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.