We are no longer living in knowledge stocks, but knowledge flows. The word “social” is unavoidably seeping into every aspect of life. Social technologies have quite literally changed how millions of people live. Ten years ago when most consumers got on the internet only to access email, nobody could ever have imagined that the use of social technologies would integrate into our daily lives, forming a sweeping cultural, social and economic phenomenon.
Among all internet users around the globe today, 80% interact with social networks regularly. Starting from merely embedding Facebook® “likes” on official websites, modern companies stive for all-round social integration to unlock business values using social tools. Social integration does not only affect customer-facing activities such as e-commerce or customer service. Today, social computing techniques such as micro-blogging, wikis, and blogs are embedded in many areas of business collaboration, helping companies take a significant leap to create value in a responsive and customer-oriented way.
Social Business Collaboration is a combination of services, technologies and processes that enable companies to use social media to exchange ideas and collaborate in an integrated way. By using social technologies at work, users are able to share knowledge and interact more easily in a way similar to their personal experience on social networks. Apart from efficiency, we have also seen evidence that the use of social collaboration tools improves employee satisfaction and motivates them to contribute beyond office hours. Enlightened by our recent experience in the banking industry, we have seen significant benefits from adopting Social Business Collaboration, for example invalue innovation projects.
Technology development is leading the business world in an epic transition. Corporation is no longer the center of the economic universe. The power is in the hands of customers. This dramatic social and economic transition is changing how customers perceive their needs and how companies generate value to meet these needs. The winners are no longer those “efficiency black-belt” able to streamline delivery of products and services, but those who manage to mobilize the whole business around well-informed, empowered and interacting customers.
As a result of this shift, companies are challenged and “dragged” to re-examine the cornerstones of the business such as goals of the organization, work structure, coordination, corporate value and communication channels. It is quickly becoming an era in which managers are no longer favored by taking a patriarchal role—but instead enabling collaboration among self-organizing teams to unleash the creativity needed to deliver better customer value.
Under the stressful macro environment, being able to react on such shift to keep pace with the market speed, for a lot of medium-large companies, is becoming increasingly critical—in some industries even a question of survival. In response, more and more companies around the world are embedding “Social Business Collaboration” in their corporate DNA.
A booming IT market—Web 2.0—is further developing an increasing amount of web-based solutions and social technologies that meet the collaboration need. This supply of appealing social tools is on the other side, “pushing” companies towards more effective business organization. Largely replacing the traditional communication methods such as emails and physical meetings, the new social business solutions typically use social media and Next-Generation-Network (NGN) –integrated voice, data, video, instant messaging—to promote teamwork and ad-hoc knowledge sharing to boost business outcomes.
One may ask: "Does Social Business Collaboration deliver as promised? Or it is another form of “greenwashing” as companies talk the talk, but do not walk the walk?” Recent research show quite positive results (see chart below). Companies that had identified business collaboration as their top business goal saw significant business performance improvement compared to organizations that did not prioritize collaboration .
Chart 1—Collaborators Advantage: Y-o-Y Performance Change
Source: Next-Generation Communications (NGC) study, Aberdeen Group, Sept. 2013
1 September 2013 Aberdeen Next-Generation Communications (NGC) study of the communications practices of 126 organizations
Applying Social Business tools, companies aim at stimulating collective innovation and mobilizing the organization to fit the evolving business needs and enhance customer interaction.
Chart 2 —Characteristics of social approach in business
Based on our experience, companies meeting one or more of the following criteria may benefit significantly from Social Business Collaboration. Medium / Large Enterprises:
Furthermore, as a project progresses it is not uncommon to see people getting confused by the snatchy communication caused by scattered emails and attachments. Emails, calls and physical meetings being the primary interaction methods, information tend to concentrate among certain “spots”.
The operating team has to work with ambiguity and lagged information, greatly deterring efficiency and alignment among team members. This collaboration framework could lower productivity and de-motivate the workforce for example, impairing business outcomes such as innovativeness, time-to-market and customer satisfaction.
However, the social approach leverages on a unique virtual workplace, where all project related activities are initiated, carried out and archived. This framework allows direct involvement and instant knowledge sharing among all team members, enabling the company of all levels to network with each others, work more effectively and speak up opinions with equal voice.
Shifting from top-down directives to multi-directional conversation, the new communication framework fosters continuous innovation—essential to maintain a sustainable business. By facilitating interaction within the entire business ecosystem (clients, employees, partners, etc.), Social Business Collaboration enhances the business value creation process that echoes the needs of both internal and external stakeholders.
Table 1—Social Business Collaboration Benefits and Challenges
Due to the disruptive nature of the social approach to the existing business processes, the introduction of Social Business Collaboration implies various challenges (see Table 1). To ensure smooth introduction of a “social” organization that integrates with the business while at the same time stimulate innovation, a well structured guiding team is what it takes to success. From continuous sponsorship, social tools set-up, coaching and reconciliation of output from different work groups, sponsors, methodology experts and project managers are able to closely collaborate with work groups to engage resources and ensure progress.
Table 2 — Key components of project structure
Taking a recent example of new offering development in the banking industry, the community (around 25 people) was sub-divided into two parts—a “Governance & Coordination team” and several Work Groups based on defined topics (see chart below). While the Work Groups were staffed by employees from distanced branches dedicating part-time effort to the project, the coordination team was made up of Client Management and Consultants guiding the project progress.
An online collaboration platform was well leveraged to give birth to an active community in which members proactively contributed, often during their free time. Within 3 months, first a concept and then a detailed business plan was developed bringing in all creative yet practical ideas of the community. Such speed and broad involvement would be hardly achieved without the introduction of Social Business Collaboration.
2 Blue Ocean Strategy is an innovative approach for marketing and strategy development (W. Chan Kim)
Chart 3 — Example work plan on business plan development
One of the primary focuses of Social Business Collaboration is to incorporate tools that bring social and enterprise together in a meaningful way. Take example of an insurance company that has introduced an internal social collaboration platform. To provide precise solutions to a customer request, the call center agent can post the case on the company’s internal collaboration platform. Within 30 minutes, people across the company from product, claims and underwriting groups offer their feedback helping the call center agent to provide a detailed approach for the customer. Without such social tools, a particular problem might have taken hours or days to resolve.
More and more software developers are providing powerful social tools that make work increasingly efficient. The use of “forum” and “blog” opens up discussion on a broader scale; messenger tools enable instant information exchange within a defined team; “library” and “wiki” archive source of information and allow simultaneous collaboration on document compilation.
From these tools, people started to realize there is a better model to work as socially driven teams. Instead of a passive “recipient” model, where everybody is reached via email, there is more of a proactive “contributor” model that allows you to voice your opinions on open topics under organized threads.
This approach has been proven more effective especially in value creation projects (e.g. Blue Ocean Strategy), where the effectiveness of the idea generation and development process is time consuming, and crucial in bringing out high-quality deliverables.
Fulfilling the basic human need to connect with others, the use of social technologies at work boosts employees’ motivation. However, merits do not come free. Nobody would stick to one online portal if topics are dull or the last update was one year ago. To make the collaboration platform employees’ “usual haunt” where innovative ideas emerge, the coordination team takes an important role in monitoring and periodically stirring discussion. By maintaining interesting contents and posting intriguing yet challenging questions, the coordination team motivates participants to voice opinions, maximizing the output of such Social Business Collaboration.
Chart 4 — Examples of Social Business tools
It is the culture of sharing to achieve mutual tasks / goals that brings the collaboration further. Simply a well-setup technical infrastructure will no longer suffice. Technology can take a strong enabling role in collaboration for innovative solutions and process improvement. However, one should be aware that the ease of technology can sometimes mask the importance of fostering the sharing culture that makes a solution stick.
In companies where expertise is an important source of power, people tend to be reserved to make such social exchange. In this case, the coordination team needs to promote a cultural shift to ensure that people have incentive to share rather than to hoard information. Replacing the corporate culture, community engagement should be regarded as an important process nurturing the “chemistry” among members, giving a “fun” element to the community beyond project purposes.
Furthermore, each member should be recognized as a unique contributor, and common positive traits should be disseminated to motivate creativity and a pro-active approach. In many cases of process innovation, you may find people reluctant to change or assume the corporate hierarchical culture in the new community. If this is to happen during the entire course of the change, you may need to pay hard to see social business collaboration in reality.
To unlock the value of collective intelligence, Senior Management must take the lead to embrace the new work model, encouraging all members to speak up no matter what “original” position he / she has in the organization. Furthermore, Senior Management should also disseminate the atmosphere of “change” so as to stimulate corporate inertia. Corporate leadership and culture are commonly agreed among professionals to be the biggest determinants by far of whether you can successfully incorporate Social Business Collaboration.
That being said, expressed support from senior management, clear vision of how social media supports the business strategy and sound link with the organizational culture should be well communicated during project setup. All these long-term alignments should also be translated into a clear project goal guiding through change management.
Social Business Collaboration facilitates value creation processes by leveraging online tools. Its superiority, comparing to offline collaboration, is revealed in forming a “community” that stimulates instant sharing and collective intelligence. However, its effectiveness cannot be maximized without the combination of offline work sessions.
Experience shows that when it comes to work stream assignment, content reconciliation and project strategic guidance, offline sessions with participation of a coordinator tends to boost productivity. Inevitably, value creation often couples with trade-off on strategic options that require intensive face-to-face discussion. Complementary to contribution on the virtual community, offline work sessions of small groups can help members achieve mutual agreement on main deliverables within short time. To note, outputs of any offline session shall be shared on the community to incorporate comments before being called a truly collective solution.
Based on our experience, key success factors to integrate Social Business Collaboration in value creation process are the following:
In an era when almost everything is getting “social”, a rapid adoption of technology-based social networking in business has been recently seen as a structural change of how people will work and create values. Bringing the “rigid” business world closer to daily life sounds aspiring, but the change is never easy.. To introduce Social Business Collaboration in business process so as to effectively create value, the emphases should be given not only to the development and utilization of tools, but also the “software”—community engagement and team coordination—the subtle elements that drive social business activities.
By Saverio Russo, Project Manager, Tefen Italy
Si Peng, Consultant, Tefen Italy
Performance Improvement, Transformation and Change Management Expert