A Look Back Making Sense of Social Business Trends

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2014 wasn't the year Facebook staked an unshakeable claim for the hearts and minds of brands and consumers. By the time Jan. 1, 2014 dawned, that had already happened.

2014 also wasn't the year that companies became savvy in their use of social media to promote products. Corporates had been there, done that.

Nor was 2014 the year when mobile became a tour de force or the Internet of Things become more reality than theory or collaboration technologies began to offer deep value-add to firms. All of those trends were already underway and headed for true north.

Rather, 2014 was the year this whole wondrous mix of technologies, developments and strategies came together in a coherent approach under the vague umbrella of social business. And come together they did.

Creating Value

By the mid point of the year, in fact, it was clear that companies across industries were creating value with social business. So said the third annual Social Business Global Executive Study and Research Project that was conducted jointly by the MIT Sloan Management Review and two subsidiaries of Deloitte LLP.

Among the report's findings:

  • Nearly three out of four survey respondents described social business as important and nearly 90 percent saw its importance on a three-year horizon.
  • More than 90 percent of maturing companies reported actively measuring social business efforts using a battery of tools, such as operational and financial metrics, to connect social initiatives to business outcomes.
  • Social business had officially become a big B2B phenomenon with about 60 percent of B2B firms telling researchers that social positively impacts business outcomes.

Such figures are all well and good, but how exactly did we reach these milestones? Some thoughts:

The IoT Goes Collaborative

One theme that manifested itself throughout the year was the Internet of Things (IoT) and how companies were making use of it not only for more streamlined operations but better collaboration as well. As Frank Palermo wrote at the beginning of the year "with more and smaller sensors becoming available, more and more devices are being connected to the Internet…These "context-aware" environments are giving businesses better insight into their customers by providing useful historical information — such as documents and past interactions — that can be relevant to teams working together."

Collaboration Means Business

Collaborative communication platforms also morphed into serious value-add tools integral to a company's mission. Consider the release of IBM Mail Next, a mail, chat, meetings, office productivity and content bundle offered under IBM’s Connections brand. It uses "analytics to deliver task-level focus and inbox management capabilities that let employees track the content and messages needed to do their job, as IBM explained to CMSWire.com at the time of its release.

Perhaps more to the point, this new web mail experience was tightly integrated with key social business capabilities, according to Berry van der Schans, information and communication technology manager for UK-based Shanks Group Plc. "This will help our people be more efficient in prioritizing and managing daily work, including tracking requests and follow-ups in a powerful yet simple experience."

But such tools only carry a company so far. Increasingly we saw companies really start to examine their internal processes – their internal user experience – in order to create the most efficient and user-friendly environment.

The key for these companies, as Natalie Dodson wrote, was to ask themselves the hard questions: "Would you feel good about recommending your current internal processes to a customer? If not, what are your concerns? Is your current software being utilized to its full potential? If not, why not? Do your systems mesh well together? Are users well supported?"

The Enterprise Embraces Mobile

Mobile, for the most part, has been dominated by consumers. Sure, businesses used mobile devices in their own operations and for the past few years have been optimizing online sites for mobile business. But a true "mobile first" approach to internal operations? At the start of the year it just an image or goal to which to strive.

Companies have made huge leaps in the last twelve months and while "mobile first" companies are still a rarity it is much easier to envision the day when they are mainstream.

New ways of thinking about security was an important driver as Gartner noted in its Enterprise Mobility Management Magic Quadrant along with mobile device management products that focused on application and content management functionality.

"Organizations have started to realize that not every piece of content needs to have the utmost security controls applied," wrote Daniel Wilkens. "Solutions are instead forgoing the mandate of content security and focusing on the concept of content control. Instead of focusing on 100 percent of the content, these solutions rely on the 80/20 rule to safeguard key corporate content through strict governance and security policies while allowing end users to interact without restriction with non-business critical content."

A Word About Security

Unfortunately as 2014 comes to a close corporate security – or rather, the gaps therein – are headline news. Mobile has not been identified as a key vector, that we know of at least, but until the security dragon is tamed or at least slain, all advances in social business remain vulnerable.

On the bright side, many of the advances that occurred this year were hard to fathom at its start. Perhaps 12 months from as we look back at 2015 we will have better news about security.

Title image by Oleg Brovko  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.