Much has been written about crowdsourcing, the practice of outsourcing tasks to a network of people. Specifically, crowdsourcing is valuable when a problem exists for which the person with the problem may not have the time, knowledge or expertise needed to solve the problem. In the book Wikinomics, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams describe the story of GoldCorp, a struggling Canadian Gold Mining company. In 1999, GoldCorp was a $100 million dollar company, unable to tap into its own reserves. By 2002, GoldCorp was a $9 billion dollar company due to its successful crowdsourcing efforts.
The GoldCorp story is just one example of the power and wisdom of crowds. When we think of crowds, we think about a mass of people, almost all of whom we don’t know, gathered together for a purpose. Although the crowd might share a goal, there is little sense as to the experience of the people in the crowd, the knowledge that they have in their heads, or the manner in which one could identify that information.
In fact, as a company increases in size, the more “crowd-like” it becomes. Because of this, the concept of inside the firewall social business applications has flourished in the past few years. Vendors such as Jive, Microsoft and IBM have become leaders in the enterprise social space. Their tools provide the ability to socially collaborate with anyone in the organization. However, these tools out of the box provide little more than the ability to “assemble” the crowd. Without a dedicated effort to ensure that employees fully complete their profile information, the ability to identify experts is not realized. Without real business processes embedded into the platform, the ability to socially collaborate for business purposes is reduced.
This is where social business applications, such as Social CRM and Social Project Management come into the picture. “Social” application vendors are everywhere these days, and more seem to start popping up every week. However, without access to the full social network of the organization, these tools are merely team collaboration sites with social tools. What makes an application an enterpise social application is the ability to socially interact with the enterprise – internal, as well as external partners. In short, social business applications require the ability to “crowdsource” to the enterprise social network. Because of this, social business application vendors need to intentionally partner with enterprise social platform vendors to integrate their business process support within the social fabric of the enterprise.
Let’s take Social Project Management for example. Project management is exactly the kind of process that gains value from being made social. This is because of the kind of work that it is. As noted above, the value of crowdsourcing comes from its ability to find new knowledge to solve problems. While operational tasks may deliver value to an organization, projects deliver value specifically because they are creating something new. Because of the “newness” of projects, the need to identify expert knowledge is far more important in these contexts than in others.
For example, Trilog Group has tight integration of its ProjExec social project management platform with all of IBM’s collaboration solutions – IBM Lotus Quickr, IBM Connections, and IBM SmartCloud for Social Business. Because of this integration, when the project team has an issue, it can be easily “outsourced” to the enterprise crowd. Without this kind of integration, the project team must rely on its personal connections to identify help. Alternatively, the project team could search the enterprise social network to find an expert, but only if the expert has included the same search terms into his profile. Instead, by actually performing “crowdsourcing” to the enterprise, the team can access the full expertise of the organization.
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So, social platform vendors help to assemble the crowd. The crowd can expose their expertise. But the real value of an enterprise social platform comes from the power of social tools like crowdsourcing being applied to real business processes, such as project management. Social interaction helps to solve hard problems, not easy ones. Businesses should first focus on creating a “social space” for their teams to find each other and collaborate. Then, businesses should work to socialize their hard problems – to the entire organization.
Social business applications’ real promise will come when the organization culture reinforces that we are all “the team”, and when the organization provides the tools to actually make that the case.
Enterprise Social + Social Business Applications like ProjExec together will help deliver that goal.