Enabling the Social Business Platform

Some thoughts on adoption of Enterprise Social Networking (ESN).

Our friends at Microsoft have bought the best of breed Social Business platform (Yammer) and intend to tie it directly into their Enterprise Applications like SharePoint. Making it the major playing in the ESN marketplace.  You might be thinking $1.2 billion for what? What does it bring? Do businesses really need it?


The problem I see is that everyone now has a pie in the sky notion of a vague expected sea change, some new found productivity explosion and tangible business benefits to validate the expenditure and heartache of a latest buzz word implementation – Enterprise Social Networking.  Buzz word bingo.

When the expectations are set too high with too big a scope then the down to earth reality of post implementation adds to the negative feelings of what really can be a very good tool especially in the Knowledge Management field. (here’s my previous post on Knowledge Management)

Fast forward by one year. Most companies are still using SharePoint as a glorified file share perhaps with some other technology like Opentext, the concept of using Yammer as an enabler to facilitate communication, e-discovery of knowledge and experience so that it can be codified has fallen by the wayside. Back to Business as usual.  Does that sound too negative? But to actually deliver some quantifiable business benefits – what can we do – how do we create a win situation where it adds value to the business.

Lets get to the basic customer understanding?

What do we mean my Social Business Platform / Enterprise Social Networking?

Why Social Networking? To generate positive social content, and codified knowledge from within the Enterprise and use it to influence internal Customers especially on the global scale where an organization is distributed across geographic and business boundaries.


What is the customer expecting and the strategic objectives? 

A codified repository of knowledge gained inside the organization.  So that lesson learned, skills and best practices and the values of such are not lost in the hard reality of a  succession of staff.

What are the deliverables?? and how can we hope to measure the success of this?

To quantify the knowledge gained and the site usage gives an indication of  success which could be used for a KPI to the management. However – I don’t think that there is a forced way of saying ESN and KM is working in our business (more  the pity!).  It’s more of a ‘does the business see that has a benefit and if not’, how can we evolve the system and processes to make it so.  I want my users to value what we do. So lets make it useful.

In short how can we get more out of the massive possibilities of the tool – much more than the ‘glorified file system’ that it can so easily end up being left has.

This notion is something I am quite passionate about. So lets look at the business. Any business really.

What are users perception of ESN?

People doing their day to day job, they do not want to have another extra task, they do not want a tweet like conversation about ‘hey I am filing in a Terms of Reference for a new application for the IT Software Portfolio’. See even those few words took enough time to write.

Also lets look at the notion that users prefer to have conversations in private.  They like the idea of emails and forwarding messages. Of course the negative of this, is that if someone is sick or left the company then to continue the email trail can be a nightmare.

I like to separate the elements of knowledge into Work In Progress and Finalize. Formulating a Knowledge strategy for Work In Progress documents fails too many times. Let users create content as they must but enforce once its finalized then it must adhere to a policy.

I.e. agreeing a project definition via email is Work In Progress, But once finalized, they store it and allow others to benefit.

This ‘prefer email’ is the crux for me. People don’t want to be conversing about everything they are doing. And all the PowerPoint slides in the world wont change that. But in the other end of the spectrum – People looking for codified information  expect to be able to find the knowledge they seek immediately, and thus the system is set to fail.  They avoid to contribute and yet at the same time expect to consume.

“I’m too stretched already to log everything I do” “It doesn’t really work for me” “I don’t see the use in it” is some of the standard statements I get to hear.

My suggestion is, let’s not do a BIG SEA CHANGE.. with big expectations. Don’t do it. It will most likely fail.

Build a bridge to your users by the little things that they use day in day out.


Focus on one battle at a time. Find areas in the business where users are constantly looking for information – Welfare or HR are a good start. Build up area at a time. So that users see it as a tool rather than a chore.  Things that make their lives easier. Like a corporate meeting room booking system? Or Venture Wide Phone book?  Or Employees handbook (yes this is massively useful )

People in corporates are generally shy of posting comments and information due to a culture of fear. If you make a spelling mistake. or announce a view which against the company norm.

I’m a great believer in using Human Resources and Internal Communications to drive that adoption / business change.  Without their buy-in as core stakeholders it will be just another wasted expense and doomed IT project. I don’t want that and I’m sure you don’t either.

Once you have that basic foothold into the business, the rest can be rolled out by Corporate policy. If you push the Corporate Policy too soon, then this will trigger resentment.