The Social Enterprise – what problem are we trying to solve?

Social Computing along with Cloud Computing is one of the hot IT buzz words – i.e., the Social Cloud must then be the ultimate in buzz word compliance. This is in fact what Andrew McAfee from MIT’s Management school and Mike Gotta from Cisco are discussing.

Andrew presents his Enterprise 2.0 the Indian Way in a recent blog post. He describes a project done internally at Tata Consulting Services, where they build a social collaboration tool to rate and share the broad collection of project derived knowledge. It sounds deceptively simple, but on the other hand, I have seen the results from a number of similar projects deploying a very structured, formal approach to knowledge sharing – and none of those worked very well – so why not? The real trick at TCS didn’t seem to be so much about the tool, but what motivated the TCS consultants to engage. You could call it a bottom up approach to the Social Enterprise.

The opposite example is presented by Mike Gotta in his presentation: Build an Architecture of Participation. I have to warn you, it is heavy on models, slides etc. Although he is discussing the same thing, it is probably more of what you’d call a top down approach to the Social Enterprise.

What’s missing from both the blog post and the presentation is a discussion about why we should be interested in the Social Enterprise – yes, we are interested because we need to collaborate – why do we need to collaborate? A carbon copy of the TCS solution is far from guaranteed to be a success in other organisations – especially those who are not consulting firms. And Mike’s approach seems to get a bit lost in the pile of slides and models.

The earliest collaboration success story, that I’ve seen, was engineers and consultants collaborating together at TIBCO back in the late nineties. Back then there was no iPad, no portals, we still had Web 1.0, and Internet browsing was done using state of the art, Internet Explore 6 (awesome!). When we were working with our clients, you’d be lucky to find a room with a phone so that you could get access to dial-up internet – and with one of those ‘cheap’ international phone dial-up access cards, you had to be determined.

But the culture of the company back then (no idea what’s it like today) was such, that if you had a technical problem or question, you were genuinely encouraged to post your question to the global ‘all’ email alias. Yes, it did mean that you received a bunch of (now classified as spam) emails, but I was more than happy to receive those (even over a slow dial-up – always an excuse for another coffee). These emails enabled me to build up a huge technical Q&A archive on pretty much any aspect of the company’s technology. And the service was pretty good too – ask a question, and the chances were, that you had at least two or three, maybe more, useful replies in your inbox the next day.  People were motivated to help, because we’d all experienced been stuck, isolated at a client site, with a technical problem.

My point is that the Social Enterprise is about understanding the problems people need to solve through collaboration – not about models or technology solutions – but how we can use (simple) technology to improve collaboration. Email worked pretty well back the late nineties, but it all comes back to what problem you are trying to solve.

Suggested reading: The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations

2 thoughts on “The Social Enterprise – what problem are we trying to solve?”

  1. You might be on to something here.. I want to drink the social cloud kool-aid… just haven’t had the break through moment using it yet.

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