The Challenge to Social for Business - Where Do You Live?

24 Nov 2014

IBM coined the phrase "Social Business" to describe its Connections product launched in June 2007, and now the rest of the UC&C vendor community is piling on the bus. In October, Unify has renamed its Project Ansible as Circuit by Unify and launched it, and earlier this month, Cisco announced its social business offering Project Squared. Microsoft has been working to integrate Yammer since it acquired the company in June 2012, Jive Software is still beating the social business drum, and The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Facebook will be launching a "Facebook at Work" offering in January. The big question is, will business people actually adopt them?

Marty Parker did a post on NoJitter where he talked about the various phrases that are being spun to describe a fundamental way of redefining how work can get done including "A New Way to Work" (Unify), "The Way Work Works" (IBM), "The New Way to Business" (Jive Software), and "Transform the Way You Work" (Microsoft Yammer). Under all of this lies the fundamental idea that we can provide a better set of tools so that knowledge workers and professionals can get their jobs done in a more efficient and functional fashion. The key is to move past email as our primary collaboration tool to something that will truly allow people to work and collaborate better.

All of the aforementioned platforms draw on essential ideas from social media and apply them to a business context. One is the idea of a collaborative workspace where all of the communications and documentation involved in a particular task are stored and all team members can get access to them - Unify calls them "conversations," Cisco calls them "rooms," but it's essentially the same idea. If nothing else, this should certainly go a long way in addressing the problem of version control where we have six different people modifying six different versions of the same work product.

These collaborative workspaces would also provide direct access to the full range of real time and asynchronous communication and collaboration tools (to wit, "Communications integrated to optimize business processes") so what we are looking at is the next iteration of unified communications. While email would be one of those available options, the key will be in having all of the tools available and hopefully providing users with some guidance regarding which is likely the most appropriate choice for a particular task. There is a lot of talk about "intuitive interfaces" and there being "no manual required" - if that leads anyone to believe that "user training" won't be required to spur adoption, they should get over that idea quickly. Some thought that training wouldn't be required for UC systems either, and that has proved to be totally inaccurate.

However, it's going to take more than just training to get users off the dime on social business adoption. Unless all team members buy in, that collaborative workspace is going to be a pretty lonely place. To be successful with a social business initiative, everyone in entire portions of a business will have to agree to change the way they do their work.

I agree wholeheartedly with the proposition that email is the worst collaboration tool ever conceived. IBM recently cited a statistic that analysts estimate of the 108 million business e-mails sent daily, only 14% are critical. With the launch of Circuit, Unify also debuted an ad campaign called #emailfail with some great videos poking fun at the shortcoming of email as a business tool.

Cisco feels it's time to get over email as well. At the Project Squared announcement, Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, had a bar chart that showed his own dramatic decline in e-mail usage as his team moved onto Project Squared. It would be the best of all possible worlds to have the boss mandate the use of a collaborative social platform, but I don't think we are going to see much of that outside of the tech fields.

For the vast majority of knowledge workers today, email is the hub of their communications and their work life - they "live" in email. Even with UC, the most convenient way to get to any of your other communications tools is through an Outlook plug in. We're making them even more attached to email! What we will have to do here is get people to come to work and log into the collaboration platform. In effect, we have to get them to reorient the nexus of their work life. When you say it that way, you start to grasp the enormity of the undertaking.

IBM convinced me years ago that social and collaborative platforms are the way to go, and for my money IBM's Connections is still the most complete of these offerings. However, people don't like to change and what we are looking at here is not just the installation of another new communications technology but a fundamental change in the way people go about their jobs. Unless an equal amount of effort is placed on the human side of these implementations as the technical challenges, these initiatives are going to stall in the starting gate.


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