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.)


One response to “When Are Social Business Applications Necessary?

  1. Pingback: The Problem of Engagement in Social Business | The Project Wall

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