Fifth Annual Enterprise 2.0 Conference Illuminates Current State of Social in Organizations

Milestone birthdays customarily spark reflection on the past and future of the celebrant. The Enterprise 2.0 Conference celebrated its 5th birthday last week with a solid program of pre-conference workshops, keynote speeches, and breakout sessions. The event, as always, provided attendees with a good feel for both the current state, as well as the future, of enterprise social software, networking, and business. This post will focus on insights, gleaned from the conference, about the here and now of social in the enterprise. A subsequent post will address the implications for its future.

Practice: A Bias Toward “How”

An early observation from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference was that several of the most visible “doers” of enterprise social were not participating this year. Dion Hinchcliffe, Gia Lyons, and David Armano (among others) were too busy helping customers plan and deliver enterprise social initiatives to attend. Their absence is, of course, a positive indicator of the current interest in, and embrace of, social activity in organizations.

Those who were at the conference also voiced a bias toward action. One of the most commonly heard pieces of feedback on the event was that the content focused too much on selling and justifying the concepts of E2.0 and social business. Attendees were looking for more information and knowledge about how to use social to successfully achieve business objectives. To paraphrase one attendee’s tweet, we get why, but thirst for how.

One tell-tale sign of this sentiment was the prevalence of the topic of adoption in informal conversations, despite it’s (intentional?) exclusion from the official E2.0 Conference program. Perhaps the early adopters who have attended multiple iterations of the conference have largely moved beyond adoption concerns, but the fresh faces at the event have not and asked for more of the kind of guidance provided in the pre-conference Practitioner’s Black Belt workshop.

Another indication of the need to understand how, as opposed to why, was the enthusiastically positive reactions to the conference sessions that dealt with topics such as organizational design and behavior, leadership, and performance management. Past E2.0 Conferences have conveniently put forth organizational culture as a bogey man standing in the way of adopting social behaviors and tools, without offering ways to affect cultural transformation. Several of this year’s sessions addressed concrete aspects of organizational change management. Most notable were the remarks delivered by Cisco’s Jim Grubb, Sara Roberts of Roberts Golden, Electronic Arts’ Bert Sandie, Deb Lavoy from OpenText, Amy Wilson of Wilson Insight, and Altimeter Group Fellow Marcia Connor.

Technology: Focus on Integration

It was clear before the conference even began that the topic of integration of newer social technologies with well-established enterprise systems would be front and center this year. While that topic was in the spotlight, the current lack of meaningful integration stood out against the talk of plans to integrate enterprise social software with other applications, systems, and business processes. The harsh truth is that the current crop of enterprise social software is dominated by stand-alone applications and suites – collaboration destinations that are not in the flow of work for most and that have created new silos of information and knowledge in organizations.

Enterprise social software vendors have begun to build and offer integrations between their systems of engagement and established systems of record (to use Geoffrey Moore’s crystal-clear terms) such as Enterprise Resource Planning, Customer Relationship Management, and Enterprise Content Management. However, most of these integrations assume that the social application/suite will be the place where people do the majority of their work. Data and information from other enterprise systems are brought into the social layer, where it can be commented upon and shared (socialized) with others. This flies in the face of reality, as evidenced by the limited success of enterprise portals deployments intended to create a personalized aggregation layer sitting on top of existing enterprise systems. People want to communicate and collaborate with others in the original context of specific business tasks. Accordingly, social technology should be embedded (or, at least, exposed) in the systems of record where decisions are made and business process activities are completed, not the other way around.

It was interesting to observe that the need to integrate with systems of record was primarily voiced by enterprise social software vendors exhibiting at the E2.0 Conference. Those vendors claimed that their customers are demanding these integrations, but the topic did not prominently appear in customer-led sessions or conversations. Only one system of record was universally identified as a critical integration point – Microsoft SharePoint. This observation seems to underscore deploying organizations’ preference to communicate and collaborate directly in systems of record.

There was also much discussion of the need to integrate social into business processes themselves. A prominent theme from the E2.0 Conference was that enterprise social software can, and should, support specific business processes to make them more transparent and efficient. Presentations and vendor demos at the event revealed that the current generation of enterprise social software can effectively speed resolution of process exceptions through expertise location and engagement features. However, integration with normal business process activity is essentially non-existent in most enterprise social software offerings, and the vision of social process support remains unfulfilled.

Summary

The 2011 Enterprise 2.0 Conference Boston was a very well run event that provided attendees with a fairly clear picture of the current state of enterprise social practices and technologies. It is clear that practitioners are past experimenting with social concepts and technologies and have moved on to applying them in their organizations. However, it also clear that practitioners need more information on how to organize for, lead, and incent social business practices. Social technology adoption remains a key concern for the second wave of adopters.

Over the last 5 years, enterprise social software has matured and added functionality needed to build comprehensive, enterprise-ready systems of engagement. However, integration of that functionality into the flow of work – within traditional enterprise systems of record and business processes – has yet to be achieved. It will be interesting to see if that marriage of social and transactional systems can be accomplished. If it can, we will have created next-generation technology that supports a new, better way of working.

This entry was cross-posted from Meanders: The Dow Brook Blog

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