IBM Heralds The Mainstreaming of (Not Social) Business in Orlando

I was at IBM Connect 2013 last week in Orlando.  A wonderful experience where IBM brought together partners, customers, suppliers (also known as consultants and system integrator  and analysts.

It was a good event from many perspectives, but I want to highlight three things I noticed in the time I was there:

(Social) Business is Now Mainstream

Back in the old days we would define mainstream as ~30% adoption in the overall market (which means across verticals, industries, functions, and company sizes).  If you don’t have market numbers to quantify adoption, you can refer to mainstream as the inflection point where early adopters are not the exceptional users and most organization have taken to understand, adopt, and implement a technology or concept.

IBM gave us some great case studies on stage during the event (starting with a community-driven art project called that was a great example of how to leverage an online community to build a business) across industries and sizes.  I also talked to a whole slew of organizations, different sizes and different industries, that shared with me their work and their plans.  I can honestly say that the concept of leveraging online communities for business has gotten to be mainstream – even though understanding the use cases needs some time to get better.

You probably notice that I am not using the word Social; that is correct.  There was not a single mention of “Facebook for the Enterprise” or “Twitter as a Solution”.  Nor was there an emphasis on social channel management tools as most other vendors have been touting as their social layer.  This was one of the first times where demos, case studies, and conversations did not include the words social (although a fair number of people were using them, not really to mention social channels as much as online communities).

Social, as I have been saying from the beginning, is not a good term.  It does not really talk to the value the social channels contribute and instead focuses on the “engagement” the interaction between stakeholders (partners, suppliers, employees, customers, etc.).  There is no use for the word Social in the enterprise, but there is a fair amount of value in using online communities (as I have said repeatedly in writing and presentations).

We shall continue to use the word social for another 12-18 months, I am afraid, at which point it will become the same as saying “i-something” in the early days of the internet. (update: I realized after I pushed publish that this prediction had been discussed before with a colleague; I want to be fair and give credit where due.  Brian Vellmure,this is your prediction as well as mine).

This is not about social, nor about kumbayah or focus on humanity.  This is about business with KPI (key performance indicators) and metrics that correspond to that.  The conversations I had and the show IBM put on stage was about the same.

Online Communities Come of Age

Back in the early days of the social evolution we are ending, most people noticed that communities were becoming more commonplace.  Few organizations understood well enough how to use them, what value they contributed, or how to leverage them appropriately in this “new” world.  Many, if not all, of the organizations i talked to about them wanted to learn more, to explore, to see what they could do with them.  And they did – in the form of pilots, test projects, and “skunkworks” projects.

The results? what we are beginning to see.  In addition to the early, limited use-cases we had (knowledge management, feedback, ideation) we have discovered many more use cases where communities play a pivotal role – and we have shared most of these lessons with the rest of the world.  As a result, we have seen amazing projects emerge with a focus on leveraging online communities (in addition to the I mentioned before, look at what the City of Dubuque is doing with their communities).

Alas, a large number of organizations have not either embraced nor understood well enough the value of online communities, but they are making progress towards it.  We are going to see a lot more different uses for them in the next 6-9 months, and we are going to assume they are a part of the infrastructure (as access to social channels is already assumed today) in the next 12-18 months.  If you don’t yet have something “cooking” for communities you better start looking for recipes.

One more quip.  Do you know why online communities are flourishing while social channels are decaying rapidly (in the enterprise, that is)? As i said before, the only purpose of this social evolution was to enhance collaboration (easier and better than before), and for that to flourish you definitely need an online community as the central connecting point.

Anyone Can Make This Work

The city of Dubuque, Iowa.

A manufacturer of heavy equipment (Caterpillar).

A ragtag group of musicians, videographers, poets and writers.

All these people proved a critical point about this, rather two.  First, this is not about technology changing the way we communicate or the way we work – it is about technology letting us do things differently and collaborate better.  Second, this is not about being social – it is about business done at the intersection with collaboration, in a way like never before: leveraging online communities.

I am not dismissing their accomplishments, far from it – they are the pioneers that are showing the way.  Alas, they are also the ones that a showing that anyone who can gather a purposeful online community and tie it to a business need, can make this work.  This is not rocket science, this is about continuing to evolve businesses by leveraging online communities.

If a 100+ year old company can show the way without the “right” social software (read, no hyped up  activity stream or complex architecture), and a group of users in not-the-swankiest, most-celebrated “avant garde” organizations can make it work – then anyone can make it work.

And that is when a concept becomes mainstream. Right?

disclaimer: IBM invited me to this event, paid for my expenses and entrance fee, treated me to some of the meals and arranged for meetings with some of their executives.  I was free to roam the show and talk to anyone I wanted as well.

3 Replies to “IBM Heralds The Mainstreaming of (Not Social) Business in Orlando”

  1. Real Interesting, I was invited too to the event, wasn’t able to make it.
    In europe we are seeing an increasing amount of interest on “social business” best practices. We’ve worked with IBM Connections, integrated with SugarCRM (a big IBM partner) and what amazes me the most is the ease at which users get up to speed, the levels of user adoption are far way faster than standard collaboration tools. I totally agree with your statement “it is about technology letting us do things differently and collaborate better”, IBM is done a great job going about achieving this goal.


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