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.


All Systems are Go

After being distracted by some personal issues, I’ve finally found time to complete the setup of this blog on WordPress. Now I can start working my way through the backlog of posts I’ve drafted over the last couple of months. Thanks for your patience and support.

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:


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.


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.

LinkedIn Profile Update

Should have done this years ago. I have put my latest biography for speaking engagements up as the Summary on my LinkedIn page. Now when someone asks I can just send them a link to my public LinkedIn profile. See:

This post was also an experiment of using Shareaholic to post to my blog – see Unfortunately, it didn’t work too well (at least, it didn’t embed a link to Facebook correctly and I had to fix it up separately), which is a shame but hopefully it will work with simpler web sites.

I love the way IBM Connections lets you create a shared bookmark, update a community, do a blog post and create an activity all in one transaction. Technically Shareaholic can’t do the same as it uses the social sites own sharing tool, but I would like to use it more to create quick blog posts about interesting web sites, as well as pushing them to Twitter and Facebook.

Trying out Blogsy

I just installed Blogsy on my iPad.

It seems like a very nice way to create Blog posts on the iPad, with easy facilities for including images and video links in posts. I am hopeful that the ability to create blog posts when offline, and then finalise and post them later, will help encourage me to blog more as I travel.

One other reason to choose Blogsy is that it supports IBM Connections, so I can use the same tool for blogging inside IBM as I use for blogging externally.

If you use Blogsy, let me know what you think of it. From my limited experience (of creating this one blog post) it looks great!


Privacy and Social Business

Sometimes a blog post pulls you up short. Ben Goldacre, respected journalist and a personal hero, recently made this blog post: What does the Sienna Miller / Virgin story tell us about data security?

Someone at Virgin Airlines has been selling information on the movements of celebrities to a paparazzi agency, allowing them to stalk people:

This illustrates one very important point about large databases:

When you give people poorly restricted, poorly audited access to an entire database full of information, you allow them to realise the full financial value of that data, for any of its imaginable uses. 

This is often poorly recognised by the people running databases in large organisations (the suits rather than the dorks) and it has important real world implications that go way beyond one airline: think banks, hospitals, tax offices, and so on. 

The sensible thing to do, of course, is (1) constrain access wherever possible, and (2) run audits of who has accessed records, to see if they had any need to for their job, and so on. But more than that, if you run a database, for any purpose, you should always be thinking: what value might this data, have outside of the purpose for which it was intended?

This from some who is not only an advocate of open data, but also a great example of what can be done with data when you have access to it.

It jarred in particular because, as a Social Business evangelist, I’ve been arguing strongly in favour of transparency within organisations. Any information that does not need to be private, should be available to all employees – to enable innovation, better customer service, and generally help them to do their job more effectively. So how does this gel with Ben’s comments? And what are the broader implications of the need for privacy on social media?

A few weeks ago, I was delivering a Social Business workshop to a customer who had invited a few of their graduate intake to participate and provide input. During the meeting I was very struck by the different attitudes they expressed about use of Facebook. One viewpoint was a clear separation of “work and private life” which manifested itself as only friending real, intimate friends on Facebook and using other platforms for any form of business networking. Another was a more open attitude that sharing everything you do as it is “the modern way” and if you are open, honest and responsible in all your activities, then you have little to hide (or fear). [If the actual participants in the workshop are reading this, then please excuse me for simplifying and extending your positions to make a point – nothing is ever really that clear cut!]

I have commented before on a personal belief that intermediating organisations’ interactions with individuals is a part of the future Facebook business model. So a separation of “Work” from “Facebook” creates difficulties when one’s job role involves interacting on Facebook, since current Facebook terms of use emphasise using your real name and require that “You will not create more than one personal profile.

There is another conversation I often seem to be having about Facebook. Many people who reject the service, or use it in mostly read mode, are driven by a fear of “making everything they do public”. Even when challenged that, actually, they are only publishing things to a set of friends they have selected, they have an instinctive distrust and assumption that Facebook will just sell what they contribute to anyone they want to. What I rarely find is anyone who has actually read Facebook’s Privacy Policy, or who understands the tools Facebook provides to control who gets access to which pieces of information that you are sharing.

Now in practice, I don’t expect that everyone will read (and make the significant effort to really understand) the terms and privacy statements of every public web site they use. Of course they should, but they won’t – any more than they read the terms & conditions on their mobile phone contract to understand under what conditions their mobile phone operator will share their location and the legal regulations associated with the government’s, and other organisation’s, rights to access their call history. Even if they did, it is scarcely practical to understand the same information about every operator you roam to when travelling internationally.

Instead, there is a cultural acceptance that mobile phone companies are appropriately regulated, that their behaviour is impacted by the understanding of the effect that adverse customer reactions, and that bad publicity can have in their ability to retain customers. The same cultural maturity does not exist for social networks (yet) and so the accepted norms of their behaviour have not emerged. In their absence, different people make different assumptions (if they think about the problem at all).

Of course, even when conventions have been established, there will be mistakes, criminal activities and other circumstances that contravene these expectations – but a mature ecosystem can react responsibly to those situations and retain customer loyalty (always remembering that such services will also be delivering significant value that users are reluctant to give up unnecessarily).

Similar issue exists with the tools that exist in Facebook to allow users to control access to their content. As the capabilities become more sophisticated, most users understanding of them inevitably lags (not helped by Facebook’s evolutionary approach to adding and evolving new features, or their sometimes confusing user experience). Facebook already has the tools you need to share different content with your work colleagues, a network of business contacts, a circle of personal acquaintances, multiple intersecting groups of close friends, your family, and even the set of people you have no idea who they are but they asked to connect to you. Being able to share one piece of content with multiple sets of people has clear benefits (particularly over using multiple tools and so having to share multiple times), which is one reason why this capability is so important to Facebook in growing its usage base. It will be interesting to see how rapidly these capabilities are adopted and the uses they are put to.

But we need to accept that there is no consensus as yet on how Facebook should use the information that it is sharing on your behalf, to deliver more value to you, to generate revenue to fund the services, to help law enforcement agencies, or even for the greater good of society. That cultural consensus will emerge over time and be recognised in hindsight. In the meantime, we can only apply the general frameworks that already exist (e.g. UK Data Protection act, the European Data Protection Directive, the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, etc.), as well as the laws of the lands in which the services are offered, and hope that regulators do not rush too hurriedly to enact laws in the area without first understanding the issues and how its citizens wish to balance the inevitable trade-offs they imply (the law of unintended consequences will apply).

Which brings me back to the enterprise Social Business question. Employment contracts, acceptable use policies, social computing guidelines, and other such company edicts and critical to the successful adoption of Social Business. Employees need to know what they are, and are not, allowed to do on internal social platforms. And how they are allowed to behave on external social networking sites in the context of being a company employee (whether or not they specifically declare their “views to be their own”). Many companies provide “PR Training” for employees talking to the press, with policies that no-one else would discuss any company business with journalists, and assumed that only senior leaders were likely to publish press articles.

Today, every employee is an ambassador of their company if they comment on business related issues online (or even personal issues when there is a business attribution in their online presence) and so every employee needs to know what behaviour the company considers acceptable and what would result in disciplinary action. It is as negligent for a company not to educate their employees on this as it is for an employee to ignore such an obligation. So effective adoption of a Social Business strategy must include the articulation of these principles and the effective communication of them to all employees.

In IBM this starts with the core values the company’s employees defined for how an IBMer should behave (during our first major internal jam, and one of the key starting points for our evolutions to be a Social Business). It continues with the business conduct guidelines we adhere to, the company’s privacy policy, and the social computing guidelines that form an adjunct to them. It should be noted that these are simply evolutionary extensions to the core employee guidelines that were already in place – not some completely new concept. Other companies will define, express and manage their policies in other ways, but embarking on a cultural transformation to become a Social Business – Engaged, Transparent and Nimble – without such a policy is risky, to say the least.

Which brings us back to Ben Goldacre’s blog post.

I would argue that there are good reasons for making customer’s travel details visible to employees – within strict guidelines about the use of this information (I will avoid the thorny question of whether a celebrity’s information should be protected any more than any other citizen, whilst acknowledging that there are differences in risk and potential uses of the information and the unique position of the airline industry around the use of aliases, which has been the traditional way celebrities would try to separate their business and private lives).

Preventing an employee from selling company information by limiting availability of the information is analogous to trying to make sure people don’t break laws by making it impossible to do so. The reality is that many different things need to be balanced in making a policy.

Limiting information about customers to a small number of people who absolutely need to know is sure to reduce a company’s ability to empower its employees to innovate, as well as their employee’s ability to collectively deliver better customer service to those same people. The correct balance between who information is available to, and monitoring how it is used in order to manage abuse, is something that should be a core part of the culture of the company and its operational & management procedures.

The right way of managing a risk is rarely to reduce it to the absolute minimum, because reducing risks almost always increases costs and prevents innovation. If risk/benefit analysis concentrates primarily on risks, then it will generate few benefits.

So I would rephrase Ben’s key points as: (1) constrain access to confidential data to those who can use it to improve business outcomes, in the context of a clear understanding of the employee’s obligations with respect to the data, and (2) monitor use of such records to identify improper use and reward employees who find innovative ways of creating business value from it.

Which reminds us that to become a successful Social Business organisations need two things…

  • A Social Business platform that lets them deliver Social Collaboration to their employees, their partners, their customers and the rest of the world, integrating with internal collaboration, knowledge management and business application platforms and with their external web site and public Social Networking services in an appropriate, controlled manner – delivering not just open knowledge sharing, but also appropriate access control and compliance monitoring tools.
  • A Social Business adoption strategy that manages a cultural change so that employees know how to use these knowledge sharing tools and the information they makes available, in an appropriate manner, articulated in a transparent way that is clear to its customers and partners, as well as its employees.

Which are the core topics that I created this Blog to discuss, and of which I will explore other aspects in coming posts.

[Note: This post is very Facebook focussed as it seems to be at the forefront of discussion in these areas, but the same issues apply to other online services like Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, Pinterest, iTunes, Google, etc. Facebook also seems to be force to take a lead in terms of addressing these issues in order to evolve an acceptable economic model for financing its service, to position itself against new, innovative services, and to manage the parallel (and, inevitably, much slower) evolution of regulatory frameworks. This should not be taken to indicate that the issue is more important on Facebook than the other services – in fact, because the issues tend to be discussed more in the context of Facebook, there is probably more potential for users to fail to understand the issues with other services. It is the whole industry that is immature in this respect.]

Social Business in 2012

As I was leaving the IBM Connect and Lotusphere conferences in January, I had a conversation with someone (wish I remember who – remind me if it was you!) who said that what impressed them most about the conference this year, over last, is that it had changed from discussing what you could do with Social Business, to what people are doing. This is supported by the amazing number of customer speakers at the conference, both in the keynotes and break-out sessions, describing their experiences putting Social Business into proactive.

A year ago, on the flight back from Lotusphere 2011, I sketched out on an aircraft napkin the key technology "mega-trends" that I saw at the conference which, I believed, would drive rapid adoption of Social Business. I used the diagram many times through 2011, with some minor changes depending on context, until it evolved into a form that seemed to resonate with most audiences.


The changes during the year first moved the Customers to the centre, where they belong, since I increasingly saw the need to serve customers better become the only reason social business projects (internal or external) were getting funded, then added empowerment of employees (expanding from exceptional web experiences to include exceptional work experiences) and partners (who are an essential part of today’s virtual enterprises).

That left space to reflect the dramatic shift in the Unified Communications market in 2011, as it became clear that UC is not just about unifying telephony with collaboration (e-mail and instant messaging) but also incorporating social collaboration into the users web or work experience. What I like to call "extending presence beyond the green dot". I don’t want to know that the person I am trying to contact is "away", I want to know that they have gone to lunch with a customer and will be back at 3pm. I don’t want to know that they are "offline", I want to know that they are on vacation for the next two weeks, or are travelling in Australia so they will only be online overnight. I don’t just want to know that they are not available, I want to be given a link to content they are sharing that might help me in their absence, or to people they work with who might be able to help in their absence.

This complements discussions I often have about the importance or putting content in the context of people . The "Business Card" represents the current state of the art in "Presence" for people, and includes whether the user is online or not; their current location (if shared); their last Status Update; direct access to ways to communicate with them (e-mail, instant messaging, click to dial, etc.); their full Profile (with more information about them, like their management structure, and connections to their colleagues); and their shared content (files, blogs, communities, wikis, etc.) This works the other way round when searching for and finding content, by placing what you find in the context of its author and people who have commented on it or recommended it – with a full Business Card available for each, allowing you to quickly ascertain the credibility and trustworthiness of the contributors and of commentators – and so of the content itself.

The power of this diagram is not the separate technology advances it describes (in social collaboration, mobile devices and cloud computing) but the way they interrelate. Two of my past managers and role models taught me lessons related to this: Mike Zisman (former CEO of Lotus) wrote a paper once called "Timing is Everything" and Jim Abbey (MD of Systems & Telecoms) used to say "if the Wright brothers had tried to build a plane that could carry 300 people at nearly the speed of sound with toilets fore and aft, they would have failed". It is the fact the Social, Mobile and Cloud are happening at the same time, and coincide with an economic crisis that is forcing every organisation to maximise the value of every single employee, that is creating a truly transformational pivot point in the way organisations work.

The important thing is not that these three trends are happening, but that they are happening at the same time.

The social networking products on the Internet that give us the model for social collaboration are all cloud based (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). Smartphones would be completely pointless if there were no cloud services for them to access (local Apps soon get boring). We have reached the crossover point where more social networking updates are being done from mobile devices than PCs (as well as the point where more Smartphones & Tablets are being sold than PCs) and social networking really blossoms when it allows a user to record their reaction immediately and in multimedia (if you see a new billboard from your competitor you do not want to try to remember to send someone an message about it when you get back to the office – the moment is over then and you will forget – you want to send your marketing content a quick "tweet" with your thoughts at that moment – and preferably attach a photograph or video clip to it).

Now think about the implications of these technology developments. I talked to a customer last year who had launched a marketing initiative on Facebook in India. Not remarkable, you might think, but the interesting thing was that the marketing team had to do it from home, because they could not access Facebook in the office. I also met with a business team who had launched a new project using an external, cloud based collaboration platform because IT could not give them the capabilities they wanted in house. I know, from conversations in the canteen at another customer, that employees who cannot update Twitter from their desk PCs, just use their Smartphone.

The really disruptive thing about mobile devices and cloud based social collaboration is that IT can’t control them. If business units believe they can deliver better business outcomes by going round IT and using external services, they will. If those services are free, and deliver business value, then how can the company effectively control their use? It is beginning to dawn on IT organisations that if they do not deliver exceptional work experiences that enable their employees to deliver exceptional customer experiences, they will simply become irrelevant to the companies that pay their salaries and the business will start using external cloud services that help their employees to do their jobs better.

Sure, they still need the compliance team, the security team, the risk team – but those teams will be expanding their remit to manage use of external cloud services, as well as internal IT services. The more senior the person I talk to, the easier it becomes to convince them of the importance of Social Business. The Luddites are lower down in the organisation. Although they claim "management will never accept it," they are are simply wrong – senior management already "get it" and know they need to refocus middle management what their business needs to do to succeed. They are also wrong when they say "the users will never change the way they work" as those same users spend their evening on Skype talking to their grandchildren, on Twitter engaging with people who share their interests and sense of humour, on Facebook organising the team for the next pub quiz – and LinkedIn looking for their next job (perhaps with a more enlightened company that will provide them with tools that make their jobs easier).

So, my initial plan on the flight this year was to update the diagrams above for the next level of Social Business. But I decided not to do that yet. Those messages still resonate. In the words of Roy Amara (of the Institute for the Future) "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." These trends have a way to run yet – and it will take years for many organisations to internalise them, invest in them and realise the benefits.

Of course, the ones that do it quickest will be the ones that gain competitive advantage from this transformation.

Instead, let me offer some thoughts on some additional technology shifts that will help to evolve these trends in 2012:

  • Social Analytics: I love the way IBM has added Recommendations to IBM Connections, and improved Search results by leveraging analytics, but this is just the start. IBM has a unique capability to leverage its Research organisation and deep skills in analytics, textual analysis and search to guide users to the people and knowledge that will help them to do their jobs better.

    Twenty years ago, the main problem IT was solving was giving users access to information. Today users have access to more information than they can possibly use, and the challenge is to give them just the information they need, when they need it. The answer to that challenge is not in the information, it is in the context – the relationship of information to people – and that is where IBM Connections is focussed. Further leveraging Social Analytics will increase Connections ability to deliver a Social Collaboration layer over existing content, processes and business applications that enables use cases which make employees more effective.

  • Unified Collaboration: After years of watching organisations struggle to make the investment required to deliver the clear benefits of Unified Communications to its users, it seems to me that UC is becoming a part of the social transformation. Presence is one aspect of the rich context that surrounds a user at a specific point in time. Once it is clear that someone has the expertise needed, providing an easy way to reach to them via telephony, video, audio chat or screen sharing are services that the social collaboration platform needs to provide.

    IBM achieved its market leadership in the social business because it didn’t start from the technology, it started from the business – the use cases that that help users to do their jobs better and, in the process, deliver a return on investment. Unified Communications has had limited success because organisations couldn’t articulate how it would make employees more effective. Even if there was an ROI, it could only be achieved if users changed their behaviour and companies doubted that would happen. Making UC part of the social transformation addresses this (and leverages the fact that YouTube and Skype are part of the public Internet’s social scene). For the enterprise, this combines more effective Context with the proven ROI from telephony & travel cost avoidance. But rethinking UC as a necessary component of social collaboration will only change the game if it is done from the perspective of making users’ working lives better by delivering on required use cases – rather than simply as a technology implementation to cut costs.

    UC simply isn’t about making telephone interoperate with your PC anymore. User’s don’t want to use a PC, they want a smartphone or tablet, and organisations don’t want the expense of managing complex PC workstations. An iPhone isn’t a telephone, it’s a multimedia, unified end point that allows me to communicate, collaborate and act at a distance. Sure, interoperability with the telephone network helps with adoption, but its not the point. One of the most revelatory moments of 2011 was when I sent an SMS to a neighbour on my new iPhone 4S. I suddenly realised that it had not sent an SMS. Both of us were using iPhones, and "it" figured out that iCloud could deliver the message – without me needing to pay for an SMS. Each user want all their collaborative interactions to "just work" as effectively as possible, and without worrying about the current context of the person/people they are interacting with. Smartphones are great for that. Unified Communications has changed its focus from figuring out how to make telephone work over the Internet to figuring out how to make Internet Services interoperate with Telephone Services. Now it needs to hide all that technology from the user, and just make communications and collaboration work over all media, independently of the end points of the participants. Which is great for IBM, as it is avowedly end point agnostic.

    An aside: When I wrote the Unified Communications Strategy for Lotus in the 1990s, I wanted to call it Unified Collaboration. That was a hard sell at a time when people had trouble raising their vision beyond Unified Messaging. Now its time has finally come. Users want one end point for all their communications and collaboration that integrated with the applications they use, and they want it to be device independent (across smartphones, tablets or PCs depending what device that is most convenient right now. That is an inherent part of the IBM Project Vulcan vision.

  • Video: The Internet has proven over and over again that it is easier to change the game than to evolve existing mechanisms. Skype showed us many years ago that you can dramatically increase the quality of communications by adding video to voice and instant messaging. YouTube rode the wave of video becoming a standard part of digital cameras and smartphones. Today, when an employee wants to share something that moves, or happens on their screen, they want to use video – and know that there is no reason why they should not. Enterprise Video isn’t about users going to a video-conference room to get an inferior version of being in the same room. It is about leveraging the cameras in their Smartphones and Laptops to make communication and collaboration better. The technology exists to deliver on these use cases today, and social collaboration platforms simply need to step up to using it.
  • E-mail Reduction: Not ever more e-mail, but less. As we educate users that they can find the people and information they need using the social collaboration solutions, there will be less and less need to send them information in case it is useful to them. This cultural change is the single biggest challenge facing companies adopting social transformation. How do you train users not to send e-mails unless they have a specific actionable need from a recipient who is not currently available for a real time conversation, and to use other mechanisms to communicate information in other circumstances? While making sure that necessary information flows and activities continue while the transition happens.

    This is going to take two things. The user experience we offer to employees needs to offer a coherent environment where they users can work with all of their communication and collaboration tools – e-mail, social and unified communications – on whatever device they are currently using (which is what IBM is enabling its customers to do in 2012). In addition, organisations are going to need to train their users to communicate and collaborate in a new way. Not by putting them in classrooms and giving them courses, but by educating them in every communication they send to them, by ensuring thought leaders demonstrate the appropriate behaviour, by measuring their managers based on how well their employees are making this change, and by deploying work environments, business processes and applications in a way that support this transformation. This is what we call Social Adoption, and it is not reasonable to expect every employee to figure out why it is a good idea for themselves. Organisations need to focus on explaining to their users the benefits of working this way – and removing the obstacles that exist to adopting these practices.

Today, the world is reorganising itself because of the disruptive impacts of Social, Mobile and Cloud. Organisational power structures are shifting as employees are being empowered to shape the companies they work for. The Agricultural Economy became the Industrial Economy and then the Information Economy. The 21st Century is seeing the rise of the Relationship Economy. A company is no longer about its brand(s) – it is now about its people and how they help its customers. In a social world, consumers don’t want to do business with companies, they want to interact with the individuals that comprise that company. Consumers no longer trust organisations – but they will continue to trust people. They will demand a relationship with your employees as a condition of doing business with you. It is no longer enough to make your customers feel special, you need to make each individual customer feel special, every time they interact with you.

IBM’s Social Business strategy is about enabling organisations to make the cultural shift to become Social Businesses. To let them build new relationships between their employees, new relationships with their partners, and a new type of relationship with their customers. It needs a new form of social work environment to allow employees to build and manage these relationships – but companies that achieve this cultural transformation are going to grow faster than their competition.

Social Analytics in the Enterprise

I was just reading an interesting post by Marie Wallace on the use (or not) of Social Analytics in the Enterprise. Here are my thoughts…

The issue with Social Analytics in the Enterprise is that, in itself, it solves a problem that most companies don’t realise they have. It’s one of these “middleware” things that needs to be used by applications that solve problems to get investment. Of course, down the road, if companies end up with a plethora of different solutions embedded in different applications is a problem, they will maybe move towards a generic platform. But to start with, they are not likely to invest.

Fixing Enterprise Search is solving a problem that companies know they have (although willingness to invest in it is mixed), but the question is – do you build social analytics into a search solution (it’s a bit of a stretch, but that could work as search is analysing all the sources used for social analytics) or does internal Social Collaboration evolve to solve the search problem by applying analytics to content users produce and tag (as they consume) and therefore make the Enterprise Search problem go away?

There are other well understood enterprise application domains where Social Analytics is needed, but mostly they are being addressed by Social Collaboration platforms (expertise locations, knowledge management, team collaboration) – so these platforms need to become the delivery mechanism for Social Analytics.

I do see that there is a domain of management problems which do not have an associated software solution where Social Analytics can help – like Business Transformation, Acquisition Integration, Process Optimisation, Talent Management, Workforce Flexibility, etc. Here Social Network Analysis can support decision making and help direct organisational change. However most of these need more that just Social Analytics to understand the situation, they need a Social Collaboration platform to put the required changes into practice.

So, I don’t think Social Analytics is a product category that enterprises will buy into, in itself. It is just something that Social Collaboration platforms need to do exceptionally well – as it will become increasingly important as a differentiator for them in the future.