing, but also knowledge discovery (which ultimately, is the real objective of a social collaboration platform). IBM Connections provides all of these capabilities – which is why I believe it delivers social collaboration more effectively than most of its competitors today.

I’ll plan on looking at a few more of its differentiating capabilities (from the perspective of the use cases they support) in future blog posts.

In the meantime, let me know what you think is the most useful feature of the social collaboration platform you use.