The problems with enterprise social network services (SNS) are pervasive, insidious and costly. (Please don’t call them social media.) Fortunately, the solutions are simple and free. Unfortunately, various industry actors, and their hype, hubris and hyperbole, create deliberate barriers to matching the problem with solutions and achieving prosperous outcomes. This needs rectification.
Remember, enterprise SNS are not new. The most common and pervasive enterprise SNS has been used for 30-years. It has your colleague’s name and address. It accommodates groups and topics. It spans organizational boundaries. It let’s you send messages, documents, diagrams, spreadsheets and pictures. It conducts commerce and completes transactions. In a recent poll of global CIOs this particular enterprise SNS was names as the Number One Mission Critical of the Enterprise by over 70% of respondents. What is the breakthrough enterprise SNS? Email.
Before email it was Selectrics and carbon paper. The telephone is a major enterprise SNS. Then it was scriveners, then monks and so for and so on back to papyrus. All these technologies have common purposes – the innate social dimension of all business.
Purpose of the Firm
Concerning enterprise SNS there is a basic lack of understanding about the purpose of the firm. The role of enterprise SNS is to achieve fundamental advancements in productivity, productivity growth (innovation) and enterprise decision making. Period.
Remember, the enterprise operates within a certain bounded rationality for decision making and related activities. There is a cost to gathering and processing information. Insofar as enterprise SNS lower costs, grows productivity and improves decisions, they have benefits. Unfortunately, most do not.
For example, take the so-called enterprise silos. Silos play a critical role – they are a unique social network pattern. They can be physical or virtual. Silos, or bounded knowledge domains, create specific benefits, advantages and knowledge for the firm that simply could not be created otherwise.
Principles of social network analysis (SNA) and graph theory are essential to determine the cost benefits and effectiveness of enterprise SNS. They elaborate the productivity, innovation and suitability of enterprise SNS. Deploying (or criticizing) enterprise SNS without comprehension of the actual social networks, the knowledge pathways and structures, is ridiculous. It is the root cause of SNS failures.
An essential purpose of enterprise social software is to broker structural holes, not tear down silos. Enterprise SNS enables essential organizational, social and knowledge foundations of the firm. This is the knowledge-based view (KBV) of the firm and it is rising fast.
Brokering via SNS achieves sharply lower transaction cost and greater effectiveness while maintaining, extending and creating essential organizational foundations and network patterns. This is a clear benefit of enterprise SNS: advancing the purpose of the firm.
Meanwhile, the enterprise is literally choking on a vast oversupply of collaborative offerings and social network services. The average enterprise has more collaborative capability that anyone could master in a hundred thousand years. Yet, suppliers still battle for the hyper-saturated SNS space as if they have something new or novel. It is a costly mistake and strategic blunder.
One respected research firm has a database of over 2000 suppliers of Enterprise SNS. They call them zombies. As soon as they die, new living dead offerings appear. Beware. Most of them and their victims die from breathing their own exhaust.
Besides commercial oversupply, there is a vast ocean of insanely great open source and otherwise free offerings for enterprise collaboration and robust social network services. All you need to do is switch them on!
It is nothing new. Oversupply and duplication of enterprise solution software has been a mainstay of IT vendors for decades. However, today, for enterprise SNS, it is a lot harder to create the fear, uncertainty and doubt, the so-called FUD-factor, that drives enterprise sales. It’s because most people are already using public and free SNS.
It is just lot more difficult to bamboozle enterprise buyers to get stuff they don’t need like enterprise SNS. Slamming competitors with dubious editorial is a tried and true method. Don’t buy it. Remember, the consequence of oversupply is people just won’t use it. It is a common problem. Beware.
Google is already a de facto enterprise supplier. Note that over five million business use Goggle Apps, including some of the largest in the world and, of course, Google itself. Do you really think when it comes time to deploy their social network services (SNS) plank that these firms will shop the enterprise collaboration marketplace? Why would they complicate their platform and pay through the nose for yet another costly vendor and SNS?
This is not some soapy valentine to Google. Rather G+ is emblematic of the future of enterprise SNS.
Key are the principles of the software product and service lifecycle. Today, G+ definitely exceeds the basic functional requirements of enterprise social software such as: search, tags, signals, links, authoring, conferencing, etc. It also offers critical social functions, transparency and serendipity. G+ provisions self-organization and emergence for enterprise work and workers. All this for an enterprise SNS offering that barely two years old. That is impressive.
Oh, and another thing, people use it.
Let’s remember, sports fans, most centrally deployed ‘IT’ collaboration applications and enterprise SNS are dead-on-arrival or fail to meet expectations. Sorry, but most all of them are a ‘bad fit’ because of the reasons already mentioned.
Email was perceived as a ‘bad fit’ by most organizations in the 1980s. Today, as mentioned, according to CIOs, our lowly email is the #1 mission critical enterprise app by far. Go figure.
Google Apps, including Gmail, G-Docs and G+ are seeing enormous pull-through in gigantic Lotus/SharePoint/Exchange shops. As the saying goes, the rumors of the death of Enterprise G+ are greatly exaggerated.
Take Away: people tend to stick with what the already know, like and use.
By no means is this an endorsement or recommendation of Enterprise G+. Suitability of any enterprise application requires further in-depth evaluation, cost-benefit and social network analysis prior to the selection of a new SNS (if any). Rarely is SNS alone a driver of enterprise productivity or performance. Thing is, if people do use it it is meaningless.
Secret of Enterprise SNS: Find out what people really use and love. (It ain’t SharePoint). That’s your enterprise SNS. End of story.
Moral of the Story
Finally, the most important thing, what’s missing, is not the application, it’s the complex interaction the collaboration. Most sensible people know this fact. Business is human behavior. It’s not a technology or SNS. What’s matters most is how technology is used; it matters little how it works. It matters even less who makes it.