Alistair Rennie (General Manager, IBM Collaboration Solutions) was interviewed recently on Forbes, and was asked several questions about the future of social software. One of the questions he was asked was “What is the next big thing in Social Business software?” Alistair mentioned the drive to incorporate social into the process of business. This is a welcome development from one of the major players in social business software.
While much of the Web 2.0 movement was powered by a justified reaction to structure and top down management, the early enterprise 2.0 tools focused more on the ability to develop emergent collaboration and minimize structured processes.
However, while Andrew McAffee’s seminal piece on Enterprise 2.0 (Sloan Management Review 2006) trumpets the benefits of emergent collaboration (and rightly so), he is clear that the power of this emergent collaboration paradigm can be merged successfully with more structured contexts. He states:
“Their different approaches to structure, however, do not mean that Enterprise 2.0 technologies are incompatible with older ones. They can be added to the channels and platforms already in place. In addition, existing channels and platforms can be enhanced by adding discrete SLATES components; many e-mail clients, for example, now have the ability to receive RSS signals. In other words, technologies that let users build structure over time can coexist peacefully with those that define it up front.” (page 26, emphasis mine)
What this means is that businesses do not need to make a choice between structure, and emergent open collaboration, and it is great to see IBM beginning to publicly discuss a vision for the merging of the business processes that require some structure with the social collaboration that thrives with low or emergent structure.
Social Project management is a great example of this “next big thing” already in action. Traditional project management techniques are highly structured, and involve significant monitoring and management. Earlier “project management 2.0” technologies focused primarily on empowering the emergent collaboration of a project team, but left the project manager and her process out of the loop (see earlier post). What we are seeing now is that companies that require traditional, rigorous, project management processes are also recognizing the power of social business, and are looking for solutions that enable both the structure of PMI-style project management and the social capabilities of enterprise 2.0 platforms.
Social project management is a great entry point for businesses beginning the social transformation precisely because it does provide the structure of an existing business process, embedded within a social platform like IBM Connections. While IT-savvy users will explore new platforms, many users require structure to understand the ways that the features of a new platform impact their work.
We expect that social project management, social CRM and the other early business-process centric social applications that are emerging are just the tip of the iceberg, and that Alistair’s prediction is a very safe one. What needs to be recognized by all of the social business application vendors is that they provide more value by augmenting the general social platforms being developed (such as IBM Connections, Jive SBS, Microsoft Sharepoint, etc.) rather than being stand alone solutions.
It is not enough to be a “social business app”, but rather to really be a social business app, you must be integrated into the entire social network of the organization. Only then can a social business application provide necessary structure for a business process, while still allowing the rich, open, and emergent collaboration enabled by the social business platforms.