Social Business drives Business Culture.. not the other way around
Douglas Heintzman 060000Q98X firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  social-business
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A little more than 3 years ago I was visiting one of IBM's major manufacturing customers. I was there to talk about collaboration technologies with the CIO and his core staff, and as you can imagine, at that time, in late 2008, most of the conversation centered on how to take costs out of the business. I talked about the new compressions algorithms would save him storage space, how Sametime can offset load from the email infrastructure etc... of course having started my career in sales I couldn't resit expanding the dialog and hopefully opening up new opportunities.
The discussion came around to newly emerging social space. I stated to tell the story about how IBM had changed over the last number of years; how we used Sametime to reach out to experts; how we had 598,000 entries in our profiles database; how we hit hit that profiles database a number of million of times a day; how we had 470,000 activities, how we had 27,000 bloggers, how we had 1.2 million social tags and how that had improved search results and the ability to quickly find information (of course IBM's adoption of Social Business technologies is considerably more advanced now). I talked about how we were using wikis and how all these technologies allowed us to work in a new and very exciting way.
.... He put his hand up to stop me and said " that's fine and well... but you guys are IBM. You are all alpha geeks.... we make tires". His point was that it was easy for our tech savvy culture to adopt this new social infrastructure but his culture couldn't possibly absorb it.
There was a kernel of truth in his objection but after a few seconds of silence I pushed back pretty hard. I said " With all due respect sir, I think you are looking at this whole question form the wrong point of view... and it may turn out to be a very big problem for your company. One of the most important lessons from history is that when a group of human beings gets together and decides to leverage some new kind of infrastructure, whether it was that they located their village on a coastal plain, or on a river and built some boats, or they built a road system, or a rail system, or an electrical grid, or a communications grid or a data grid.... a few things always happen. First of all specialization, higher quality specialized skills get combined in order to produce increasingly complex and valuable composite goods and services. Second of all, accelerated ideation and creativity. As people with bits and pieces of a puzzle come together and as new ideas provoke new thinking and serendipitous connections are made, innovation happens, wealth is generated and societal agility and resilience is increased. The question shouldn't be 'I have this kind of business culture and thus what infrastructure can I absorb?' The question should be more like ' If I had access to this kind of infrastructure what kind of business culture can I build and does that business culture support my organization and business objectives?'"
There was about 30 seconds of silence as this CIO and his staff digested this adhoc history lesson. Then some heads started to nod.
Of course different companies in different industries will have greater and lesser abilities to adopt social business technologies but still I think it is important to think about this space as a transformation opportunity and to adopt fit for purpose strategies to accelerate adoption.
I think we need to move beyond feature and function discussions and have some real business discussion with our customers about what kind of company they want to build and how social business infrastructure can help them build it.