When Products Become Participants
In his keynote this morning at Cloudforce DC, salesforce.com Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff launched the model of The Social Enterprise as today's necessary combination of technology and culture – not only for competitive companies, but also for mission-focused governments and nonprofits.
Both Marc and co-presenter Dan Burton, the company's Global Public Sector Senior VP, noted a progression that can only begin with a "secure, trusted, and private" social network such as Salesforce Chatter – building around that engine to construct a high-performance vehicle for success.
The Social Enterprise starts with the shift from document-centered to conversation-centered communication and collaboration. Instead of massive document collections, or isolated emails whose attachments are almost immediately out of date, the social enterprise attaches content to an update and its comment thread; that social model gives every participant immediate and consistent access to shared knowledge, current state and dynamic process.
Further, the social enterprise doesn't wait for someone to notice an event and start a conversation about it. Rather, it gives abstract actors (accounts, opportunities, trouble cases) the ability to generate an update and thereby start a conversation when a trigger event occurs. That's why it's essential for an enterprise social engine to have an organic application platform, like the relation between Chatter and Force.com, instead of requiring a costly and brittle integration of legacy code.
When you have that foundation in place, you can start the three-step journey to becoming a full-blown social enterprise.
- Private social network (e.g., Chatter): flatten your organization, create new collaborative ties across business units, and think of people in terms of the skills they contribute rather than the box where they sit in the office or the organization chart. Become responsive to events, rather than being bogged down in routine procedures.
- Partnering social (polysocial?) network: with your private social network as the newly energized brain, add well-managed links to external networks such as Twitter and Facebook as your extended nervous system. Build well-conditioned reflexes, using facilities like Tweet-to-Lead; use the Chatter API and Force.com to enable consistent real-time issue handling and organizational learning.
- Product social network: stop thinking of your product as an object delivered, and think of it as a connection created that continues to yield new value during the product's entire lifetime. Look at initiatives like Toyota Friend, not as a template, but as an inspiration for questions like "how can our brand represent extraordinary value, to the point that the customer replacing one of our products would never have any reason to consider any other provider?"
Following the Cloudforce DC keynote, I was talking about these ideas with CRM consultant and ZDNet blogger Paul Greenberg when Paul made a key observation: that the 'Product Social Network' is not an entirely new idea, but that prior incarnations did not have the product itself as a participant. We both immediately thought of Eric von Hippel at MIT, whose book "Democratizing Innovation" is no easy read but offers key insights. In particular, von Hippel observes that innovation "goes rogue" when
- Products are open-source and/or highly configurable/customizable
- Some users have incentive to innovate
- Some innovators have incentive to share
- Diffusion of innovations is inexpensive
We can see this kind of innovation incentivization on the salesforce.com IdeaExchange, or on Dell's IdeaStorm or MyStarbucksIdea.com, or on the largest scale in the entire open-source community. We should also ask the question, though, proposed to me by Paul Greenberg in DC earlier today: what happens when the product itself jumps into the conversation?
As I thought about Paul's question during an afternoon flight to Phoenix, examples quickly came to mind.
- What happens when cars can share, with their owners' permission, information about today's drive times by different routes between two points?
- What happens when cameras can pool their geotag data to suggest the best viewpoints for photos in scenic places?
- What happens when electronic textbooks can collect reading histories to suggest which pages are getting the most attention – whether because they're especially useful, or because they need rewriting to make them clear?
Collecting raw data of this kind will be easy with cloud facilities, but doing useful things with that data is going to take real talent and diligent effort. Then again, it's almost the definition of enterprise technology that it raises the floor of what's easy, elevating the value that one must add to have something that people will buy.
In the land of the sharp stick, the man with a steel-bladed shovel is king, but once everyone has a shovel it takes an engine-driven earthmover to have a competitive advantage. There is, of course, a further consequence. As Norbert Wiener observed in 1948, "There is no rate of pay at which a United States pick-and-shovel laborer can live which is low enough to compete with the work of a steam shovel." The choice is not between the status quo and something else, but between two different versions of 'something else' – and only one of them attractive.
Becoming a social enterprise, in short, is soon to be a necessity for any business that wants to remain relevant in its marketplace; the cost-effective power, and the process acceleration, of the cloud and its connections will be vital aids to getting it done.
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0.