For the past few years, companies have been exploring initiatives internally and externally that dance around the notion of “social” methods for engaging all of the people in an enterprise ecosystem -- to bring about better results for these companies. These social methods have been described with terminology such as “enterprise 2.0”, “social computing”, “web 2.0”, “social media”, and so on. The evolution of these social methods has led now to another term: the Social Business.

I find the term “Social Business” a necessary one: to remind companies that people are very important to their success: customers, employees, partners, suppliers, and so on. I see the term “Social Business” encompassing what companies might become to engage people -- inside and out -- to achieve business goals, and frankly, to stay in business. Again looking at terms in common usage: Enterprise 2.0 has been concerned with the “inside” (I call it social collaboration) and social media / web 2.0 have been concerned with the “outside” (external-facing customer engagement). A blurring between Social Inside and Social Outside has begun, partly driven by the adoption of customer-facing social media tools by internal collaboration programs.

A lot of the conversation for the ins and outs of social these days has focused on technology and practices -- and even on “naming conventions” -- but People as the focus is what really makes a difference for a business to achieve success. People participating in the “Social Business” are cross-generational: there are lots of people of all ages who are savvy about collaboration, communication, social media, respecting colleagues and customers -- none of these activities are the sole turf of any generation. And I’ll repeat: the focus on the value of People and trust in what they can accomplish (not just on tech and practices or processes) is at the heart of healthy companies.

Why does a renewed -- and authentic -- interest in People matter to a business? From the customer perspective, much has been written about customers now driving relationships with businesses where businesses listen to what customers want, like and don’t like. From the perspective of employees and partners, a great deal of what companies need comes from people: innovation, creativity, ideas for new directions, passion, enthusiasm, customer relationships, knowledge, experience, judicious consideration and so on.

The Human factor always has to be distinctly considered in anything called “social” -- otherwise it’s just a buzzword shell game. First there must be authentic respect for all the people in the enterprise ecosystem; then enterprises can work on building out social practices that consider the human element -- afterwards, apply technology and processes where they make sense.

Value of Social Business - Inside

In enterprise activities such as collaboration, knowledge management, business intelligence, business process management, adaptive case management, there is a significant role to be played by social capabilities to improve how these activities perform and provide relevance and results. Social business on the inside is also rightfully tied to enterprise collaboration and intranets that are taking on more social media type capabilities. Many software solutions are including social capabilities as methods to improve solution usage and value, as well as do a better job of incorporating the importance of the human element.

For example, Business Process Management (BPM) solutions encompass practices and tools that are evolving and including more people-oriented methods in terms of social collaboration capabilities. Forrester’s Clay Richardson comments:

Enterprise social -- and social BPM by extension -- is seeing healthy adoption in industries and organizations that have open cultures and have a need to innovate and share ideas quickly. Although it might seem counterintuitive, we’re seeing the greatest adoption of social BPM patterns in the healthcare and public sector -- specifically in defense.

Sandy Kemsley, independent analyst and systems architect for enterprise infrastructure, also understands well the people side of business:

Tom Davenport recently wrote about the need to add structure to social in order to bring enterprise value: Transaction systems like ERP and CRM, tools for workflow and document management, and project management systems all made it more clear to people what they need to do next in their jobs. That capability has undoubtedly led to productivity gains.

But work effectiveness also demands that people share their knowledge and expertise with each other. That’s where social media comes in. It makes it easy to reach out to others for help in making a decision or taking an action. And the transfer of knowledge through social media doesn’t require a lot of difficult knowledge management work in advance.

Business Intelligence is another software solution space that is looking at building in collaborative layers throughout the BI lifecycle. The possibilities for new applications of analytics increase with collaboration. Inviting in many-to-many interactions also opens up processes to new ideas from participants. Gartner found that social venues and collaboration help to track and capture outcomes of the decisions made based on BI / analytics:

Gartner's user surveys show that improved decision making is the key driver of BI purchases. However, most BI deployments emphasize information delivery and analysis to support fact-based decision making, but fail to link BI content with the decision itself, the decision outcome, or with the related collaboration and other decision inputs. This makes it impossible to capture decision-making best practices. Solutions are emerging that tie BI with social software and collaborative tools for higher-quality, more transparent decisions that will increase the value derived from BI applications.

Promoting social on the inside draws on the rich value that lies in the many people who populate the enterprise.

Continue reading...part 2 of this article discusses the “Social Business -- Outside” and how enterprises must have both social inside and out to derive the most from the human ecosystem that is so essential to successful companies.