The Big Failure of Enterprise 2.0 Social Business

This isn’t a “shock & awe” title to merely draw you in.  This also isn’t a blanket claim from an “expert” who has never been in the trenches that “social business is dead”.   Enterprise 2.0 (aka social business) is not dead. Significant progress continues to be made.  More and more enterprises have social business strategies and efforts for both marketing & internal collaboration. However, enterprises with several years of Enterprise 2.0 efforts under their belt have failed to reach the tipping point and cross into mainstream adoption of social collaboration . Coincidentally, Dion Hinchcliffe recently noted in The Path to Co-Creating a Social Business, the existence of the fissure with older collaborative channels on one side and the option to voluntarily engage socially on the other.   I believe this is a sign post that we must pay attention to and make adjustments or social business could fall deeply into the rabbit hole where knowledge management (KM) efforts of past, already reside.   

A little over a year ago I left my role managing the internal social collaboration efforts for a large global enterprise.  After two and a half years of efforts to evolve how a corporation gets work done, connects employees and communicates, I needed a serious break.  I felt we had reached the maximum adoption we could achieve under the circumstances we were working within.  So I returned back to my roots in social media marketing.  I left the Enterprise 2.0 program not because I lost passion for social collaboration, but because I realized that the effort had plateaued.  The initiative has achieved quite a bit, but my vision & strategy still hasn’t been fully reached. We didn’t cross the chasm – even after almost three years post deployment. Social collaboration is still voluntary and optional.  Based upon discussions around conference “water coolers”, I have discovered that our situation isn’t unique.   I have been doing a lot of reflection to nail down the underlying reason our efforts (collective across the industry) aren’t creating an evolution-yet.  So, here is my stake in the ground on what is the big failure of Enterprise 2.0 social business:

The big failure of social business is a lack of integration of social tools into the collaborative workflow.  

This is not a newly identified problem.  Those of us working on social collaboration efforts for a while recognized that integration is imperative from the beginning.  At the beginning, I clearly outlined integration as one of three foundational pillars for our strategy.  Unfortunately, various forces created challenges in this space. Social collaboration applications have been immature in this area for years (even after fierce calls for faster integration- i.e. CMS). Enterprises faced fork lift integration efforts to knit applications together.  Fork lift efforts get the budget axe when push comes to shove.  We managed to do the normal IT deployment model – the very model I fiercely advocated for us not to do.  We deployed just another tool amongst a minefield of other collaborative tools – without integration.   To make it even harder, we underinvested in transition change management.

Are you surprised that I didn’t say lack of overt executive support & leadership for culture change (ala John Chambers mantra at Cisco)?  Believe me, tops down support & culture change are two of the largest hurdles social business must conquer for long-term success.  IBM, who has been on the bleeding edge for ten years is (finally) recently starting to cross the chasm.   As evidenced by the IBM journey, I believe it will be rare that culture change will be one of the first things accomplished or changed in a short period of time.  Culture will change as a result of the pervasive use of social tools.  Lack of cultural change is not social business’s biggest failure.  The biggest failure is the lack of workflow integration to drive culture change.

The picture became blatantly clear looking from the outside in.   First, there is evidence that IT resources are shifting to other technology priorities. A Gartner CIO survey in 2010  had Web 2.0 ranked as the third highest priority for CIO’s.  In 2011, it fell to the bottom – number 10.  Second, except for email, employees aren’t using most internal collaboration tool robustly.  I did my own internal research to verify adoption. This trend was established before social tools.   I have witnessed teams that cannot even spell video conferencing, who use team meeting & collaboration sites only as document warehouses and engage in collaboration via email ping pong.    Third, for teams that “get” social media and are heavily engaged, much of their workflow is within external social tools – Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or multiple tools so they can extend collaboration outside the firewall.  They robustly engage with each other where critical mass of collaboration & their network resides- i.e. private Google+ circles or Facebook groups.  They have only occasional collaboration leveraging internal tools.  When asked why they don’t use the internal platform, one responder stated,“Bottom line, we’ve had a social community internally (for a while) and it doesn’t feel natural.”  Translation: It isn’t in their workflow. I personally have struggled with pervasive use of Google+ even thought I really like the product.  Why?  It is outside of how I get my work done ; my peeps aren’t 100% present and it isn’t integrated into social aggregation tools, such as Tweetdeck.  The foundation for which enterprises are building their social collaborative house is cracked.  If you add more layers, the fissures widen. If you don’t provide the “easy button” with integrated tools that are “just there” in your workflow, adoption will not cross the chasm.  Culture will not change.  Enterprise 2.0 social business becomes the bad sequel to Knowledge Management.

So how do we swing the pendulum?  I am not advocating that companies abandon their internal social platforms and move to an external service.  I fully recognize all the information security, privacy, regulatory challenges with that model.  Also, social collaboration tools are finally starting to round the corner with email & content management integration. I also don’t believe that the only answer is“integrating” into underutilized & complicated legacy collaborative tools.  We must get back to the basics.  The effort to robustly use social tools needs to be a natural act.  We also need to focus on items that are within our control and can be done now. Following are my getting back to basics recommendations:

  • Face reality that email is not going away.  It has 100% utilization for employee collaboration & communication.   It becomes an epicenter for collaboration. The ability to post social content, receive notifications, receive activity digests must tie into email and SMS.  If your activity stream could fit into an Outlook window – even better.
  • Recognize that collaboration doesn’t just happen inside your company’s walls.  Collaboration crosses many boundaries from time, distance and corporate firewalls.  Employees are using multiple tools and multiple networks both outside & inside.  Adding one more tool to the mix doesn’t make life easier. Consider deploying a content/collaboration aggregator to simplify employee’s ability to manage various content flows & networks both inside & outside the firewall (Example: Xobni Enterprise)
  • Collaboration is now form factor agnostic: No longer is one device utilized.  Content & collaboration needs to flow across whatever mobile, tablet, desktop, laptop- eventually smart TV device – that an employee utilizes.
  • Ubiquitous collaboration needs equal opportunity.  For example, If employees can get email, internet access, Facebook, Twitter on their mobile devices but only access social collaboration on their laptop- then those most available will be the top collaborative tools.  Your internal social platform needs equal access, otherwise it will continue to be Cinderella locked in the attic during the royal ball.
  • Your intranet should be one in the same with your social platform.  If an official portal is the place to get news, updates & find information – your social platform must seamlessly be an integral part of that experience.  Don’t ship off your employees to a separate site to socially engage & collaborate. The intranet should become the personalized collaborative workspace for employees “one stop shopping.”
  • Rid yourself of multiple employee profiles.  One employee = one integrated profile.  Do you enjoy managing different profiles across various consumerized tools today?  Heck No!  That is why the ability to log in with your social ID is widely used on consumer sites.  Your internal social profile should be your one corporate profile with the ability for others inside the company to see who you are, what you do and easily discover knowledge you hold along with people you are connected with across the company (and even outside, if appropriate).  The social employee profile is critical to enable the Enterprise 2.0 Bullseye that Andrew McAfee began advocating for in 2007.

Technology has matured dramatically over the last five years.  Enterprises are getting into the game. My back to basic recommendations don’t take super human development cycles or an extended period of time to deploy.  Focus on what you can control.  Focus on creating a natural collaborative experience.  Focus on providing an easy & intuitive user experience.  Focus on dissolving collaborative islands- don’t create more with social tools. These steps can keep you from falling down the rabbit hole and staying steady on the road to realizing robust social enterprise success while you continue to tackle other longer-term challenges.   I believe if we focus more robustly on the basics, we can push this baby over the chasm.

  • Rob Garcia

    Well put.  But in my view, there are 2 key reasons why social has not taken off in the enterprise: 1) Management sees social as a waste of time and 2) employees feel they will be punished if they act “socially”.  Change has to come from the top, and culture has to embrace social, not treat it as an “add on” nice to have (at best).

  • Mike Douglas

    A point well made!

    The stand-out lines for me: The effort to robustly use social tools needs to be a natural act.  We also need to focus on items that are within our control and can be done now.

    Twelve years ago Sameer helped me pull together an internal enterprise portal that grew to over 40,000 users.  The first year was fun, and the second challenging.  The third was like doing dental work on yourself.
    We didn’t talk workflow integration then.  But, that’s what we spent our money on – a lot of it.  But, alas, the lifting became so heavy that the technologies could just not meld with the rhythm of the organization.

    Caution: I would not underestimate the natural inertia of large enterprises.  That they function at all is due to the inherent structural controls embedded within them.  The technology has evolved quickly, but the principles and mechanisms of corporate governance are static.  As long as the need for legislation like Sarbanes-Oxley exists (regrettably, it must) all-up-all-in workplace collaboration will continue to climb a slippery slope.

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  • dlavenda

    A sobering, but realistic look at enterprise collaboration. Industry analyst findings back up your assertion about email not going away and being the place to connect with colleagues. A recent survey found that 80% of employees with access to SharePoint still use email ping pong to share documents. This analysis is spot-on the money from where I sit; I see and hear the same things. It is absolutely necessary to fit into existing work flows and business contexts to be a viable option for any type of real enterprise collaboration – the sooner organizations realize this, the sooner we can get beyond the fluff and hype being propagated by vendors who think that technology will solve our collaboration problems…regardless of how real people work.

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  • Julian Shelbourne

    Great points.To build on what you say, to me, the real barrier is not the incorporation of collaboration into workflow, but the adoption of workflow into the corporate environment in the first place.  Workflow cuts across organizational hierarchies, defines its own virtual teams and must, by nature, be flexible.  But Corporate life is generally the opposite of that – rigid organizational hierarchies that define the power, influence, budget and measurement of the people within that part of the organization.Collaboration is the tip of the ice-berg.  Collaboration is given structure by Workflow.  Workflow implements Process.  But the conflict comes where Process intersects with Organizational Hierarchy.Under the bricks-and-mortar management approach, Organizational Hierarchy is the tool for addressing Business Process: Teams of people are organized under a management structure to perform a process.But, in a technology-enabled organization, virtual teams and virtual workflow can be quickly assembled to address new process challenges.  People are still doing work.  The quality of their work can be captured from statistics taken from the workflow process. It is said that you cannot manage what you cannot measure.  And Collaborative Workflow is often still viewed as being outside the realm of employee performance review.  Collaboration is viewed by management as a coffee break.  They’ve heard that good things come from it, but they don’t regard it as real work.  It also messes up their view of who should be working on what and talking to whom.Management schools have not caught up with the notion that Process definition should come before Organizational definition.  Many managers are still of the mindset that all Process must be performed manually before it can be automated.  That may be true of conveyor-belt technology, but it is not true of information technology.You cannot *manually* collect the collaborative input of an entire organization on a Business-Term and link that multi-dimensionally to data-elements across the enterprise as part of a collaborative data-management program.   But you can do that with technology-enabled workflow, wiki and metadata management.  This is a solution I developed at an insurance firm.Until Management adopts a process-centric view, instead of an organization-centric view, collaboration and workflow are bound to be stifled by organizational siloing and 1950′s ideas about automation.

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  • Anonymous

    Starting with the collaborative workflow and integrating tools *into* it assumes and demands that a collaborative workflow and culture exist on some level in the first place.  This works great in many newer organizations, but there are some organizations where collaboration is not only *not* encouraged but is actively hunted down and waterboarded.  

    Rewards are a great starting point – to help show that there is “another way” – but until the pain and lingering fear of being made an example of has been dispelled *and actively disproven by counter-examples*, then there’s nothing that the easiest-in-the-world workflow integration will do to dismiss the paranoia that hitting the “share” button will cause personal repercussions.

  • Aydin Ghajar

    Laurie, I’m a big proponent of workflow integration for social software (actually, a cornerstone of my company’s strategy in this space), but that often requires integration into existing infrastructure that is out of date and lacks modern API’s, etc. 

    Sure, you can replace your intranet with a social wiki, but if your customer service team is using a decades old legacy system – changing that workflow becomes a much more expensive endeavor than signing up for the latest cloud based subscription. 

    I’m curious about your thoughts. Thanks for the insightful post!

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  • Stephen Danelutti

    Hi Laurie, I definitely did not take your post’s intention as a death knell for social business and I think you are absolutely right to point out the shortfalls so we can address them. My response may have had something to do with the fact that I had just previously read yet another eternally pessimistic view from Dennis Howlett ( :) Unlike aforementioned (no offence intended), I think your approach was constructive in its critique – really well done. On a specific note, I really do believe like you do that the Intranet is the best Trojan horse for social business efforts for now and that serious integration with other business apps and workflow will take a lot longer to achieve, but ultimately is the best way forward. Keep up the great work :)

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  • Anonymous

    Solid points and I agree.

  • Anonymous

    Michael- I agree that the size of company definitely impacts agility.Your question back is not a one line answer.  I have written some items over the journey but it might be time to come back with a “what makes the elephant dance” post.  Stay tuned. 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Jen!  Good to hear from you! I appreciate the note.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Stephen- thanks for the perspective.  I don’t want folks to walk away thinking that I called time of death for social business August 2011 at 11am.  It is why I was clear up front that I am not saying social business is dead.  I am drawing attention to a challenge that I don’t see the industry publicly discussiong and aggressively problem solving I am a big believer in fail fast in order to continue innovation and progress. I am hoping that by bringing this discussion into the open, that we may invest in solution building. It’s kind of like the 12 step program- the first step is to admit you have a problem.  Here’s the admission.

  • Stephen Danelutti

    Great post – brings the realities of this type of work in the trenches right home. But I would ask simply what is being measured and in what timescales. Not quite as bad as the short-termism of the markets who measure in quarters, I’d say we are not too far off in our expectations for Enterprise 2.0 / Social Business initiatives. I’d urge an approach like His Holiness the Dalai Lama who on being asked about the French Revolution replied: “It’s too early to tell”. I’m not putting it in the same context as the French Revolution in terms of scale and effect but I am optimistic about social technology’s long term impacts on the workplace…

  • Jay Cross

    Great post, greater discussion. 

    Lots of organizations fail to implement social media because they have no collaborative workflow. Grafting new tools onto a strict hierarchy isn’t going to open things up. Information hoarders aren’t going to begin sharing simply because it’s easy to do. 

    Rather than hand-wringing about culture, we need to recognize that job 1 is getting the business done. Organization and culture must follow that top dog. Networks make real-time business feasible. Structure follows strategy. 

    Embrace a collaborative business strategy. Then people will flock to the tools that make it possible. 

  • Jay Cross

    Great post, greater discussion. 

    Lots of organizations fail to implement social media because they have no collaborative workflow. Grafting new tools onto a strict hierarchy isn’t going to open things up. Information hoarders aren’t going to begin sharing simply because it’s easy to do. 

    Rather than hand-wringing about culture, we need to recognize that job 1 is getting the business done. Organization and culture must follow that top dog. Networks make real-time business feasible. Structure follows strategy. 

    Embrace a collaborative business strategy. Then people will flock to the tools that make it possible. 

  • Jen Okimoto

    Laurie – Thanks for taking the time to write this, I agree with Sameer…Brilliant!

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  • Michael Idinopulos

    Laurie, this is fantastic. You are *so* spot-on!

    I think there’s a material difference between the Fortune 100 and smaller companies in terms of ability to embrace the integrative principles you so insightfully describe.

    I’ve worked with hundreds of Socialtext customers to do the things that you describe–bring social “in-the-flow”, make the Intranet social, make the directory social, integrate with systems of record, augment (rather than replace) email, etc. In my experience, the ease of making those changes is inversely proportional to the size of the organization. The bigger the company, the more difficult it is to pull off integration at such a fundamental level (technically and process-wise).

    Put differently, the bigger the company the more likely social becomes a side-show that’s not part of the daily flow of work.

    You’ve learned these lessons by implementing social at some pretty big shops. What have you learned about what works and what doesn’t when you try to make the elephant dance?

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  • driessen

    Interesting post! I can relate to the importance of linking current collaboration tools to new (e2.0) collaborative tools. Many employees have hard time coping with their email. For this reason alone I fully agree with your statement that we should accept email as the core knowledge worker tool. Email is their habitat. For every new tool we must explain and train employees to use and see why this new tool adds value to the existing toolset. And more importantly, how this changes the way information flows.

    One other thing I think is also problematic with e2.0 roll-outs and tools relates to what @Sameer:disqus said below. I find e2.0 hardly ever relates to the core business processes. The e2.0 tools are out there in isolation. I don’t mean they’re useless. Improving knowledge sharing, networking, etc can be very useful. But that only indirectly relates to where the company make money. I think some or all of our initiatives in the e2.0 space should relate directly to what the company is about. Possibly changing those processes. But, more importantly, adding and supporting the network perspective to the processes.

    (FYI: I’ve blogged about both of my points on my blog.)

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  • Laurie Buczek

    @ Johns- sounds like you are already starting to focus on key areas. You are spot on about stop talking about “social” or “media” and focus on the basics of making changing work easy. All the best in your journey!

  • John Stepper

    This is excellent. Many great “money lines” as Sameer noted, including my own favorite:

    “Culture will change as a result of the pervasive use of social tools.  Lack of cultural change is not social business’s biggest failure.  The biggest failure is the lack of workflow integration to drive culture change.”

    After a year of evangelizing, I’ve stopped talking about “social” or “media” and focus instead on changing how we work, beginning with the real basics:
    - one profile to help find people
    - role-based communities to get measurably better at what we do
    - online answers to common questions to reduce service calls
    - consolidated approvals (on your phone) to reduce waste associated with long elapsed times and chasing managers to hit a button
    - introducing curators and information standards for each division’s most important information assets

    And so on. 

    Addressing the basics will do more to change the culture than any CEO speech. Modern tools and practices make it easier to do so – if we’re not too busy preaching revolution.

    Thanks for your post. I’ll be subscribing. :-)

  • Frédéric CHARLES

    I think it’s too early to say “big failure” and I don”t support this idea with some projects I know that really delivered change. However I agree that the link with collaboration workflow can boost entreprise 2.0

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  • Anonymous

    As always- very smart perspective & comments Sameer!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Ted! Hoping not a rant. Just decided to play “the honest game” :)

  • Anonymous

    Excellent point Greg. I agree that the industry has been approaching it from the wrong direction. Mapping social back as a part of the core architecture turns your efforts into customer centric vs. tools centric.

  • Anonymous

    @ Dan- I completely agree with you! The singular platform should have the learning workflow incorporated. A must have. In fact, our CEO, Paul Otellini presented a concept that myself and colleage, Allison Anderson, created for a new singular worker portal. He emphasized that creating a learning environment was the heart of this concept. It hasn’t come fruition yet…but the vision is there.

  • Dan Pontefract

    Hey Laurie,

    Best line for me was, “If your activity stream could fit into an Outlook window – even better.”

    The only glaring omission I see is the traditional ‘learning’ workflow. People still go to a learning management system (LMS) to ‘take training’, when in fact, they should be utilizing a singular intranet/LMS/comm portal platform or environment to access anything that might be formal, informal or social in nature. This would help immensely with the learning workflow and make it part of everyday use.

    And if this can be accessed via mobile ways as well as through the traditional Outlook inbox … you have yourself gold medal workflow scenarios.

  • Greg2dot0

    The failure that you describe is very true, but I believe there are some core causes for this both from an industry perspective, but also an organization perspective.

  • TedHopton

    Great post (dare I say rant? No, it’s too well thought out), Laurie! You’ve really hit home a number of points that resonate with my experience.

  • JL Valente

    Sobering but glaringly true. You’re right in the analysis.

    We at blueKiwi state it another way too. You bring this SB piece to me and now I am supposed to use it but what pain/tasks do you take away? how does that make my day-to-day life easier as an employee?

    Let’s remember that the choice of social business is made by a very few (often an “elite”) but that the success comes from the use and practice of and by many who have never asked for anything. Until we respond holistically to the seminal question of “what’s in it for me?” it will require a heavy dose of effort to sustain interest for most mainstream organizations.
    Hence I agree that SB must become an integrated artifact in the personal IT landscape of a user, that it needs to be easy, alluring, somewhat fun, replace other tasks naturally and that a system of recognition and rewards must come along to shape a new behavior. I think such a combination is a necessary condition to crossing the chasm and having more than a few % of the workforce adopting it for the long haul

  • Steve Bell

    John – I believe that there needs to be some overall change. Reward systems will be difficult to construct, but not impossible. If we want a hoarder of information to change we will need to help that change along. Making sharing of information a part of the overall success of the individual is necessary. It is like you did a great job on getting that project done, but forgot to finish the paperwork… Sharing is the paperwork, so to speak.

    I get more out of my personal satisfaction when I participate. There will be many that just do it, because it is expected. Takes some time to get all of the people thinking that way. Maybe kick starting it with a change in the reward system can help.

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  • Sameer Patel

    Brilliant – everything in here. 

    I’m going to build on one point in particular…
    Money line for me: “Lack of cultural change is not social business’s biggest failure.  The biggest failure is the lack of workflow integration to drive culture change.”
    This is one of the most important aspects that separates the activism vs pragmatic thinking on the topic to embracing social and collaborative ways of work. Stated another way, the difference between what in-the-trenches practitioners experience and learn the hard way vs the armchair practitioners. I say this not to antagonize anyone but because its the root cause to relative stagnancy the industry has faced when you compare uptake of innovative process improvement innovation spurts in the past.
    A year ago I read a report that estimated the change management and other ‘get up and running’ costs beyond enterprise social software to be 10X. Compare that to estimated 3-5x costs over ERP and CRM software. That’s way off for many reasons but most importantly its a result of what you describe: mind bending amounts of behavior and cultural change, whilst the e2.0 initiative is designed to blossom in one of those 20 tabs open on your favorite web browser that you forget to visit until lunch time. 
    Its fascinating how this challenges are minimized when you can channel existing energy and the desire to get work done faster/more accurately/better by offering a more effective way of work.

    The good news is that this is changing. And funnily its those very conservative and regulated customers who were least likely to adopt this stuff that are leading the charge. Culturally, their tolerance for experimental, emergent, grass roots, buzzwords like SocialBusiness/E2.0 etc., is near zero. And so from the get go, they insist that this be part of an overall workflow and in a way that it enhances desecrate outcomes.It’s always a treat when a practitioner takes the time to share her thoughts. Thanks for doing so. :)

  • robpatrob

    Great post – I can feel your frustration! 

    Might the issue in the end be culture? Can a traditional enterprise allow what you know is right for them? Can a machine become alive?

    I am beginning to think not. For to do that the top folks have to die and they cannot let that happen.

    What newspaper has made the change – they would rather die that do what has to happen and no amount of tweeting etc will save them from themselves

    Best we get behind the really new or find a place that the old can go to separate from their business – such as work on health costs together – and have a “baby”

  • Anonymous

    On rewards for engagement there is a problem, if the engagement is not intrinsic, rewards are questionable. There are multiple studies which show rewards are not a sustainable method to entice people to change behavior which is not voluntary. It has to be interesting and rewarding, not in a monetary or prize way, for a sustained engagement to occur and to entice behaviorable change. These rewards can be personal growth/education, a feeling of belonging, a growth in self worth. This is what will drive social business success internally in any company before it can truly hope to influence people outside. I also take the point that it has to be part of the every day tasks of the participants.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your insights! Yes- we definitely have shared thoughts along the journey! I agree on the rewards. At the end of the day we respond to Pavlovian methods. We do what is rewarded and stay away from what isn’t. If you want change- you need to reward the change you want to see.

  • Steve Bell

    Definitely like the post! We have shared our thoughts on this journey over the years. I would like to add one more item. It is centered on the overall corporate culture – it is definitely time to set up the reward systems that take into account communication and collaboration – both intentional and unintentional. If you want your company to collaborate together – then reward those that do.. The rest will follow – or get out of the way.