Solving Business Problems with Better Collaboration

Three years ago I was invited to meet with a local authority to discuss advanced collaboration. They had just been informed that the council’s head office was to be sold, so they had to find ways of enabling a workforce that was used to being “in the office” to do their jobs effectively from distributed locations or from home. This required a cultural change as well as new working practices, so new collaboration tools that can help users to make this transition would be key to success.

Recently I was invited to present on “Socialising your Intranet” at the National Communications Academy Scotland event for Scottish local authorities, so I contacted the council to discuss how their project had gone and whether I could use them as a case study. It was great to hear their excitement about the journey that had been on over the last few years. From the start, support from the Chief Executive down had stronger than they expected and they had actively engaged managers and team leaders to become agents of change in their organisations – resulting in over 50 use cases being implemented already, from better supporting community hubs, to transforming the registrar processes, to improving traffic flow on the roads. The final value was much greater than simply facilitating the move from fixed desks to remote and home working that had been their starting point.
Find the pain points that will drive the necessary investment of time and effortA colleague and good friend, Louis Richardson, likes to explain how much easier it is to sell someone a headache pill rather than a vitamin pill. Sure, vitamins are good for the body, but if you can help to get rid of someone’s headache they will be much more committed taking the medicine and making the changes needed for success. In this case, the urgent need to move to distributed working was the first reason to act, but then using middle management (so often inhibitors for change) as the driving force for a new way to work was a brilliant way of finding more headaches – and curing them.

So what are the headaches your organisation faces? Could better collaboration tools and techniques help to address them? Finding a new way to work has helped many organisations become more agile and adaptive in a changing world. Could you transform your organisation into a more satisfying, more successful place to work.

Social Collaboration in Government

A while back I wrote a blog post on Social Business in the Public Sector where I discussed a keynote presentation John Swinney, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, made at Public Sector Digital Scotland, where he:

… 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.

I was reminded of this listening to him present the keynote at ONE Public Sector Scotland last week, where he discussed progress made, the importance of enabling public sector workers to be empowered to do the right thing for the individual in front of them, and the need to become “relentlessly person-centred”.

In my social business masterclass later in the day, I tried to visualise this concept. Pre-digital, government programs were “one size fits all”:

But in the digital world, the citizen should be able to select exactly the services they need from a menu on offer:

However, you can only go so far down this path through technology, by providing a single front end that unifies services – or even by integrating back end services to smoothly move the user from one web site to another to deliver a coherent user journey that takes the citizen to what they need without them having to understand the internal structure of the government agencies providing it. To truly deliver an exceptional citizen experience, you need the government agencies involved, or more accurately the employees within them, to collaborate seamlessly as well.

 

This isn’t just about coordinating applications across the government web sites. Or even simply about aligning policies and procedures across government departments. Rather the issue is that: not only does the public not care which government department, agency, or public sector body is providing the service they need, but they want to be able to access the knowledge and expertise of public sector employees without worrying about which bit of the government pays them.

The good news is that responding to this desire not only produces more effective government services, it can also create more efficient ones. Initiatives like the Government Digital Service and G-Cloud have made good progress in reducing the cost of public services while improving their effectiveness. Now it is time to take things to the next level. To move beyond common web sites and infrastructure to start to integrate government employees into a single ecosystem of public servants focussed on better servicing the needs of the citizen.

This isn’t a new concept, like it is in some commercial companies where competition not collaboration is embedded in the culture. Collaboration is natural in public services, but what is needed is a focus on exploiting the latest social collaboration technologies to create an environment where expertise can be reused instead of replicated, knowledge can be shared as a by product of users’ day to day activities, and inter-departmental collaboration can reduce the cost of delivering services.

Cross departmental collaboration, cross agency collaboration, cross public sector collaboration – and, indeed, collaboration beyond to include local government, the third sector, delivery partners and small & medium enterprises who can help to service the citizen’s needs. The first challenge for government was integrating services – the next is integrating people.

In IBM, when we think about how public services can be taken to the next level we build stories about how cross government collaboration could save costs and change the lives of citizens. Could we help departments respond to freedom of information requests faster and at lower cost? Could we make it painless for a citizen to complete their tax return? Could we make it easier to claim benefits by removing barriers while reducing the chance of fraud? Could collaboration between local government social services, the police and school teachers save the life of a child?

Now that would be something to be proud of.

 

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 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.

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:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/apr/05/virgin-atlantic-celebrity-flight-details?newsfeed=true

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.

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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.

Evolution of the Social Business

Business Computing World kindly published my piece on the Evolution of the Social Business on December 23th, just in time for Christmas!

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It looks briefly at the three attributes of a Social Business (Engagement, Transparency & Nimbleness) and the key trends that are driving businesses to become social (Social Collaboration, Mobile Devices, The Cloud and Customer Engagement).

Is your Business becoming Social? Are your Competitors? How are your Customers influencing your Social strategy? Let me know what you think on the comment thread here, or the one for the article.