Social networks can’t solve business problemsJuly 24, 2009 No Comments
The future is in collaborative networks
Businesses that deploy collaborative networks, a tool set to become just as indispensable as e-mails and telephones, will have a distinct competitive edge over their market competitors.
Collaborative networks are focused on groups accessing and organising data into actionable formats that enable decision making, collaboration and reuse. In helping organisations establish a culture of innovation and deliver operational excellence, collaborative networks will become critically important to business.
Social networks are conversation enablers that only treat symptoms of the problems businesses face and often exacerbate the real problems within businesses by creating distractions and proliferating disconnected data and application silos.
He says the limited, piecemeal departmental use of collaboration tools does not create a meaningful information fabric that weaves the entire enterprise together. This has hindered the widespread adoption of broad Enterprise 2.0 strategy.
The ability to scale the entire company, as opposed to grappling with disparate next-generation toolsets in each department that don’t work well with other parts of the business, will lead the way to multiple Enterprise 2.0 silos in the future, adds Oliver Marks, a seasoned independent consultant who has worked with Harvard Business School and McKinsey & Company on major initiatives around knowledge transfer and change management.
“Tools and technologies are often budgeted for at a departmental level. They are not designed to interoperate between departments, which provides better financial and organisational value,” says Marks.
Fulkerson says organisations should create an information fabric weaved from the multiplicity of data and application silos used on a daily basis.
You create a collaborative network when the information from the amalgamation of content from different applications, like enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), file servers, e-mail, databases, web-services and infrastructures, is easy to edit between groups of individuals in a dynamic, secure, governed and real-time manner.
Social networks can’t solve business problems
Fulkerson says enterprise software has been on a roller coaster of innovation in recent years. Driven primarily by innovations in user experience that started in the consumer web space, social business software intended to create enterprise social networks that deliver new social tools for creating conversations and providing one-on-one interactions at work.
Since individual applications haven’t delivered meaningful enterprise results, enterprise social software vendors have gone back to developing products that are driven by feature checklists. They are adding components, like wikis, blogs, social profiles and tagging as features.
”This approach doesn’t work,” says Fulkerson. As a result, application suites are monolithic, inflexible, not extensible, expensive to scale and are invariably difficult, if not impossible, to integrate with other enterprise technologies.
“This class of software forces business users to adopt the myopic social visions imagined by the developers, which are nearly identical to their corresponding consumer web implementations.”
Fulkerson highlights the main differences between consumer-oriented social networks and collaborative networks:
|Social network characteristics||Collaborative network characteristics|
|Social interaction centred||Objective and content centred|
|Achieves personal objectives||Achieves group objectives|
|Individual enrichment||Operational excellence|
|Results immeasurable||Results measurable|
Social media technologies have revolutionised the consumer web space and are useful in creating engaging online communities. However, isolated pockets of socialisation within business bring little value to the organisation as a whole. Businesses have far different problems to solve than the ones social software can address.
|Social networks solve||Collaborative networks solve|
|Who wants to meet at the club?||Who can give me access to financials, market reports and customer profiling?|
|What’s your favourite Mexican restaurant?||What are the expectations of this project?|
|Why did they un-follow me?||Why did we see a drop in Q3 revenue?|
|Dude, where is the company picnic?||I thought we already did this work, where are those documents?|
|How was “Casablanca”?||How do we cut costs and increase revenue?|
Marks says, “Casual social life organisation is very different from working together on deliverables to achieve results. In a business scenario, the apparently random chatter around sociable networks is not an attractive proposition.”
Social software products are clearly wildly popular with the media and analysts. Indeed, most people value social media tools in their personal and professional lives, because they help them connect with friends and colleagues, and make it easy to disseminate information.
Marks says the much maligned newspaper business is a good example of large teams of people pulling huge amounts of information together to meet deadlines.
In a collaborative attempt to figure out how quality journalism can survive and thrive in the Internet age, the Nieman Journalism Lab documents that while the financial model in the newsprint business is currently a disaster, the ways newsrooms are organised is changing.
“Journalists are given considerable latitude to work in whatever way they want so long as the end result is a successful edition of the newspaper,” says Marks. “The best Enterprise 2.0 work methods give people unstructured, highly flexible tools to achieve well defined deliverables.”
Marks highlights Sachary Seward’s piece entitled ‘Inside five newsrooms that HL Mencken wouldn’t recognise,’ which takes readers through five newsrooms that are new, innovative or otherwise noteworthy.
He adds that the English Daily Telegraph, which recently integrated its web and print operations while laying out the newsroom around a central “hub”, is interesting because of the depth of information provided.
Shared learning and collaboration in dynamic networks point the way ahead
According to the executive vice president of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa, Anthos Yannakou and the senior adviser and chief knowledge and learning officer for The World Bank’s Africa region, Nicolas Gorjestani, shared learning and collaboration in dynamic networks is one of the main characteristics of knowledge-based learning organisations.
The industrial era was characterised by generally inflexible processes and structures and a search for the shortest distance between two points. “In the knowledge era, the emphasis will increasingly be on finding the smartest path between two points,” Yannakou and Gorjestani note.
“The industrial era scarcity paradigm put a premium on efficient use of scarce factors of production, like land, labour and capital. However, since knowledge is the only factor of production that multiplies when it is shared, the notion of scarcity is increasingly replaced with one of abundance in the knowledge era.”
Yannakou and Gorjestani say this responsive model enables organisations to adapt to the ever-changing environment. Operating in a knowledge economy requires a specific set of competencies and approaches. Yannakou and Gorjestani outline the paradigm shifts between the industrial and knowledge organisations, which manifest in organisational structures.
|Element||Industrial paradigm||Knowledge paradigm|
|People||Cost generators||Revenue generators|
|Manager’s power base||Level in hierarchy||Level of knowledge|
|Main task of management||Supervise subordinates||Support colleagues|
|Information||Control instrument||Tool for communication|
|Production||Physical resource to tangible assets||Knowledge to intangible assets|
|Information flow||Via organisational hierarchy||Via collegial networks|
|Primary form of revenues||Tangible (financial)||Intangible (ideas, customers)|
|Production bottlenecks||Capital and skills||Time and knowledge|
|Manifestation of production||Hardware (tangible)||Concepts (intangible)|
|Production flow||Machine driven||Idea driven|
|Effect of size||Economies of scale (production)||Economies of scope (networks)|
|Customer relations||One way (via markets)||Interactive (via networks)|
|Knowledge||A tool||The focus of business|
|Purpose of learning||Application of tools||Creation of assets|
Yannakou and Gorjestani say the organisational model of the future is likely to be network-based where knowledge workers have links to several communities that transcend conventional organisational boundaries.
“The main challenges for organisations will be to find ways of doing business that are more collaborative and that draw on knowledge workers from several enterprises.”
As organisations adapt to the imperatives of the knowledge era, some of the issues enterprise leaders of the 21st Century will have to address are:
- What is the role of the “manager” or the “CEO” in such an organisational set up?
- Will the CEO be at the top of the hierarchy or at the nerve centre?
- Will he/she use bureaucratic power to impose authority or apply intellectual leadership to hold the various parts of the networks aligned on the strategic vision?
In addressing the fundamental issues of organisational behaviour in a knowledge-based enterprise, Yannakou and Gorjestani say leaders will also have to come to terms with the nature of knowledge and how people share and learn.
Information isn’t knowledge
There is a distinction between knowledge and information. Albert Einstein said, “Knowledge is experience, everything else is information.” Yannakou and Gorjestani say considering knowledge as “experience” and not a matter of “differential geometry” may have profound implications for the way an organisation promotes its sharing.
“Another fundamental question is related to whether organisational knowledge sharing and learning is a technology issue or an issue of organisational culture and of people.”
Yannakou and Gorjestani say a mind set, which recognises the following, is needed:
- Knowledge resides in people’s minds, not in databases
- I don’t know what I know until I need to know it
- I will always know more than I can say, which is more than I can put on paper
- I don’t know what I need until I need to solve a problem
- It’s not about what we know, it’s more about how we can help our clients solve their problems
- Knowledge is not the exclusive domain of rich countries, nor of the rich in poor countries.
There are different types of knowledge in an organisational stock and flow sense. The premise of most analyses of knowledge is that it either exists “within and between minds” (tacit) or is codified in some form or another (explicit).
However, Yannakou and Gorjestani say it is important to understand the types of knowledge and associated transactions, as well as what is known and what is not known:
Yannakou and Gorjestani outline how organisations of the future will be able to leverage knowledge across enterprises:
|Scenario||To find knowledge||To learn to learn||To learn to share|
|What we know we know||Knowledge-bases and informal networks||Use institutional knowledge effectively||Learn from each other by sharing
|What we don’t know we don’t know||Global and regional networks||Learn to learn what you don’t know||Build global and regional networks
|What we know we don’t know||Acquire knowledge through R&D||Find best institutional knowledge||Share with clients and partners
|What we don’t know we know||Communities of practice||Learn to fill knowledge gaps||Learn from peers & clients|
“Knowledge partnerships of the future will leverage the comparative advantages of organisations that use flexible network-based sharing and learning processes,” they say.
Article provided by the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science