The Last Mile of Social Collaboration

Today’s guest post is by Anthony Nemelka.  Anthony Nemelka is a long-time veteran of the CRM industry, having previously served as a senior executive at both Peoplesoft and Epiphany and most recently co-founder and CEO at Helpstream.  Rumor has it he’ll be announcing his latest endeavor later this week.

We often save the biggest problems for last.  In the world of business, that’s often because problems sneak up on us so slowly that we don’t notice them until they’ve gotten really big. Such is the case with the unintended consequences of social business collaboration, also referred to as Enterprise 2.0 (#e20) or Social CRM (#scrm).

Though still in adolescence, social business collaboration has already had such a positive impact on business that few seem to question the benefits anymore.  Questions like “what’s the ROI?” have given way to statements like “help me do it better than my competitors!”  But as the benefits of social business collaboration have become clear, so too have the next set of issues—as those of you working at the forefront of social business innovation have learned all too well.

Since leaving #scrm pioneer Helpstream a year ago, I’ve been on a quest to try to figure out where all this social business collaboration activity is taking us. In hockey parlance, I’ve been trying to figure out where the puck is going to be.

To do that, I spent a year at Socialtext, learning the ins and outs of the internal side of social collaboration–complementing the #scrm experience I gained at Helpstream.  I also spent a lot of time with members of the #scrm and #e20 analyst communities, gleaning deep insights from folks on the front lines of implementation–making some close personal friendships along the way.  And I spent hours and hours talking with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are working on “the next big thing” sure to be needed by socially-enabled businesses.  I discovered a lot of very smart people out there with a lot of amazing ideas and insights, and to all of them I owe a deep debt of gratitude.

Throughout this process, though, I found myself coming back again and again to one major theme.  I sum it up like this:

At the end of the day, business is all about getting the right stuff done.  If the right work doesn’t get done, you really haven’t accomplished anything–whether it’s shipping a product, closing a sale, or fixing a bug.  Making sure the most important work actually gets done is the biggest challenge for social business today.  It’s the “last mile” in enabling social collaboration to transform the way businesses operate.

So there you have it.  That’s my big insight.  Social business collaboration’s success or failure will be determined by its ability to ensure that the right work gets done inside—and outside—the organization.

The early challenge of social business collaboration was to prove that work really does get done faster and more effectively.  But it turns out that isn’t enough.  The right work needs to get done.  As they have begun to implement social business collaboration methods, companies have found that the increase in the number of problems resolved through this type of mass collaboration has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the number of critical problems never resolved.  Why does this happen you ask?  It happens because of how we’re solving the problems we’re discovering in the social ecosystem.  Even though we’re solving a lot more problems, the social collaboration methods we’re using are surfacing a lot more issues, with a lot more issues going unresolved.

Here’s an example.  Before social collaboration, of 10 problems identified by an organization, perhaps 9 got solved rather quickly but 1 really tough problem remained.  With social collaboration methods in place, an organization may now get 100 problems identified and 90 of them resolved quickly by the same level of resources.  But that leaves 10 really tough issues requiring the attention of their most highly skilled, expensive resources.  So they get 81 more problems solved than before, but they’re now left with 10 really tough ones to deal with—9 more than before.  Ouch.

Don’t expect the social collaboration Genie to go back into the bottle anytime soon.  We’re not going to solve this new problem by going back to the old way of doing things.  Clear visibility into problems we never knew we had before is not going away.

What we need is a modern, social way to solve this problem–one that brings big issues to the attention of the right people, in the right way, at the right time, while allowing everyone to collaborate in real time.  Most importantly, this real time collaboration needs to become part of the social record—not just a bunch of hollow words that disappear into a speakerphone or erased from the whiteboard at the end of a meeting like they do today.

It’s a difficult problem, but answers are on the horizon.  Before I delve into those in my next post, I’d like to hear what you think about all this.  Are you seeing this problem among your clients or inside your organization?  What are companies doing to try to solve this problem?  Let me know your thoughts and I’ll summarize them in my next post while introducing some emerging technologies I’ve found that are poised to completely transform the way we think about social business collaboration today.

It’s great to be back.

4 Replies to “The Last Mile of Social Collaboration”

  1. Wow! A very key insight indeed Tony! One that has helped me place the patterns I have been peripherally aware of in the right context now!

    And now that I have seen it for what that pattern is, I can’t ‘unsee’ it. If you get what I mean? 😀 You know like those pattern recognition puzzles with lots of dots & you have to figure out whats in there – you stare & stare at it, can’t make sense, but then someone shows you how to look at the dots and you see the pattern emerging … and then you can’t ‘unsee’ it. Every time you look at the mess of dots, the pattern just jumps out at you!

    So yes, thanks a lot indeed Tony! 🙂

    Real time is easy, right time is the difficult part. And these are emergent stuff, not something that you can plan for ahead of time & forsee them always. So the systems, processes, tools, people all need to be able to adapt to these emergent needs. And this needs the proper culture.

    Sadly, org/work culture is such an ephemeral concept for most. And many a times, you see some parts of an org excelling in the culture thats very well suited/conducive to the social way doing things. They have always been social, even before the social tools came into the picture.

    Often times its these groups within the org that get to the stage where you have now more problem than before. If only they could leverage the whole org, they could get those done, but I am extrapolating that the org as a whole will end up with more problems, which is when they might look at open collaboration with the extranet and so on!

    Pipe dream? Who knows? Seems like a plan to me though. Hope it pans out well over the years.

    And yes, am all ears. 🙂 Bring on the next post! 😀


    Thinker, Tinkerer, Connector |


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