Monthly Archives: June 2012

IBM Connections: The Market Leading Enterprise Social Platform

The news is out. IDC has announced that IBM Connections is yet again the #1 Social Media Platform, and its advantage is growing. We here at Trilog Group congratulate our partners at IBM for this excellent achievement, and we are proud to be a leading social business application provider for the IBM Connections platform.

Read the IDC report here.

Read Luis Benitez’ blog about this here.

ProjExec is the social project management solution for the IBM Connections platform. It provides full, rigorous project management capabilities, while also providing the social collaboration features that today’s teams require. Check it out below.

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The Problem of Engagement in Social Business

Constellation Research blogged earlier this month about the issues that folks are seeing with social media adoption. Of course, as constellation research says, “People” are at the heart of any technology adoption process. Let’s summarize the info that Constellation provides.

First, Constellation argues that there are five leading barriers to adoption, 1) Poorly defined incentives, 2) Increase in actual effort, 3) Lack of choice in user experience, 4) Indifference to change, and 5) Failure to communicate the urgency.  There is really nothing new here, as these barriers are not unique to social business applications, but are applicable to any software adoption cycle.

Next, Constellation argues that there are five ways to counter these barriers, 1) Adopt gamification strategies, 2) Apply design thinking to transform, 3) Deliver options based on use case, 4) Align to self –interest, and 5) Define the business model shift. There is a little more meat here, so let’s try to pull it off the bone.

First, #1 – adopting gamification strategies. This is certainly all the rage these days. However, is a gamification strategy always a good way to incentivize participation? Definitely not. If a gamification-based incentive strategy is not linked to the need to perform actual work, participation will be perceived by employees as an ‘increase in actual effort’ – one of the barriers that was mentioned above. So, gamification might have a place, but it will not stand alone.

Next, #2 – Applying design thinking to transform. This one is so full of jargon it’s hard to draw out what is meant. However, if the real argument is to recognize that the desired outcome cannot be identified without trial, error, and adjustment (the hallmark of a scenario when design thinking is necessary), then this is clearly true. But it’s also not unique to a social business application implementation.

#3 – Deliver options based on use case. This is theoretically an excellent idea. However, in practice, most software development efforts barely have the budget to create a single, well-performing, interface, let alone multiple well performing ones. However, it is a truism in the mobile age that applications can no longer be PC-centric in their delivery mode.

#4 – Align to self-interest. Now we’re getting somewhere. The best way to maximize adoption of anything, is to appeal to the “what’s in it for me” aspect of the person involved. Really, the five barriers that are mentioned above really all come out of the person’s inability to see what’s in it for them. We’ll come back to this.

Finally, #5 – define the business model shift. This is really just another way to say #4.

So, in reality, barriers to adoption ALL arise from the lack of communicating “what’s in it for me” to the users. And this is the key disconnect between adoption of social media outside the enterprise, and the adoption of social media inside the enterprise. When a person *chooses* to adopt a social media technology outside the context of work, it is just that, a choice, and it is voluntary. The person herself defines what is in it for them, and then chooses to adopt or not. She cannot be compelled, she cannot be forced. She is incentivized to participate by the value that participation brings to her.

In the business social context, the market dynamic is distorted by the fact that participation in enterprise apps can be made mandatory – without the value of the participation being real to the user. This is the source of the barriers identified above, and the force that is attempted to be mitigated by the actions that Constellation recommends. However, the five actions that constellation recommends will simply not work, if actual value is not provided for participation. For instance, gamification strategies do not provide real value for the person involved unless, as Constellation argues, you create tangible and intangible benefits for participating. But is the goal of a social business implementation simple participation? Or is the goal participation with the intention of getting business done more effectively and efficiently? Should I implement software for which I must create new incentives for participation, or should I implement software that is inherently congruent with existing incentives? Should I incentivize people for playing the “game”, or for getting things “done”?

The reality is that social business platform and application adoption strategies like those argued for by Constellation put the cart before the horse. If a technology helps people complete their actual jobs better, and is easy to understand and use, almost every person will see the value to participation and will choose to participate, rather than having to be forced to participate, or cajoled into participation with weak incentives like gift cards, etc.

Social business platforms and applications will no longer have an adoption problem if 1) they integrate real business processes into the platform, so that the platform is the way the process is done, and 2) the new “social” way to do the process is better than the old way of doing things.

How do companies work toward making this the case? First, they create a social platform, and integrate apps into it, so that islands of “social” software do not create impediments to easy enterprise collaboration. Second, they integrate social business applications into the platform to multiply the value of the platform. Finally, they apply social when necessary, and don’t just hit everything with the “social” hammer. Not all processes are best managed using social business applications.

When an organization provides a social business platform and ecosystem that provides value to their employees, participation will not be something that has to be enforced, but will be something that is natural and organic. The kinds of prescriptions in the blog listed above are indicative of organizations that still must “convince” their users that there is value for them in participation – which probably means that there is not.

The Collapsing Universe of Social Business

Dion Hinchcliffe over at the Enterprise 2.0 blog asks “Will Social Software Startups ‘Collapse into the orbit’ of the big vendors?“. He shows just a small subset of the mergers and acquisitions in the space in the past few years, and the picture painted is one of significant consolidation in the social media playing field.

This is a predictable shift, based upon our view of social business software, and the symbiotic relationships between social business platforms and social business applications. Because siloed social business applications make little sense (see here), it is a natural progression for social business application vendors to become closely bound to particular vendors’ platforms. Once the integration between the systems becomes close enough, and enough customers exist for the social business application, it is rather likely that many of the social business applications will be consolidated into platform vendors like IBM, Jive, Salesforce.com, and, Microsoft. Because the number of integrated business processes multiplies the value of the platform itself, it is a natural progression to see these platform vendors expanding the natural value of the platforms through acquisition.

When Are Social Business Applications Necessary?

Social business seems like it’s everywhere. There are the platforms, like IBM Connections, Jive SBS, and others, and there are the apps, like ProjExec, SugarCRM, etc. It is clear that in order to execute a social business, you need the enabling platform. You cannot start a social business with just a social business application and expect to get the entire organization involved. People need to have a reason to participate in the social platform, and there is simply no single business process that involves everyone in the organization on a day to day basis. As we’ve argued before, for most users, there is little reason to use a social business platform unless real business processes are integrated into it. But once you do integrate those processes, the value of the social platform is multiplied.

But which business processes should be integrated first? Which ones will multiply the value the most? And which ones should be put off until last? We jokingly promote (Trilog Group CEO Alex) Homsi’s Extension of Metcalfe’s Law: “The value of the social business network grows exponentially with the number of people included in the network, and is multiplied by the number of processes that those people perform in the network.” This “law” gives some guidance as to how to build a social business.

Of course, a social business should include as many people in the corporate social network as is feasible. But a social business also needs to incorporate business processes that most benefit from social enablement. The remainder of this post deals with identifying the best candidate processes for social enablement.

Social business applications are most impactful when 1) the process involves novel or unpredictable situations, and 2) when the knowledge and understanding about how to respond to these situations is distributed across multiple people.

The theory of dynamic capabilities proposes that novel or unpredictable situations require businesses to build the skill of adaptation. Adaptation means that a business can 1) receive cues from the environment, 2) understand which cues from the environment are important, 3) understand if the business is in alignment with those cues, and 4) respond to those cues as necessary. This applies equally well to businesses as a whole, or teams working on a particular process.

When situations are routine, there is little information that the environment provides that is relevant to the team’s work. However, when the situation is novel and unexpected, the team must be able to process information more quickly an efficiently. This is where social business applications shine. Social business applications allow for real-time communication and processing of information from the environment.

When a team is collocated in the same room, this communication happens easily. However, when a team is separated by time and distance, a business process-centric activity stream is the next best thing. The activity stream provides the capability to quickly disseminate information about what is going on (environmental cues). More importantly, the distribution of those cues allows many eyes to quickly process the cues, and identify the potentially important ones. So, rather than waiting for a weekly (or even less frequent) status report, the activity stream provides the environmental cues to the team and stakeholders as soon as they are identified. Because novel situations require the identification, communication, and processing, those processes that are uncertain are those that are most likely to benefit from being integrated into the social business platform.

Beyond the delivery of environmental cues to the team, social business applications make use of the social business platform’s capability to publish cues beyond the team. Novel situations generate cues that often require multiple members of the team to generate a response. Often however, that response cannot be identified with only the members of the team. Instead, teams must find new expertise outside of the team boundary. At this, social business platforms excel. The warehouse of information about the expertise of the organization, and the capability to “crowdsource” issues that is contained within social business platforms is amplified by the social business application making use of it to solve real business execution problems.

So, in summary, the business process that is most likely to benefit from being integrated into the social business platform of the organization is the business process that is 1) uncertain, and 2) requires the skills of multiple people to manage the uncertainty.

There are obvious processes for which this pertains, but probably none as much as project management. Projects, by definition, are novel undertakings. Projects, are specifically not business as usual, but are uncertain processes that are meant to generate yet-unrealized business value. For this reason, project management is the obvious choice as an entry point for social business.

ProjExec is the only social project management application that integrates with every IBM Social Collaboration Platform. If your organization deals with uncertainty in its projects, leverage the power of the collaborative platform and implement social project management today.

(This post was written by John Tripp, Social Project Management Evangelist at Trilog Group. Trilog Group is the maker of ProjExec, the social project management solution for the IBM Collaboration Platform environments. ProjExec is available for IBM Connections, IBM SmartCloud, IBM Lotus Quickr, and IBM Websphere Portal.)