I’m perhaps a bit late to the prediction party but I’ll make a decidedly self-interested one right now. In 2011, Social Business will cross the threshold from shiny object to gotta have.
For the uninitiated, Social Business software spans a wide class of technologies ranging from social networks to collaboration software / wikis to brand monitoring and social listening technologies.
Jeremiah Owyang of the Altimeter Group counts 16 classes of Social Business Software so clearly this an ecosystem that is no longer in its infancy. John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins launched a fund focused exclusively on social media and Social Business and remarked that if your business “…does not have a social strategy, you better go get one.”
Why do I think Social Business will flip the switch and go mainstream in 2011? Early adopters of Social Business are reporting real ROI on their investments. That’s no surprise considering social media and social technologies have saturated the consumer space. These technologies have completely and permanently altered the way people think about accomplishing tasks, sharing information, and collaboration. Equally important, a rapid enterprise transition is underway from siloed discrete software solutions to application marketplaces built on flexible, SaaS and cloud-based frameworks. Taken collectively, these three trends are driving big companies large and small to more tightly weave social into their business processes and tap social capabilities to improve productivity and eliminate bottlenecks.
Survey Says Social Business Works
This past December we conducte the largest survey to date of enterprises using Social Business software. The survey covered 500 respondents ranging from individual contributors to CEOs at more than 300 companies, 80% of which had greater than 1,000 employees. These companies spanned 35 different industries, ranging from IT to healthcare to financial services. Respondents reported that Social Business software resulted in a 39% increase in employee connectedness, a 32% increase in ideas generated and captured and a 30% improvement in employee satisfaction. For customer-facing adoption of Social Business, our respondents reported 42% more communication with customers, a 31% increase in customer retention and 34% higher brand awareness. Other key benefits reported included significant reductions in emails sent and in business travel. The results make clear that Social Business is creating real and tangible benefits. And the kicker? 83% of respondents said Social Business would be deployed to the majority of their employees.
We feel our findings indicate that a big shift is already underway. Gartner apparently agrees. The research firm listed Social Communications and Collaboration on the tech Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2011 list. Gartner further predicts that by 2016, social technologies will be integrated with most business applications. Until recently, Social Business was the purview of early adopter companies that understood how social could break down information walls, enhance efficiencies and ultimately improve outcomes. Alternatively, some visionary unit or division leaders inside of less visionary companies brought Social Business into an organisation under the cover of darkness with tacit approval from IT because the alternative was adoption with no IT oversight whatsoever.
Big Enterprise IT: From Traffic Cop to Tech Guru
These guerrilla adopters were forced to take these extreme measures for the same reason that PC users had to buy their own desktops. Enterprise IT has psychologically never really left the mainframe era. Yes, it moved to servers and handed out desktop and laptop PCs and even Blackberry’s (primarily for email). And yes, data became moderately more accessible. But these improvements were incremental and largely window-dressing in the context of modern online social interactions. Enterprise IT has retained a command and control mindset and kept thinking like a traffic cop tasked with keeping order, limiting access and strictly defining processes.
Now Enterprise IT is undergoing a radical transformation, morphing from the traditional role of traffic cop to the newer role of tech guru. A traffic cop lays down the law with big application decisions and rigid dictates. A tech guru gives users a nice list of potential options and makes sure they get the resources they need to do their jobs. Frankly, the IT department did not have much of a choice. According to studies by Forrester Research, one-third of all knowledge workers today use unsanctioned technology to perform their jobs. So clearly knowledge workers were not getting everything they needed from their IT departments – including the most obvious addition, social software and services that mirrored their jobs outside the office.
In fact, social technologies have become so vital to the way people interact with information and with each other in the consumer realm that expectations have radically shifted. If your grandma can share an image and comment with friends and relatives, or only relatives, or only her bridge group, why can’t you at Huge Corporation X use Box.net to share spreadsheets with a mixed group of independent contractors, potential customers and your own full-time employees? Or if a teenager uses social media clients to pull in streams from relevant friends in Facebook and Twitter as well as news feeds for their favourite musicians and song choices for their favourite musical tastemakers on Last.fm, then why can’t Huge Corporate Y create a similar stream structure that could capture and display relevant information around sales contacts, ERP data or other information presently siloed deep in the technology stack?
Faced with these types of requests, the traffic cop would have taken the matter under advisement for an extended period and then called in a programmer to build a custom connector and a new intermediary layer at great expense. The obvious side effect would have been a huge code maintenance nightmare. The tech guru listens, checks out Box.net or Hootsuite or Evernote to make sure it has enterprise security and a solid user interface and then quickly adds these items to the growing list of acceptable technologies. Oh, and by the way – the tech guru knows that admin time spent on your Box.net/Hootsuite/Evernote instance will be minimal. And that robust APIs built into these and most other social technologies ensure that, if need be, SAP, Oracle, or myriad other high-powered but highly siloed enterprise apps can surface information through social channels.
The Application Marketplace Puts Social Business on Steroids
What makes IT comfortable with Social Business software is the stamp of approval that comes from placing these new social technologies inside of a defined structure. This structure affords greater control and security and, if necessary in a pinch, oversight and auditing. This is where applications marketplaces have made a huge difference.
Take the case of the Apple iPhone App Store, arguably the most successful application marketplace to date. The App Store marries supremely easy downloads, easy payments, security guarantees, and quality control in a single interface that anyone can easily navigate. With a few clicks, even people with no technical acumen can add amazing capabilities to their Apple devices via the App Store framework. These capabilities range from extensive photo touchup (Instagram) to sophisticated video games (Falcon Gunner) to streaming video (Netflix) to myriad enterprise applications. Since the iPhone launched four years ago users have downloaded 10 billion applications.
Social Business now makes it possible to bring that innovation to the enterprise. There is an opportunity to build application marketplaces for enterprise customers under the premise of easy installation, easy payment, security guarantees and quality control. In other words, application marketplaces neatly address all the major pain points in buying new software. What is now becoming clear is how application marketplaces make it supremely easy to mix and match SaaS solutions for every business function with Social Business transparency and sharing capabilities. All marketplace products, by and large, offer easy-to-use APIs so building social functionality on top of marketplace offerings is a snap – if its not native already, which tends to be the case.
At the same time, applications marketplaces tap into the trend of personalisation of enterprise software. This buzzword is long in the tooth, for sure, but, like Social Business software, it’s finally arrived. In the consumer world users quickly assemble inside Facebook a slate of applications they like to use and configure their environment to fit their needs. In Enterprise IT, this has not been possible until the advent of the application marketplace. personalisation tends to drive higher social use because it taps into the same wellspring of user-defined standards for transparency, sharing, and collaboration. For IT managers, application marketplaces provide a secure platform to enable user-installed and managed applications.
My advice to Enterprise IT for 2011. Be a tech guru and not a traffic cop. Otherwise you’ll be missing out on a decadal shift in the way business does business.