Someday, describing software or services as social business will be as redundant as describing a dinner party as a social event. It will be assumed. At the moment, however, social business is one of the Big Four catch-phrases of where the enterprise is now, as evidenced by the abundance of social software and services on display at the E2 Conference, taking place this week in Boston.
E2, which used to be called the Enterprise 2.0 Conference and is produced by UBM Tech, is focused on how business is changing its work patterns, with social taking a starring role next to the other three stars of today’s IT -- cloud, mobility, and making sense of Big Data analysis.
Samepage, Axceler, Neudesic Product Updates
These Big Four have been well represented in announcements by vendors represented at E2. AnswerHub, for instance, is becoming more mobile-friendly with its Q-and-A brainstorming software, Axceler unveiled a cross-platform dashboard for managing Yammer and eventually other social networks, and Rumex announced a new system for organizational management of volunteers.
Samepage, which must have one of the greatest all-time brand names for collaboration, is introing a new business collaboration platform where all project info and team discussion resides on the same page. Neudesic is releasing version 4.0 of its social business Pulse software with Human Capital Management functionality.
E2 used to focus primarily on social business, but has now expanded its focus as enterprises have expanded theirs, also encompassing the consumerization of IT and innovation, among other topics.
At this point, enterprise IT is handling these half dozen or so groups of tools and services like the proverbial boa constrictor swallowing a mid-sized animal -- it’s in the system but things will take a while to digest.
The series of keynote panels and presentations in the morning reinforced that sense. On a panel about Social Enterprise, for instance, SAP VP/GM Sameer Patel noted that we’re “six years into this process” of becoming social business, and “everyone’s calming down a bit.”
On the same panel, Matt Tucker, Jive Software’s co-founder and CTO, said that it “feels this year like there’s a marked difference,” following the initial period of adoption of social enterprise tools. Now, he said, it’s about finding “better ways to collaborate,” and figuring out "how to do things better.”
IBM GM of Collaborative Solutions Alistair Rennie noted that the key to social business success is less about the tools than it is about a “purposeful” commitment by someone with “ownership of the program, to drive it to success,” and Tucker pointed to the need for identifying “specific use cases” that need improvement because, he said, “80 percent of social initiatives are not fulfilling expectations.”
Ubiquitous Digital Disruption
Even as this digestion is taking place, digital technology is driving innovation -- sometimes to the level of major disruption in an industry. In the morning’s most thought-provoking presentation, Forrester’s James McQuivey talked about the process of still-continuing digital disruption. It’s much faster than earlier disruptions in history, he said, with entire industries, or parts of them, being remade in a few years.
He also extended the domain of digital disruption far beyond the products that can be digitally distributed, like books or music, to virtually anything which can be wrapped in a “digital experience.” An airplane flight, it turns out, is an experience from booking to destination, with booking, on-boarding, in-flight meal order taking, in-flight entertainment, and travel plans on the other end all able to be digitized -- and therefore all able to disrupt the existing industry.
Similarly, say, cars. With digital management, don’t some people just need to “subscribe” to cars on occasion, McQuivey asked? “If only 10 percent of current car owners don’t need to own a car,” he said, “it would wipe out Detroit’s business model.”
That promise -- or threat -- of disruption can lead to innovation, he said, in which “terrible ideas are an important part” of finding great ideas. This is because digital means two things, he said: terrible ideas can very quickly be modified, tested or replaced, and lots of people can work on fixing or replacing them.
Innovation During Disruption: The Boston Marathon
The most dramatic citation of innovation during disruption was Boston CIO Billy Oates. After describing what sounds like a dream come true -- the City of Boston actively using social media, including mobile apps, to quickly find and fix citizen problems like potholes - he briefly told about the City’s experiences when it was literally under fire, during the Boston Marathon bombings.
What he described, essentially, was a smaller version of what 911 might have been like if social tools had been available then. “The response of the Internet that Monday was incredible,” Oates said, pointing to the usefulness and traffic of Twitter feeds from police and the city -- the Boston Police’s Twitter account had 48 million impressions in a week -– and the ability to quickly keep people posted when the city was on lockdown.
Other technological innovations also showed the distance from September, 2001: a call center build to handle the tremendous spikes in traffic, for instance, or the ability of first responders to communicate with each other.
In that terrible week, Oates’ metric for what constitutes a successful city underpinned the technological response. “Successful cities of the future,” he said, “will be the most engaged” with their citizens.
That “engagement” metric was echoed again and again by the other speakers in the morning E2 keynotes, for businesses looking to connect with their customers via the new tools as well as cities connecting with their citizens. As Rudy Karsan, head of IBM’s Kenexa, said, “the enterprise is looking for productivity, while the individual is looking for engagement and dignity.”
The disruption, one might argue, is about finding the right equilibrium for both parties.