Feb 28, 2012

Social in Business: Build it an they will come (?)

This is the second post in the Top Dog/Elguji Social in Business blog series. Today we focus on people.

Social - tending or form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others.1

By its very nature, the term social implies people. I particularly like this definition of “social” since it is open-ended enough to us to consider “others” as either people or information. After all, in the world of “social software” what we're really discussing here are technologies that foster relationships between people and other people, people and information, and information with other information. Bottom line is that social in business aims to tap into people and the human factors of how work gets accomplished. This is tricky stuff. There are so many subjective factors that a one-size-fits-all approach to social software in the enterprise is virtually impossible. What we can do is look at best practices and figure out if they support the specific business or process we seek to improve and then apply what makes best sense to succeed.

As noted in our first post, enterprises are moving beyond the "it's just a fad" opinion of social software to cautious optimism and beginning to formulate just what social software would look like at their firm and how it can improve business. The fact that social software in each business can mean different things is probably a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it's great to have many options but on the other hand it means more complexity in figuring out which options to implement first or which things will support the firms needs the best.

Understanding which options to pick means having a good idea on how people at the firm work and what tools will help them do their jobs most effectively. Today that's a moving target. With mobile, consumer tools (e.g., Facebook, Google Plus), globalization, telecommuting, and the changing workforces, not only are the lines blurred between work and personal business but also navigating the matrix of different working styles is becoming more difficult to quantify and address. For example, the fact that I’m siting in a café in downtown LA right now while writing this does not mean I am any more or less effective than if I were sitting at a desk in an office building. In other words firms need to address all of these “human” factors to keep up and make a productive working environment.

Since people are vital to social in business we are seeing HR, Operations, and departments other than IT initiating social in business. This makes a lot of sense, considering that we are talking about working with and impacting the culture of the organization and how it works.  It also makes sense that parts of the organization dedicated to its culture and operations are very interested in what happens with social technology.
IT has the power to make the enterprise more effective but IT has never been accused of being a social mover or shaker. Rightfully so, IT really should not be in the business of changing corporate working culture; it should be in the business of making sure that people work effectively and securely through the proper use and implementation of tools. IT’s role is to help the human factors side of the business succeed at social in business. This can only be accomplished through planning, implementing, and cooperating with the people parts of the business.

Social software in business isn’t just a matter of “build it and they will come.” Rather, social in business requires first, an understanding of how people work together with others (people and information) to conduct business. Only then can IT implement and create an ecosystem that will support the social business needs most effectively.

1. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/social

Feb 20, 2012

Social in Business: What we are talking about

For the last 6 months I’ve been having regular discussions with Bruce Elgort on the subject of Social Software in business. Bruce is in the business of helping companies collect and build ideas. The firm he co-founded, Elguji, is, as the web site masthead says, “Helping Companies Innovate” by offering tools (such as its best-selling IdeaJam) that facilitate collaboration to effectively bring new ideas to market. Together we’ve been looking at the ins-an-outs of deploying social media in a business environment and the earmarks of success. Long story short, we decided to put some of our thoughts down in prose and broadcast it to our readers in a series of blog posts on Social in Business.

Just to be clear, you may have read my recent posts about IBM’s Social Business Gambit and my thoughts about IBM’s new social approach to the collaboration and communications market. These posts are not about that, instead, they are focused on approaches and strategies that businesses can develop as they explore social media in the business environment.

Social in Business Today

Enterprise IT is beginning to move into a formulation phase in the evolution of social tools in business. Recent presentations by research analysts (e.g., Gartner, Forester) and vendors (e.g., IBM) are moving from the question of “What is Social?” to the discussion of “Strategies for Social.” This new conversation indicates that customers are looking beyond the fad and considering how social within the organization might impact them. The perspective is also shifting from external to internal social. If we were to poll most executives on what social is we'd likely get more of an external facing response, such as “brand building” or “customer interfacing”. But as Gartner points out in a recent webinar, “Taking a Strategic Approach Social Media”, there are at least 6 opportunities for what Gartner calls Mass Collaboration by using social inside the business. That list includes:
  • Collective intelligence
  • Expertise location
  • Interest cultivation
  • Relationship leverage
  • Flash coordination
  • Emergent structures
Gartner also notes that oftentimes when a firm engages in social initiatives, the projects typically take advantage of more than one of these opportunities. Rightfully so, once tools are in place for doing one thing they invariably support other activities. The trick is to identify the most valuable opportunities for the firm and foster their success.

The Mission: Build a Strategy

Agility and versatility in IT environment is the new mission of the IT Operations Manager who is becoming more a solutions architect than an implementer. IBM’s last three annual CIO studies note that along with cost savings innovation is a priority for most organizations. So cost saving and innovation are not mutually exclusive. CIOs see IT delivery as having it all. As Bruce asked me how does the director of it operations do it? How do they keep up?

Overall managers, business and IT, need to consider all the options for social in the business and design a strategy to be successful within the parameters of their business. A strategy will help the organization to understand what needs to be done, how to choose the technologies it will deploy, and guide decision-making. In agile companies strategies are organic and evolve informing modifications while the firm’s needs change. Strategies also serve as an anchor for making sound decisions. If certain assumptions and rational were used to make one decision they can likely be used or modified for future decisions.

More to Come…

We’ll be posting more of these types of topics in the upcoming weeks. We hope these blogs will get you thinking more about the things that we are concerned about. We think the tactical and strategic market knowledge of Elguji and Top Dog is a great combination to help you to kick-start your social in business strategies.

Feb 2, 2012

IBM's Social Business Gambit - What do I think?

In my last post I outlined what I consider IBM’s Social Business gambit coming out of the Lotusphere/Connect 2012 conference this month. But I really didn't get into my opinions whether I think it will work. So, here goes...

Am I buying it?
Yes, the message. The IBM Social Business gambit and re-brand away from the Lotus marque is primarily a marketing message. Overall IBM clearly articulated and streamlined its message on the communications/collaboration tools market. I think this is a very good start. Quite frankly, given the current market and competition, it’s about the only option IBM had. The good news is that they are doing it.

To expand, IBM’s Social Business market strategy is a re-tooled perspective on where communications/collaboration has been heading for a long time. Bottom-line, the problems we trying to solve are not new; just there’s new technology to help us get things done. As Linda Stone explains we be been moving through evolutionary phases of technology changing how we work. Right now were evolving towards understanding our information by being able to use it more effectively:

Today, we are Knowledge Workers evolving into Understanding Workers.  Understanding Workers use technology to anticipate, judge and act.

This idea fits nicely with Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s Lotusphere keynote in which he spoke about being on the cusp of the semantic web. Longstanding technology that has served us well is fraying at the edges in a continually connected, multi- device, big data working world. Information management is going from find-ability to connect-ability.

The problem for most enterprises is how to provide for Understanding Workers and what it means operationally. That’s what IBM is attempting to address by shifting the conversation to Social Business and away from why e-mail stinks. Changing the topic reboots the conversation and refocuses the issues to the cultural shift that enterprises need to go through to get to the other side. So am I buying the changed conversation and the idea of the social business? Yes.

Will companies buy it?
Hard to say, but customers are looking for innovation, and that usually is a new conversation even if the problem is the same. Social software solutions are not streamlined today, although many are coming closer (e.g., Salesforce.com) or are well enabled to do so (e.g., Jive’s December 2011 $120M IPO).  But just when the business begins to take an active interest in the technological culture of the firm, the way workers access information and each other has exploded into a complex matrix of devices, technologies, and solutions.

Delivering a reassuring message about how IBM understands enterprise issues and providing understandable approaches to new technology complexities offer customers a sound starting point. IBM has got to feel confident about it, and it’s clear that they do.

However, it is a guarded IBM installed-based that IBM is running this by first. A market message is only good if it garners interest; the success of a strategy is in the technology execution and delivery. Redefining the conversation and demonstrating what life might be like only goes so far. Success depends on whether or not customers can comfortably replicate the experience being demonstrated to them.

Will IBM win?
They way I see it, IBM has three hurdles to clear in order for the social business gambit to pay off:

1.     Technology delivery
2.     Market disruption
3.     New competitors

Proof of the technology is in the execution. IBM needs to stay the course and execute its technology and delivery well. I didn't get to see the technical presentations at Lotusphere/Connect 2012. Combine that with IBMs increasing coyness to reveal the inner workings of its technology and it's hard to for me honestly evaluate whether the technology is sound. Given IBMs performance over the last 4 years I am cautiously optimistic.

In its last major communications/collaboration software change-up IBM effectively sold the message of a new beginning to many customers. The long awaited Domino 8.0 and the Eclipse-based client (delivered in August 2007) provided a B12 perception booster for customers eagerly awaiting improvements to a haggard code-base. The message worked, staving off customer defections temporarily, but the technology of the updated system was not as promised. This caused a lot of buyer’s remorse and IBM struggling to keep its customer-base intact.

Even the die hard, bleed yellow folks were exasperated. Attributed by some to the offshoring of development and the decimation of the US development and QA, the execution of the early Notes/Domino 8.0.x code stream opened the doors for competitors and other IBM Lotus technologies (i.e., Connections) to swoop in and displace the Lotus crown jewels. Note, general consensus is that the 8.5 release of Notes/Domino at the end of 2008 was much more stable as are subsequent releases, most recently version 8.5.3 released in October 2011.

More recently IBM has placed its marketing focus on the front end and user experience of its communication/collaboration tools. This approach has been successful in capturing the attention of the business buyers, however, the once-bitten, twice shy effect of unrealized Domino 8.0 promises has left a degree of skepticism in customer’s minds that IBM continues to contend with.  

Which comes to market disruption. A frustrated customer-base makes for easy fishing by competitors, and both Microsoft and Google have been casting long lines with varying success. For IBM to succeed it needs to be disruptive enough not only to stop this feeding frenzy and but also for its competitors to stop writing IBM off.  IBM needs to make it a goal to get its competitor’s sales reps to start complaining about IBM disruption.

On the one hand IBM could simply write off the likes of Cisco, Google, Microsoft and Oracle as being behind the social times, however that would be short-sighted since these business have large customer bases in other areas that can be leveraged for new technologies, no matter how passé their messages seem.

It’s not only the usual suspects that comprise the social IT market. IBM, by changing the discussion, wittingly or not, jumped into a competitive pool that includes a new breed of providers. In addition to the known entities, IBM will need to fend off a variety of social software sharks including, Jive, SocialText, Salesforce.com, and Yammer.

The competition boils down to gaining the attention of customers – existing and new - enough to be disruptive. With this many players the market share will be diluted until acquisitions and dropouts consolidate the market place. Until then IBM will need to gain the attention of customers that have lots of choices and little (for now) internal direction on where to go.

Final words
Overall my analysis is, it depends. It depends on what IBM can and will deliver. It depends on whether or not IBM can become disruptive enough to gain new customers in a crowded market place. It depends on if IBM can compete against a new breed of competitor.

Ok, pretty wishy-washy, but here’s what I will say. IBM’s Social Business message is a good start to driving the mindset of the market, and if IBM manages to get it to trickle into its sales and development ranks, then IBM is on the right path to restoring customer confidence and sparking innovation. Since the social market is hardly a vacuum these days, IBM will need to get more down and dirty to influence things. Although I am doubtful about the likelihood of IBM doing this, a couple strategic acquisitions would go a long way to thinning the competition and is likely to gain customer confidence in IBM’s commitment to social business.

I predict that IBM will succeed in attracting business buyer interest with its Social Business message but it will likely stumble on the same hurdles that have challenged IBM in the past, including staying on message throughout the IBM organization; a cultural shift that IBM has yet to accomplish.