Tag Archives: cost

Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business: Who Cares?!

As you may have already observed, the debate about what label to attach to the renewed focus on people in the business world has been rekindled this week, in conjunction with the Enterprise 2.0 Conference. While I will address the label question here, I do not intend to get mired in the debate. Instead, I will focus on whether or not the” people matter” movement should be described with tool talk or addressed in a more holistic fashion.

First, the label. I do not care if you call this renewed focus on people and the connections between them in the business world “Enterprise 2.0” (E2.0), “Social Business”, or anything else. The value to be gained from connecting people within and between organizations is to be found in what’s accomplished as a result of doing so, not in what the notion is called. Sure, it is helpful for the movement to have a lingua franca with which to “sell” the vision to business leaders. However, a consensus label is not necessary. A clearly articulated, holistic approach and value proposition are required.

So forget the label. Instead, focus on the substance of what we (those who believe that people matter in business) are presenting to organizational leaders that are more concerned about traditional issues like process efficiency and financial performance.

Now, on to the real debate. In his latest blog post, Andrew McAfee continues to insist that the message needs to be tool-centric. He says that we should address executives in phrases such as,

“There are some important new (social) technologies available now, and they’ll help you address longstanding and vexing challenges you have”

The movement is not just about tools. In fact, the tool-centric focus to-date of E2.0 is a primary reason why the movement’s core message that people matter has not reached the C-suite, much less sway their thinking. To suggest to a senior executive that the only way to better their organization’s performance is through the application of technology is simply, well, simplistic. We need to discuss all of the levers that they can pull to change the way their organizations consider, enable, incent, and interact with customers, employees, and partners.

To succeed in transforming an organization, leaders must change and communicate what is valued and how people are rewarded for applying those values while attaining stated goals and objectives. We must show those leaders that modifying organizational values to include (or increase) the importance of people to the business can lead to tangible increases in revenue and decreases in operating cost. The benefits statement does not need to be presented as an ROI analysis; anecdotal evidence from efforts within the organization, or from other entities, should suffice. And, yes, technology should be presented as an enabler of both the change effort itself and the new value system guiding the organization.

And one more thing. This movement, however we choose to label and describe it, is NOT a revolution. Senior leaders fear and shun revolutions. So avoid using that word when selling the vision. We are not advocating the overthrow of existing enterprise organizational or IT systems. Instead, we seek to convincingly demonstrate that augmenting the existing ways of conducting and managing business with a complementary, people-centric approach can yield substantial benefits to those organizations who do so. Do not preach revolution; instead, suggest specific actions that leaders can take to better connect people in and outside of their organization and show them the kinds of results that doing so can produce.

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Enterprise Social Software and Portals: A Brief Comparison of Deployment Patterns

In my last post, I examined whether or not Enterprise Social Software (ESS) is the functional equivalent of enterprise portal applications as they existed ten years ago. My conclusion was:

From a functional perspective, ESS is quite similar to enterprise portal software in the way that it presents information, but that does not tell the whole story. ESS lacks critical personalization capabilities, but provides better collaboration, process, publication and distribution, categorization, and integration functionality than portals. In my judgment, ESS is somewhat similar to portal software, but mainly in appearance. It makes more functionality available than portals did, but needs to add a key missing piece – personalization.

In this post, I will focus on the observation that ESS resembles enterprise portals in another regard – how and why it is deployed.

Enterprise v. Smaller Deployments

Portals were initially marketed as a tool for enterprise-wide communication and interaction, with each internal or external user role having its own personalized set of resources available in the user interface. While there were some early enterprise-wide deployments, portal software was deployed far more often at the functional level to support specific business processes (e.g. sales, procurement, and research portals) or at the departmental level to support operations.

Enterprise social software has also been touted as most valuable when deployed across an organization. However, like portal software, ESS has most often been deployed at the functional level in support of activities such as marketing, customer service, and competitive intelligence. As a result, the promised network effects of enterprise-wide deployments have not been realized to-date, just as they were not with most portal deployments.

Internal- v. External-Facing Deployments

Most early portal deployments were internally-focused, as shown in this InformationWeek summary of market research conducted in 2001. Not only was there a smaller number of externally-focused deployments, mixed-audience deployments did not begin to appear until the portal market was extremely mature. ESS deployments have followed this same pattern, and we are just now seeing early efforts to blend inward- and outward-facing business activity in common ESS environments.

Internal Use Cases

Portal software was often deployed in response to a specific business need. Among the most common were:

  • intranet replacement/updgrade
  • self-service HR
  • application aggregation
  • document/content management
  • expertise location
  • knowledge sharing
  • executive dashboards

ESS has been deployed for many of the same reasons, especially intranet replacement, application aggregation, expertise location, and knowledge sharing.

External Use Cases

Portal software was deployed externally to provide self-service access to corporate information. In some cases, access to selected application functionality was also provided to key business partners. Retail and B2B portals enabled customers to purchase goods and services online. Process acceleration, revenue growth, and cost reduction were the key business drivers behind nearly all external portal uses.

ESS doesn’t seem to have the same goals. I have seen some, but little, evidence that external communities are being leveraged to accelerate business processes or reduce costs. Peer support communities are a good example of cost reduction via ESS. The goal of most outward-facing ESS deployments seems to be customer engagement that translates (eventually) into increased innovation and revenue for the deploying organization.

Conclusions

ESS deployments today strongly resemble portal projects that were undertaken ten years ago. Few, if any, ESS deployments have been enterprise-wide. Instead, ESS is deployed to many of the same department and functional groups, to support the same business processes, and to drive many of the same business results as portals were a decade ago (and still are.)

What does this commonality with early portal deployments mean for ESS? I will examine that in my next post. Until then, I would love to hear your reaction to what I have presented here.

Video Conferencing Uptake Is Really About Changing Role of Organizations

I was interviewed last week for an article on how companies are using collaboration technologies to reduce operating costs during the current economic downturn. The article, entitled Virtual Conference Victory for Cisco Systems, was published in the Technology section of the Financial Times today.

When I spoke with the author, Joseph Menn, I tried to make it clear that using Web-based collaboration technologies like video conferencing to avoid travel costs was simply a baseline management activity. The most effective organizations use these technologies in bad and good times to not only minimize operating costs, but also to maximize productivity. After reading the FT article today, it was clear to me that Joe had indeed understood my point.

There is a larger story here though. The quote from me that was actually published,

“There’s a real, fundamental change going on in the way we work, both as companies and as individuals.”

is a c. 5 second sound-bite of a much longer conversation, in which Joe and I discussed how enterprise collaboration and social software are changing the way organizations are structured and how work gets done. Most of that didn’t make it into the article, but that’s OK. We can discuss it here.

Increasingly, organizations exist to provide specific assets and services to employees, including:

  • a clearly defined and shared business mission and strategy
  • a favorably recognized brand
  • marketing and sales
  • project management
  • bookkeeping and accounting
  • legal services
  • organizational knowledge networks and repositories

Individual employees can provide pretty much everything else they need to work efficiently and effectively themselves.

The role that corporate IT departments play has evolved markedly over the last decade. Ten years ago, IT departments laid infrastructure, built and deployed applications, and managed both as their primary function. The focus was not on the end user. Today, the IT function is viewed as providing assets and support services that enable workers to do their jobs in a productive manner. A huge and important change in perspective has occurred.

I believe we are nearing the time when entire organizations will make that same shift of perspective. Hierarchical command and control structures already have (mostly) given way to matrixed organizations. The next step in organizational evolution will be the formation of networks of individuals who work together to solve a specific business challenge, and then disband. The organization will support their endeavors by providing the assets and services listed above. Organizations will endure only as long as they can continue to form networks of knowledge workers and supply the assets and services those workers need.

How do I know this? I already work for such an organization!