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Social Business Tools: Software, Sledgehammers, or Sneakers?

by Dave Hannon

June 4, 2012

By Dave Hannon

One of my favorite novels is about a collegiate miler who struggles between his mundane daily life and his desire to drop everything and focus full-time on running ( be young again). In one of my favorite passages, he's at a dinner party and when people find out just how successful a runner he is, they all want to know "The Secret." Is it better equipment? Or his diet? Or some trick he knew no one else knows?

"In a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rendering process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes."

Social business is not so different.

While there's a lot of talk about how to become a social business today, there isn't a single whiz-bang solution you can implement to make it happen. There's no "zippy mental tricks." It requires work. Real work. The work of breaking down longheld traditional barriers between prodcer and customer, between manufacturer and supplier. The work of developing a clear strategy to let your business become more social and then -- and only then -- the work of finding the right technology to execute on that strategy. Still want in?

To further drill down into just what a "social business" is and requires, I'l l point to the definition given by the Social Business Forum: "An organization that has put in place the strategies, technologies and processes to systematically engage all the individuals of its ecosystem (employees, customers, partners, suppliers) to maximize the co-created value."

I don't have to tell you that putting "technologies" in place is hard enough, but putting "strategies" and "processes" in place is even more work. The business equivalent of putting the miles in and removing that rubber on your training shoes.

But just like most runners learn the hard way, the work pays off in benefits which might surprise you. Consider the case of Lego Group (which happens to be an SAP PLM customer, by the way). This article in the Sloan Management Review  describes how Lego used an online community to crowd-source the concept for a new product.

According to the article, "The idea for Minecraft Micro World did not come from a veteran Lego product developer but from an adult Lego fan who submitted his idea to Lego through Lego Cuusoo, a website where Lego enthusiasts submit and vote for new product ideas. Within 24 hours of submission, the Minecraft Micro World idea received 10,000 votes, automatically kicking the concept up to Lego management. The idea received the green light within a month."

From a technology perspective, sourcing the new product idea was simple, right? Build a web site, ask for ideas, etc. But the pro cesses of developing that idea, soliciting that concept and turning it into a product requires a pretty extensive overhaul of a company's traditional product development processes. It requires teaching employees that this isn't just a stunt. The work of taking risk. That's where the rubber meets the road, right?

Yes, as this PricewaterhouseCoopers report points out, moving to a social business model will require a lot of internal selling. "Unlike many applications that support work process flows apparent to everyone, social software can be seen as a bit 'squishy.' That’s because the work process of connecting people to make them smarter isn’t normally thought of as a business process. So some education of senior leadership and business stakeholders may be needed. In doing so, it is important to highlight a number of tangible contributors to employee performance made possible by social tools."

So how do you get started? Well, in a recent Deloitte report, Sandy Pentland, Director, Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program at MIT Media Labs, says "there are some simple ways to help break through dated perceptions and cultural inertia and start the social journey. Pursue an incremental path that builds on experiments that may demonstrate potential."

Lastly, Deloitte sums up social business well by saying: "An effective Social Business effort should be rooted in a strategy that effectively addresses the changing landscape of increased transparency, user-generated content and continual information sharing in a holistic way . The organizations that discover value are doing so with a layered approach that crosses organizational boundaries, functions and services. While this may be alarming for many executives, the new world of transparency, knowledge flows and democratized opinion-making is rife with opportunities."

Just reading that paragraph tore some rubber off the bottom of my training shoes. 

If you've got your own opinions on social business, post them here. 

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