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Social Enterprise: What, Why, How?

What is Enterprise 2.0?

Wikipedia has a technically correct but not very helpful definition: “Enterprise 2.0 comprises social software as used in ‘enterprise’ (business/commercial) contexts. In contrast to traditional enterprise software, which imposes structure prior to use, enterprise social software tends to encourage use prior to providing structure”. But does this really explain the concept, especially to a non-technical person? My colleague Norman Marks describes E2.0 as “the fusion of traditional enterprise technology and Web 2.0 (social media and other applications), to enhance the user experience and add valuable business process functionality”.

In 2006, McAfee  stated that “Enterprise 2.0 must have the following functionality to work well:
• Search: allowing users to search for other users or content
• Links: grouping similar users or content together
• Authoring: including blogs and wikis
• Tags: allowing users to tag content
• Extensions: recommendations of users; or content based on profile
• Signals: allowing people to subscribe to users or content with RSS feeds”

But, this prescriptive list does not allow us to accommodate the continuing development of social media technology. Our vision should not be blurred and unable to see how the rapid arrival of new social media tools continues to enhance E2.0’s potential.

Why is it important?

A significant amount of time in an enterprise is spent trying to establish context for an object/activity, such as the decision to select a specific vendor, set the sales price at a certain level, establish a sales performance goal, or prioritize project priorities. Later, we might return to a business activity and try to remember why that vendor was selected, what were the alternatives, how the decision was made, and who was involved. But that information is probably not readily located, and the records may only capture part of the necessary detail. For example, there may be a memo in the files that records the decision, but not the discussion of the pros and cons that formed part of the decision-making process. The time to search your emails, hard copy files, and the files and memories of others who might have been involved can be extensive, let alone frustrating when only limited information is located.

The Bottom line is we live and work in a socially-interconnected world, where our teams might be spread over continents. Establishing context only gets more difficult and not easier. Today, we need to search not only our files and that of our neighbors, but those of our colleagues in India and China.
The effective use of Enterprise 2.0, with the appropriate integration of social media tools into enterprise applications and processes, can be the magic bean to the heights of efficiency and effectiveness

How do you implement Enterprise 2.0?

There are a few schools of thoughts on the implementation strategy for Enterprise 2.0. Two prominent schools are:
• People-driven Enterprise 2.0 is based on the principle of understanding how people work and behave, and developing and using tools to enhance those activities,  while
• Technology-driven Enterprise 2.0 focuses first on tools and technologies and then determines how they can enhance the workforce.
Builders of an E2.0 environment can select which approach works better for their organization, and which is easier and faster to implement. Some may have identified inefficient processes and the solution might be the addition and integration into the business processes of social media technology. Others might have acquired collaboration tools, perhaps to enhance IT project activities, which can then be extended to improve procurement processes and other processes across the organization.

Processes that are social in nature are definite candidates. For instance, adding social platforms to marketing functions can drive revenue.  ‘A social enterprise’ is a successful enterprise with enterprise software that emanates from the need for seamless information flow. Business processes have been social (team centric – how many times have we picked up a phone to call a friend who knows the answer)for a long time. Thus the marriage of social media and enterprise is obvious.

For instance, look at the following two examples:
Example 1
A planner working for a retail chain needs to discuss his store forecast with his suppliers/manufacturers. This is a highly collaborative process with planners from both organizations sharing data in Excel, phone calls, email, etc. Often, considerable time is spent removing communication road-blocks. A social media platform plays well in this environment as information is more freely available and less effort is needed to get people in sync.
Example 2
A risk manager needs to perform a survey to assess a risk. The risk assessment process could be enhanced by sharing documents, enabling discussions, and collecting feedback on questions (not just quantitative but also qualitative) in a social media workspace.  The workspace is where discussions can lead to consensus, without leaving a broken trail of emails, Excel documents, and survey forms in multiple locations – they are all gathered in a single place, where they are available for historical reference.


By enabling social processes with the correct platform, inefficiencies can be minimized. A word of caution, we should not lose the key aspects that make Web2.0 so endearing.  “The beauty of the social media lies in free speech” and compliance with organizational policies has to be looked out for. Also, a keen eye on “How the future worker consumes the processes” is needed. As software consumption is evolving, so is the individual who operates software. Renovated / fresh interfaces might be needed.
Nevertheless, the golden rule has to be applied – Adding ‘social’ to enterprise definitely has to generate value. Social Enterprise should have enhanced/renovated business processes on a social platform.

Written by Asif Khan, in collaboration with Norman Marks

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