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Dion Hinchcliffe

Improving Enterprise Collaboration: What Do Social Business Approaches Offer?

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One of the questions that comes up all too frequently when discussing social collaboration in the enterprise these days is the (still) infamous ROI question. Sometimes this is because the various manifestations of Enterprise 2.0 and social intranets haven't gone past the "we'd better start adopting or we'll be in the stone ages" stage that e-mail or traditional intranets themselves reached well over a decade ago.

Other times, the benefits just plain unclear to those that 1) either don't use to the methods themselves or 2) haven't yet seen how work is transformed and improved by the use of internal social media such as rich user profiles, social content management, social networks, microblogging, and so on.

However, the discussion too often tends to rapidly devolve into a tool debate, which does a major disservice to the organizational, cultural, and behavioral implications -- and more importantly, the very real opportunities -- of becoming a social enterprise.

In my last post I explored the motivations and models for changing the inside of an organization into a more social place where it's easier to see what's taking place and who is doing what. In an intranet that is fundamentally oriented towards making it as easy as possible to connect people to each other and mutually share their work, there seem to be a set of natural and inevitable outcomes. At a high level, these typically break down to largely desirable high-level goals such as better collaboration, knowledge discovery, expertise location, and so on. The benefits of social media in the enterprise have been systematically recorded and reported over the last five years through various surveys, studies, and research and gives us confidence that there really is very little doubt today.

Improving Enterprise Collaboration With Social Business Intranets

What's often missing now is the clarity around how a newly social enterprise actually looks and what the functions and roles are. Though it's clear that the old org chart isn't going away, a social workplace does work differently and through doing so achieve benefits that weren't easy to reach before. The visual above conveys at a high-level how social workstreams which everyone can see and participate in confer a number of essential benefits that are often underappreciated, especially by those looking at their intranets through the old lens of well-defined and fixed content inside a formal information architecture.

In this new socially engaged workplace there are several strategic changes, primarily cultural and behavioral ones, but some minor structural ones as well. Many organizations will make these changes organically and eventually end up with an environment that looks like the one above, though it will develop more on its own that some internal business leaders would probably like. Others organizations will deliberately attempt to get there more quickly and will have slightly more control over the outcome. Either way, the various changes that accrue as an organization wends its way towards becoming a more social business ends up looking like this:

Primary Elements of a Social Workplace

1. Social networks amongst workers. The formal social capital of the Facebook era is moving into the workplace. The connections you have -- and with whom -- determines your sphere of influence and ability to get things done as much, if not more, than the traditional grapevine of old. It's also becoming increasingly critical for most knowledge workers to build and maintain over their careers. From a practical standpoint, for those that don't use the tools personally, the manifestation of a social network on an intranet typically consists of rich user profiles that maintain a worker's connections to other workers. The list of who you are following in your profile then determines which updates and live work streams are visible in your news feed, though certainly you can always use search mechanisms to discover new colleagues and their work.

2. Observable work. Just like people are narrating their lives to their friends and family today via consumer social media, this same process is what employees are beginning to do in their daily work. Instead of sharing their interim efforts infrequently in big chunks via e-mail or worse, have them entirely hidden in obscurity, more and more of what workers are actually doing is being shared live inside enterprise social applications today. For example, projects, tasks, documents, and collaboration sessions are can now be conducted in social environments on the intranet that are open and participative. These can be joined by others in the organization as they see fit and the resulting collaboration leaves artifacts behind for other workers to discover, learn from, and reuse in their own work. This enables access to the vast collective intelligence of organizations that goes relatively untapped today. The key principle here (and the eventual outcome over time) is that most work is shared by default and anyone can contribute to anything they believe impacts their own work.

3. Insights and analysis. The logical outcome of having the intranet contain the entire narrative of your organization and who contributed to it is becoming clearer by the day. Currently, rapidly improving analytics of social media is leading the industry directly to towards effective access to something increasingly known as social business intelligence. This gives us insight into 1) what an organization actually knows (instead of much of it staying trapped in the minds of workers) and who knows it, 2) self-documenting business processes and critical methods, and 3) continuous and real-time access to the activities of workers and their interactions with each other, customers, and business partners. Far from being big brother, organizations can better and more quickly access vital trends, situations, and opportunities while workers get the most possible credit for their contributions via identifying whose knowledge is used and reused the most (i.e. valued). Not establishing the capabilities for capturing the business intelligence of an organization's collaborative environments is one of the biggest ROI pitfalls organizations can make today in my estimate.

For making these improvements and organizing for social business, what is an organization likely to receive in return? In my research and case study efforts, speaking and working with businesses at various levels of the social business maturity curve, here are the typical (though certainly not guaranteed) outcomes:

Likely Outcomes of a Social Workplace


Before After
Difficulty locating experts Automatic identification and location of experts
Struggling to find needed information More relevant, streamlined information flow
Valuable expertise not stored Expertise naturally captured for reuse
New hires ramp up slowly New hires learn their job faster
Hard to organize work Information organized socially, in-the-flow
Processes limited in scale Processes that will scale globally
Closed work processes More open & participative (yet compliant) work processes
Managers with limited view Managers with real-time view of work activities
Processes impeded by noise, clutter More efficient connection of processes, knowledge flow, and people

Figure 1: Results of Social Business Transformation


Of course, your mileage will vary, usually in proportion to the commitment to change management that goes well beyond tool deployment and to workers' behavior change, company culture change (to be more open and participative), and organizational changes to support the success of social collaboration, most importantly community management of social business environments.

I'll be sharing some of new data about change management to become a social business soon that will delve more deeply into how to achieve the transformation, in the meantime, this gives us a clearer view on how we see more and more organizations making the transition to new forms of shared work and richer, better outcomes for the business goals and objectives. It's an exciting and potentially rewarding time for those responsible for providing their organizations with the tools to succeed in a ever-faster paced, competitive, and information rich environment.

Please share your social business adoption and change management stories below.

Dion Hinchcliffe

Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized business strategist and enterprise architect View more

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