Summary: This article is my reaction to the vast amount of reports and papers on the selection of social software. I have decided to formulate this article in a provocative way, hoping for feedback and other perspectives. So: I don’t believe that social software will replace e-mail or intranets and I consider a stand alone use of social software (aka internal Facebook or Twitter) to be a temporary echo on the enterprise 2.0 hype.

Quick definition to be on the same page…

Whenever I am referring to social software I am referring to stand alone business software that is built on the principles of social media. Activity feeds, pers. profiles, networking capabilities, information enrichment (eg tag, comments, likes, stars etc), information sharing etc. are key functions of social software. The more mature a solution is deeper and broader the feature set incl. unified communications, roles/rights and group/community management, search and convergence with established productivity and data management software.

For this article I am resonating only on the stand alone use of social software. I am not judging/evaluating vendors. The less social software is visible by itself (an explicit social service) to the user the less relevant the use case is for this article.

The temporary echo on the enterprise 2.0 hype

I believe that enterprise 2.0/social business doesn’t need social software. Enterprise 2.0 requires – beyond new ways of leadership and management – business IT that is inspired and infused by the principles of social and (explicitly) commercial internet services. The vision and mission of social software is to unleash the power of individuals and groups based on the principle of networking, transparency and access to expertise and experience. The digital workplace however, requires much more than social functionality. It has to provide information and knowledge workers with the means to be more productive, spend less time with routine tasks and thereby increase their available time share to be an active and valuable node in a network. Principles of relevance matching in the commercial space (eg search marketing, contextual advertising, behavioral targeting) are essential building blocks for the automation in information and knowledge work. Automation itself is a key building block for productivity. The more data, expertise and knowledge connects itself to a user based on situation, context and explicit action the easier it will be to make use of the entire intellectual property (= the corporate DNA).

Services to tackle the key challenges in information and knowledge work however, have to be an integrative part of the actual WORKspace. I truly believe that knowledge driven companies now have a tremendous opportunity to successfully address

  • information distribution
  • information retrieval
  • data enrichment
  • communication consistency
  • activation of human capital

This has to happen in direct context with operational work and therefore the goals that individuals are measured against *. Limiting the availability of the functions that I’ve set out in the ‘same page’ section of this article to the social silo will not deliver the same value.

Social has to be integrative – not just as a single page element but in its principles and offerings towards the users of workspace services. Browsing through the latest Enterprise 2.0 User report from Forrester I actually feel confirmed in my perspective since only 22%** consider the social software as vital to their job – and those you might want to count into the early adopter segment.

Social software will not replace intranets

In line with the above statements I don’t believe that intranets will be replaced by internal social media platforms. What I believe in is that the concept of intranets will be substantially change. Two weeks ago I’ve attended the INTRAnet Reloaded conference in Berlin. A speaker (@IntranetMatters) of InfoCentric Research AG put the following slide up on the screen:

(c) InfoCentric Research AG 2012 at INTRAnet Reloaded 2012 (Berlin)

This way of describing it is spot-on. The intranet has to turn into a workspace. It has to become the main service (if not the single destination) for information workers. One might argue now that stand alone office software and the always-on requirement of such a workspace is some kind of k.o. criteria. Well…we are talking about the future of information work here, not just the outlook for the coming 3 years.

Back to the subject: social interaction and surfaced networks of people and content will be an essential (I might even say crucial) part of the modern workspace – there is no doubt about that. Information distribution that resonates very much on the formal aspects of companies, however, still has to have its place. That HR or quality management departments will publish key/mandatory content just through micro blogs and Wikis is highly unlikely. That employees will be guided to formal content via ‘Everyone’-emails in the future is as unlikely.

Intranets aren’t (in its current state) interaction or communication focussed services. They are structured (in the best case: transparent) data and information repositories. Therefore they cannot be replaced by social platforms per se anyway but they will benefit from a new way valuable (or mandatory) content can be distributed/promoted/enriched.

Social software will not replace e-mail

Period. To change behavior that was established and nurtured in companies for almost 20 years isn’t going to happen by just replacing one tool against another. No matter how many users are on Facebook or Twitter. The corporate side of things is different.

We will be able to re-channel 90% of all e-mails to more appropriate, consistent and sustainable channels – social channels amongst them and maybe even taking on a substantial share of the ex-email content. Thereby we will bring back life to a tool that enables asynchronous, secure and efficient (I would like to add attachment-free) communication between specific senders and recipients.

Referring to my recent posts on certainty for users I even dare to predict that this change/transformation will take a long time. Longer than many social business enthusiasts might think…

So, what do you think?

If you have made it down to here you must have found something in this article that you either agree or disagree with. See the comment field? Right down there? Yes 🙂 Use it! Now…

Thanks 🙂

* As part of the cultural change companies have to alter the performance management models as well. If collaboration is the new mantra measurements have to resonate on that. Collaborative/collective goals have to be established as the standard – not the exception.
** Source: The Enterprise User Profile: 2011 by © 2011, Forrester Research, Inc.

4 comments

  1. Hi
    Here is a deliberately provocative answer to your article.
    Quote form article “It has to provide information and knowledge workers with the means to be more productive, spend less time with routine tasks and thereby increase their available time share to be an active and valuable node in a network”

    What really puzzles me in this on-going discussion about social medias in context of organisations is the question: „Why do experts predict that social media is a more efficient way of communication and will save employees fast amount of time during work“. Where is the rational, where is the prove, where is the evidence?
    Social media will only be more efficient than E-Mail, or other information channels, if there is an automatic way to first analyse and parse the content and then in a second step, tag and structure content to make it retrievable and put it in context so it makes sense.
    Finally the question of owner ship access and distributing information has to be clarified.
    —————————————————————————

    Quote form article: I truly believe that knowledge driven companies now have a tremendous opportunity to successfully address
    • information distribution
    • information retrieval
    • data enrichment
    • communication consistency
    • activation of human capital

    I am convinced that the only way these promises can hold, is to define a company or corporate culture how to use social media. It is simply not enough to tell employees they can use social media and to promote it heavily. The questions for employees in an organisation always are the same:
    • Why should I use social media for my daily work
    • What makes it better than E-Mails
    • When should I use E-Mails and when are other social channels appropriate
    • Ect.

    I think social media creates a new level of complexity. And before organisations adapt a policy towards using social media they need to sit down with experts and figure out what the actual goal is. If they don’t do their homework upfront, the initiative will create more work for employees and organisations and certainly increase chaos and complexity.
    After 15 years of experience in change management, the one thing I learned about information technology is: “There is nothing as hard as getting employees to do the same thing the same way”. Adding another information channel means employees will have even more ways of doing things differently, a real horror scenario for business process managers who are trying to align user and try to enforce best practice.
    If the usage of social media is not orchestrated carefully, prior to implementation, it will certainly backfire. Just think of simple, everyday scenario in a sales department:
    1) A Customer sends an E-Mail to the back office asking for a price
    2) Back office worker sends request to development department with social media
    3) Developer answers sending an E-Mail
    4) Back office worker uses social media to make a price offer to the customer
    5) Customer orders product calling the back office.
    6) The order is inserted in the ERP System

    Two weeks later the product is delivered to the customer and something has gone wrong.
    My question is: “How are you now going to retrieve the chain of events. Who did what and when?”
    The underlying question is: “how can you leverage the media brake between social media, E-Mail and verbal communication”.

    And the answer is: “Organisations need clear rules what information channel can be used for what kind of information”. And this in turn means they need to mandate and enforce standard guidelines for usage. Something, that is not impossible, but very hard to achieve.
    Relying on employees to figure that out for them self, and create a culture of consistent usage, is wishful thinking. Users always want and need strict and clear guidelines for using new software applications.
    Quote from Article: 2.0 User report from Forrester I actually feel confirmed in my perspective since only 22%** consider the social software as vital to their job – and those you might want to count into the early adopter segment
    This confirms my previous statement. It is not enough to simply tell employees, use social media. You need to explain to them in detail how to use it and show them what benefit it brings to them.
    What I fear is that we will have a repetition of the situation that was common when E-Mails where introduced in organisations:

    Biggest obstacle for E-Mail usage was: people hate nothing more than changing old habits. Many managers and employees of 60 still don’t like to use E-Mails and prefer personal meetings or phone calls.
    I suspect that nothing has changed and when it comes to social media many employees 40+ will simply refuse to use social media for communication. If they are not forced to use it we will have a generation gap in companies using social media: “young employees who embrace it”, “older employees who refuse to use social media”.
    Coming back to business process management it is hard for me to imagine how interconnecting communication methods (E-Mail and Social Media) should work if they are not mutual exclusive.

    With mutual exclusive I mean that specific business processes must mandate an define specific methods of communication, but it should not be allowed to mix those communications channels, when it comes to business relevant communication like ordering products, invoicing bills ect.
    Today most companies are ISO-Certified so probably the first step would be to define which business processes can use social media as means of communication, and which can’t.
    Quote from your article: The intranet has to turn into a workspace. It has to become the main service (if not the single destination) for information workers.
    I believe that intranet concept in most companies fails for one very simple reason.
    “It is not user friendly enough”.
    What I mean with this statement is:
    “As long as you have somebody you can ask personally, you will never go to an intranet portal to search for information”.

    The best use of social media for enhancing intranet performance is the ability to reaching out to more people. The chances are much bigger of finding somebody using social media that will be able to tell you where to find the information in your local intranet.
    Employees mostly hate intranet because it is what I would call “passive nonresponsive information”.

    If I have a tricky question, I want answered, and I search the Intranet it will take me much time to figure out what the correct answer is. If I can ask an expert, this expert will, after receiving my question, clarify my questions by again asking me additional question, and then he will most probably be able to give me the exact answer. Finally he will ask for my confirmation if that is what I wanted to know. If yes all parties are satisfied, if no, the expert will most probably know where to find the correct answer.

    Reading articles in an intranet is a very time consuming task, finding the correct information, interpreting it and making sense of it is a difficult process, but asking somebody else is easy.
    To make intranet more relevant for user one needs to figure out how to solve the paradox that
     It is easier to ask co-workers
     The simpler the question is, the more likely it is you will get an answer from you co-workers
     If the question you want to resolve is complex, you don’t even start looking in the intranet, because you need additional skills to interpret and understand the article you are reading. So again you will rather ask an expert than use the intranet.

    I believe most intranets have content written by experts, and the content is displayed in a way that it is mostly understandable for experts, thus usage of intranet is grate for experts but less useful for non-expert users, and therefore fails the original goal of spreading information in an organisation.
    Intranet mostly spread information between experts but not between average users. They neither read articles nor publish them and don’t take ownership of the application.
    ———————————————————————————-

    Quote from article: We will be able to re-channel 90% of all e-mails to more appropriate, consistent and sustainable channels – social channels amongst them and maybe even taking on a substantial share of the ex-email content.
    What makes E-Mails so interesting is that an E-Mail servers multiple functions at the same time:
     Send Information
     Tagging information is mandatory (Subject line)
     Every user at least attempts to create a meaningful subject line that in return means information is categorized and searchable
     Select the recipient ( you know who is going to read the message)
     Distribute to individuals or gropes
     Sender can attach any content
     E-Mail is archived
     E-Mails can be tracked and grouped
     Sense of owner ship: “Users think they own a E-Mail because they wrote it”.
    This means what makes E-Mails so practically is the same reason why they are so hard to handle, because they have so many functions incorporated into on single application.
    ——————————————————————-

    Final statement:
    If social media should be part of any business organisation management has to define up front why, and what for employees should use social media in the future.
     Define a social media guideline for employees
     Define if and how social media can be used for business processes
     Enforce and monitor users applying to the guide lines
     Most important: guide and tutor employees when change is implemented
    Don’t leave users allow to find out on their own how to make sense of social media chances of them using it in the way management intended them to use it is basically “zero”!
    I would envision a combination of E-Mails and social media, all incorporated into one single tool that tracks all my communication, makes it searchable, archives it and gives me a general overview of my activities.
     I don’t want a Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Linkin Account and two or three E-Mail addresses and several blogs in dispersed locations and applications.
     I would want a personalized centralized information platform where I can track all activities, sort, archive and search them in one single place. If possible I would want a method to convert communication items from one form into another using a simple method.
    I think what I would want is a kind of personal information platform that makes it possible for me to access, interact and use all of those applications from one single program.
    Sean

  2. Thanks for the provocative answer…not so provocative though since we’re pretty much on the same page anyway. However, here are a couple of remarks…

    #1 it’s not social media that will change business IT or work culture. It will be the mechanics of information logistics and communication that will infuse business IT and change the way user will interact with and profit from services at the digital workspace. it’s about inspiration – not copy.

    #2 the only way to make employees use the new opportunities is: position them close enough to where they are measured by and make them so easy to use that you feel tempted to use the expression “intuitive” – the major cultural change has to happen in management and leadership where corporations have to move from time & resource management to goal management.

    #3 I agree: people tend to work differently. The opportunity I see is a way of working and a digital workplace that is so tangible and straight forward to use that it’s the easiest way to do things and thereby the common denominator to achieve collaborative goals…

    #4 with regards to your final statements: I hope that I will be able to contribute to solutions that come as close as possible to what you wish for…because it’s probably what most people want/need. The only thing I disagree with is the emphasis on guidelines, rules and processes. From my perspective they are only good to compensate on the inability of the creators of software/services/IT to provide something that can benchmark itself with commercial IT and thereby avoid that people find their own ways and tools to get things done… 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s