A great post yesterday by Laurie Buczek brought home for me a key issue that I’ve been pondering lately, namely how surprisingly disconnected some social business efforts end up becoming. We know many of the reasons this happens: Not-invented here, political fiefdoms, integration challenges, the tendency of many applications to turn into silos easily, etc. However, social media in the enterprise is about connecting deeply to those around us to improve the way we work. It’s certainly not about isolation, yet that sometimes becomes the state of affairs. How we organize for social business determines much of our success, as emergent as the process is. As Laurie said in her post (her emphasis):
The big failure of social business is a lack of integration of social tools into the collaborative workflow.
I should be clear that it’s not social business as a concept that’s the problem here. It’s that social must be connected to the day-to-day work that takes place. Unfortunately, most work today is done through existing systems that aren’t very social. If we’re lucky, we can forge a link to a piece of enterprise data from within a social tool, a basic requirement for social collaboration. But more likely we have to manually copy information from the systems of record in order to collaborate on it. Even more likely, the social business environment just becomes a parallel silo that’s not connected to the business and is used for light conversation and status updates instead of meaningful, high value line of business activities.
Yes, many large ERP, CRM, and HRM vendors including Oracle, Salesforce, IBM, Saba, and many others have either added or are otherwise incorporating social layers in their products that can help address this. But this is not necessarily the same as making our businesses fundamentally or more meaningfully social. Such duplication of social tools has its own silo issues and ultimately, rolling out social software on its own does not in itself produce results. No, the ladder of social business maturity requires more from us than that.
Instead we need to wrap our businesses in social in a more ambient and deeply connected manner. To work, this must be more than for example merely adding threaded conversations to our systems of record. It’s about weaving collaboration into everything we do, efficiently and simply. The good news is that there’s now hope to readily address what Laurie was referring to and connect social to workflow. With recent advances like real, mature, standardized social integration with OpenSocial 2.0 — with widespread support by enterprise software makers for the first time — there’s a genuine opportunity, right now, for us to connect our daily departmental and enterprise-scale work activities en masse to an overall social fabric that enables real change, real results, and real ROI.
Note: I do not think pure technology can ever be the full answer to this issue. But whenever we have a means of much more easily putting social in the flow of work we must go well beyond paper strategy and employ them.
So it’s up to us to see the importance of doing this and making it happen. Want social business become just a fancy chat tool in your organization? Don’t put social business to work. Do you want to unleash untapped worker potential, including cognitive surplus, peer production, and collective intelligence and all the big strategic buzzwords? Then put social business to work. The big lesson here: Failure to connect social business to work on the ground will pretty quickly result in limited value. We are now in the possessions of techniques to avoid this and we must use them.
See my writings on connecting business software to systems of engagement, social networking applications, and social app stores for more details on this subject. The Social Business CIO Shortlist can help as well.