About the „open outcomes“ approach in social business software

This post was written for my client gnowsis and appeared initially on their blog:

Last week, at the INiTs Investors Day, one of the participants approached me. He told me, that he had liked the Refinder presentation, however, he had missed a slide featuring the particular use-case, that Refinder addresses.  In the flurry of the networking chit-chat we were not able to discuss the question in depth, therefore I pick up the question here and hand in my point-of-view.

As highlighted in our presentation and our recent whitepaper, we believe, that Refinder is a context service merged into enterprise social networking functionality, aiming at a comprehensive experience of information and information access for the sake of improved business communication and collaboration, specifically for information-intense industry verticals.
A broad range of corporate use-cases fit under the umbrella of this definition. But let´s stick with this abstract view for a moment:
The specific peculiarity of enterprise 2.0 collaborative environments is their open and use-indifferent character. This has been recognized, expressed and discussed previously by researchers and enterprise 2.0 experts:
  • In the essence, they describe the notion of „open outcomes“ („nutzungsoffen“ in german language), meaning, that the concrete benefits of collaborative tools in a concrete enterprise by trend appear over time as results of joint adoption and emerging usage patterns.
  • Such inherent unpredictability is of course a strong opponent to the traditional understanding of business software, which is marketed and procured as a bundle of functionality, which is highly prescriptive and standardizing work processes rather than opening up spaces, that not only allow, but even more afford from users „to come up with their own interpretations and usage practices on these platforms“.
  • In this regard, social business software resembles much more to be infrastructure and enabler and less to be a specific tool.
  • Of course this does not mean to introduce collaborative software in the enterprise without outspoken business objectives and considerations of its applicability for particular organizational structures and business processes.
  • Rather, it underlines the need for well crafted introduction programs, ideally backed by management and accompanied by experienced advisors, helping the company through probable transformational journeys.
Interestingly, googling the term „nutzungsoffen“ bubbles up a couple of sites dealing with architecture, where „nutzungsoffen“ is typically meant as a positive property of an architected private or public space. The similarity with internal and external networked enterprises is striking to me, however, the advantageousness and desirability of „open outcome“ spaces in business collaboration either chimes well or potentially clashes with core values and believes of enterprises and the resulting preconceptions and management styles, how work has to happen. This is a quite challenging condition for the marketing of enterprise social business applications.
Back to the use-case question
Refinder is built to support a broad range of use-cases in enterprise collaboration throug its own set of features and via integration into existing business applications. Those use-cases, that stick out already from customer conversations and beta-user feedback are located in areas like customer communication & support,  presales and sales activities,marketing and research – as evidenced through Refinder´s integration with the Elsevier Sciverse platform. A first evaluation of who is downloading the Refinder Whitepaper, confirms interest predominantly from consulting, pharmaceutical, medical and financial businesses.
We will add a slide to our pitchdeck, describing use-cases in a more tangible manner, but without concealment of the „open outcomes“ characteristics, which is so typical  – and equally so magical – for this type of software. I´m planning to give this topic a broader coverage in upcoming posts. Stay tuned.

Email to go? Not really.

This post was written for my client gnowsis and appeared initially on their blog:

No question about it: email is on trial. 40 years after the first email was sent, the role of email as a main bearer of business communications is disputed, resulting in striking headlines by companies announcing zero-email policies, or being scrutinized in the highly regarded self-experiments of IBM researcher  Luis Suarez, who tries to live his professional life sans email. A good moment to reflect email in the light of emerging social business platforms.

Personally, I acknowledge email as a tool for collaboration (after all, that is what I used it for over the last two decades), and I do not share an approach of complete email substitution by social business platforms in particular or social media in general. Business communication without email is a reasonable use-case for Enterprise 2.0 applications, but it is not their main use case.  Compared to email, social platforms offer a couple of valid, but differentiated capabilities and benefits. Here are a couple of reasons, how social business tools deal with communication in a different way than email systems do:
  • Public nature of communication:
    Sharing and commenting of information in a social business platform almost always happens in a public (at least a semi-public) space, including the possibility, that the range of recipients or participants of such business conversations extends or completely changes over time. Companies, which use social platforms, give room for and appreciate that kind of publicity. Still, email remains as a resort for private or confidential one-on-one or closed group communications.
  • Type of communication:
    Communication in social business environments highly resembles the blueprint of spoken conversations, whereas email tends to the message/reply-message form of far less colloquial nature. This leads to a couple of consequences: because of its conversational characteristics, communication in social business platforms covers other topics (and covers topics in a quite different manner) than in email communication. This is anecdotal, but I experience plenty of valuable conversations in social business platforms, which i never expect (and never expected) to happen via email. For me a main reason to advocate the side-by-side coexistence of mail messaging next to conversational communications in the social interface of a collaboration platform. At least for the time being.
  • Sustainability of content:
    It is a known and well documented fact, that email systems are communication silos, which retain information rather isolated and detached from their underlying reason-to-be. It is therefore hard, to re-establish the context of a historic mail exchange.  This is fundamentally different in the messaging systems of social business platforms, which preserve conversations more tightly integrated with the context of their origination. In Refinder, the provision of a past context by means of explicitly related information and the expansion of past information to new contexts by implicitly derived recommendations is a core feature and differentiator.
  • Preservation of communication:
    Business communication always embodies know-how. Such know-how tends to disappear in personal email folders or to rot away in corporate mail repositories. Retention and retrieval of know-how from past business conversations is much easier in social business platforms, where conversations serve as narrations of work and encapsulate corporate intelligence. As such, know-how remains available, accessible and reusable for the entire workforce, despite of their creators leaving the company.
Email and social business communications have both their own right to exist in the business. There is overlap, but increasingly there is differentiation. The digital workplace affords its inhabitants to develop skills and sensitivity to chose the most appropriate communications channel. And I´m pretty sure, that social business platforms will host and integrate further forms of communication (think voice or video) soon.

Social software adoption and the psychology of users

This post was written for my client gnowsis and appeared initially on their blog:

Enterprise social software sees some hype in the media, but it does not need much digging, to find voices dedicated to one of the fundamental problems of participatory technologies: software adoption.

Adoption deals with the problem, why and how a software tool finds acceptance, affirmation and sustainable usage by its alleged users. It raises the question, what can be done to facilitate and to unburden the process of introducing software in order to achieve the hoped-for business outcomes lastingly.

I’m not talking about a situation, where business software is implemented, learned and used, based on a verdict from the upper ranks. In regards of social software, one can command the installation, but not the intended use.

Social software adoption in the enterprise is based on voluntariness, driven by comprehension, insight or an intuitive understanding of its benefits and potentials.

Why do I depict such a soft adoption scenario, after all, corporations are not built on feel-good factors?

 An environment, to speak up and get amplified

The answer rests in the very nature of enterprise social software:  it is an environment, to speak up, contribute, make oneself present through participation, sharing, opinion, response. You can´t assume everbody to live up to this challenge with ease.

As we know, speaking up in a group scares some people, in contrast to others, who have not at all a problem to do so. You cannot force a person to speak up in a group and you cannot force employees to speak up through enterprise collaboration tools.

One might argue with the tremendous success of Facebook: 800 million people shouting out loud. But opposed to consumer social media, enterprise social software is neither non-committal, nor principally aiming to be entertaining or fun. Not only does it require, to speak up, it even amplifies, what you are saying and preserves it for ever. Personal success or failure to deal with it, can be career changing. Enterprise social media is a playground for all facets of group dynamics, the positive and the negative ones. As power can be exerted on groups, legitimately or with abusive intentions, so can enterprise social software be used for very good purposes or gamed for undue ends.

A spoiled company climate won´t rehab through new communication tools

Technology already redeems many of the promised virtues of social collaboration in the workplace, but there is an area beyond software features, application integration or business processes, where adoption strategies have to consider the psychological state and affective maturity of the targeted user groups. In fact, adoption of social tools is a challenging task, and to understand (and remove) potential roadblocks  requires sensitivity and the skills, to engineer human relations with great care.