2012 Is The Year Of Social Business

Business Social Networking

There have been numerous reports predicting 2012 will be the year of social business, and the increasing popularity of ‘digital transformation’ services touted by management consulting firms would appear to support this theory. However, I expect companies will struggle to “revolutionise” the way they do business.

In a word of caution, consultants and vendors alike will champion ‘digital transformation’ initiatives ala Y2K. But take their advice with a pinch of salt as most of these changes operate on a rip-and-replace model, asking companies to take a major leap of faith by dumping their existing communication and collaboration tools in favour of the latest, greatest social business paradigm.

These tactics simply don’t work. The dramatic change is often more than most companies’ employees—and their budgets—can bear, resulting in exorbitant spending on tools that never truly live up to their promised potential.

The real gains will be made where companies aggregate social and collaboration tools in the places where people already spend their time, such as email or the mobile client, without making workers change their daily work habits. This evolutionary approach to social business adoption will trump ‘rip and replace’ methodologies that peddle a totally new work paradigm.

Creating a single collaboration and social window is in and of itself a mega-trend in the enterprise software market that will lead to his second prediction, which is a significant consolidation in the social business/enterprise collaboration market.

Offering only one piece of the puzzle that doesn’t integrate with embedded systems, creates unwanted complexity. People don’t want to open yet another window to get their work done, no matter how well designed that tool may be.

A case in point: according to Forrester Research, while companies have invested in an average 5 or more communication and collaboration tools, 64% say they realise few, if any, benefits from their investments. Therefore companies will look for ways to reduce the number of collaboration windows their employees need to use. Aggregation of collaboration modalities will be a big trend this year.

Looking at other business trends in 2012, I also envisage that mobile IT will grow slowly in the enterprise. Mobile IT and mobile apps will continue to spread in the enterprise as more and more work is conducted outside of the office, but we will see a top-down adoption.

Senior managers who can buy their own mobile smartphones and tablets will readily adopt mobile applications, particularly those that allow them to tap into team documents and projects, but enterprise adoption will take time as IT gears up to support a more mobile workforce.

I also expect that the information overload many of us are experiencing is only going to get much worse. The inundation of information from more and more collaboration and social channels, delivered on a multitude of devices, will continue to erode our ability to tune into the world around us.

For example, a 2010 survey found that ‘the majority of people under the age of 40 stay digitally connected in bed,’ and ‘44% of people under 30 stay connected during a night out at the movies.’ An information ‘green’ movement will begin to peel back some of the excesses of the intrusion brought on by digital devices.

This isn’t just my view as one example of this movement is the recent recommendation of the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) to ban mobile phone use in automobiles. William Powers, in his book Hamlet’s Blackberry suggests adopting an Internet Sabbath, which David believes will appeal to more and more people who are stressed out by being ‘always on.’

My final insight into what 2012 has to offer is that we will see a significant new player in the public social networking space emerge. I predicts Facebook will remain the dominant player for the foreseeable future, but an attractive alternative will emerge in 2012.

There’s no argument that organisations want, and some really do need, to embrace the social business ethos that’s envisaged will accelerate efficiency and generate value for all stakeholders. The reality of this, for the majority of organisations, requires a major transformation to get enough people on board to realise the benefits.

But that doesn’t mean scrapping what you’re already doing (unless you’re doing it badly) – in fact quite the reverse. Rather than alienating with decrees of dramatic reforms, look at what you’re doing well, and just make it better.

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David Lavenda is Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy at Harmon. For the past 20 years, David has served as an executive for a number of high-tech companies. After completing a undergraduate degree in Physics, advanced studies in Electrical Engineering, and an MBA in Marketing, David co-founded Business Layers, an identity management company, serving as VP Marketing and Product Strategy from its inception until the company's successful sale five years later. Additional stints as VP of Marketing and Product Strategy for several successful high-tech companies followed. David is a technology expert blogger for Fast Company. He is also pursuing advanced studies in STS (Science, Technology, and Society) - focusing on the research of online behaviors.