Disruption can be seen as a force for good or evil. On the one hand the business world celebrates the disruptive effects new social business technologies are having on the status quo — in everything from marketing and customer service to recruitment and sales. On the other, when it comes to internal collaboration and communication, social business software (SBS) is seen as disruptive in that other sense of the word — a distraction from the job at hand.
Ironically, its success in this area is being frustrated by something far more counter-productive. While every worker complains endlessly about their email inbox, it is nevertheless the communication devil they know and is therefore difficult to unseat, despite its inefficiencies.
We’re Sticking with Email
A plethora of reports will tell you how inefficient email is — according to McKinsey’s we spend up to 28 percent of our working time pushing email around. As a tool it seems perfect for cluttering up your day with the wrong information and yet quite poor at distributing the right information to the right people at the right time.
The failure of email to achieve meaningful productivity is a common theme. In its day, asynchronous email communication revolutionized collaboration in a world dominated by the telephone — but that was two decades ago. The same McKinsey report tells us that social business tools inject at least 20 to 25 percent additional productivity — if allowed to fulfill their potential.
Why Aren’t Social Networks Gaining Adoption?
In a very useful analysis of the reasons why social technologies aren’t seeing rapid adoption within enterprises, digital workplace consultant Jane McConnell looks at how social technologies have been deployed in the wrong place. Once social technologies begin to be used for operational tasks — in other words “real work” — then they will be far better appreciated from a “business value” point of view.
Businesses currently deploy them as an overlay atop legacy intranets — which are designed for storage and publishing of information and much less for internal collaboration and communication. Intranets are often structured according to organization as opposed to project, and so as intranet-overlays, social business technologies are relegated to an ancillary role — focussed on “meta-work” (i.e. work about work). As a result they can be seen as disruptive to core tasks rather than helpful.
One of the reasons for the poor deployment of social business tools is that the biggest software vendors focus their design on the technology and competitive pressures, rather than people. Returning to the theme of disruption, social business design consultant James Dellow questions whether it really is disruption if it doesn’t disrupt what we do. We are not allowing social technologies to disrupt the way we work, all we are doing is introducing another layer of distraction.
“Designing for digital disruption means placing people at the center of the conversation,” wrote James, as he argued that we need to see ourselves — as workers — as part of a network and not cogs in a machine. Email serves our role well as cogs in a machine, but it serves us poorly in our role as part of a network: it sequesters information and isolates our knowledge in an antiquated stand-alone application.
Just Stick a Social Layer Onto the Intranet, Right?
Turning intranets social is the most common approach for many software vendors as they attempt to adapt to a new social dynamic. But as Salesforce founder Marc Benioff has said, “Microsoft SharePoint? It’s like my grandmother’s attic. What I put in there I can never find.”
Intranets were designed as repositories of information, or knowledge management tools. They serve as company storage drives for sharing confidential information. Like the internet, they have sprawled and become vast behemoths of information, badly structured and poorly used. By applying a social layer to help people share that information doesn’t necessarily mean that employees are now communicating and collaborating. This places technology at the center of the design process, not people. It disrupts nothing and only distracts, while we continue to use email as our central collaboration tool.
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