Where to start? I suppose let’s track back to the source, a Cowen & Co. analyst named Peter Goldmacher had this to say recently about Salesforce.com in a research note:
“Despite making a big splash around Social at its user conference in October, conversations with the CRM ecosystem around weak “Social” pipeline conversion, a lack of customer traction around Social Marketing and accelerating declines in sales productivity lead us to believe that Salesforce’s latest marketing gambit isn’t paying off.”
The Bizarre Logic
Larry Dignan, editor in chief over at ZDnet, then writes a piece entitled “Is Salesforce pivoting from its social enterprise rap?” with the tagline summary of “The social enterprise movement may be running into a wall of culture, management and process. It’s not about software“. The article follows with ”Now what? Like most technologies, social is following a familiar path. First there’s the argument that the software will change everything. Then there’s the realization that the latest tech won’t magically cure your enterprise. Then there’s the blowback. Quietly—and just as everyone writes it off—something else comes along as an enabler. The social enterprise may follow a similar route, but for now it’s disillusionment time.”
Never one to let the opportunity for drama pass by, Dennis Howlett decided to expand on Larry’s piece with one of his own entitled “Is it all over for social? Clues are everywhere“. He summarized Larry’s points and that of discussions over at Enterprise Irregulars as follows:
- The social enterprise is about culture, management and process. It’s not about software.
- If that culture and process point sounds familiar that’s because social software may be ERP in a new wrapper. ERP software changed companies fundamentally, but also led to spectacular IT disasters largely due to people, process and culture. Social with business process integration won’t work.
- Internal collaboration also creates social mojo. Collaboration goes well beyond software and frankly is difficult
A little background that should be provided here for context. There is a lot of confusion in this space as far as naming goes (and by confusion I often mean pointless arguing). Social Enterprise, Social Business, Enterprise 2.0, The Social Blendomatic 2000, you name it. Notice I did *not* say Social Media however, this is not about the Facebook and Twitter’s of the world. Everyone has their own angles on that (for full disclosure, here at SideraWorks we’re not actually huge fans of the term ‘social business’ but it’s the word the majority of the marketplace currently associates with. So, for now at least, it’s what we use. I make the point simply to demonstrate that we are not emotionally tied to any one specific term).
But here’s where I think these folks need to be taken to task for their limited view of the world and what is frankly an incredible arrogance in my opinion. Peter Goldmacher is an analyst, his job is to form educated opinions on specific organizations (in this case Salesforce) that will have a material impact on investors. He did his job. Whether I, or anyone else, agrees with his conclusions is irrelevant.
But then things break down. Suddenly Larry Dignan, Dennis Howlett, and others jump onto this Salesforce specific note and use it as a proxy for the entire concept of social business. Apparently it’s not ‘Salesforce failing’, it’s ‘social business failing’. Like a group of gleefully self-referential sharks they both create this chum ball of nonsense while tearing chunks out of it and patting each other on the fin for how insightful they are.
These two seemingly intelligent people looked at all the discussions and saw a few common conclusions jump out at them. Namely, “it’s not about software” and “it’s about culture, management, and process”. But this is where the blinders were put on. ”It’s not about software” simply isn’t an acceptable answer to them. If it’s not about software, something they actually know a bit about, then it doesn’t exist. If it’s not about software, then the concept of social business itself is a failure.
Technology is important. But for gods sake what kind of a narrow viewpoint determines that without it there is no way to improve? Here’s what that same logic looks like when applied to other areas in our companies “Collaboration is useless. Why? Because email isn’t as effective as when two people are actually in the room together.”. Huh?
Yes, social business is more about ‘culture, management, and process’ than it is any specific set of technologies. Should we apologize for that? Sorry? Why is that a bad thing? Because you have less to write about? Because those things don’t fit neatly into your world view? What?
IBM, arguably the strongest proponent of social business and seller of enabling software for the space, not only would agree with that people-centric focus…they preach it. It’s ok to just be a secondary enabler of core business improvements. Really. I promise. But IBM is *not* social business. If they have a bad quarter, ‘social business’ didn’t have a bad quarter. If they overcommit to projections of their softwares role in social business movements, then they overcommitted, social business didn’t fail.
Stop Ignoring The Hard Stuff
Do you want to know why CRM, ERP, and the like had such a ridiculous failure rates of deployment? Because people thought tech alone was the saving grace. They ignored the fact that without a supporting culture (and the change management efforts to shift that) the best technology in the world won’t be adopted by the workforce properly. They ignored behavioral dynamics and associated motivators. They ignored individual productivity in favor of consolidating data for insight analysis. If you ask me, it is precisely the fact that there has to be a focus on culture, organizational structures, and process that makes social business one of the most exciting areas of business at moment.
People are messy, technology is clean. Changing behavior is difficult to budget for, technology has a simplistic price tag and only requires a few people for due diligence during acquisition. Software becomes a trophy to be held up as a marker of progress, “Look at us, we are a progressive company”, “Look at the important stuff I’m doing as CIO”, etc. But you actually need the *progress* part of that equation at some point, not just the appearance of movement. This messy stuff is what I do, this is why SideraWorks was formed, so when you come pissing on my lawn with some half-baked logic, I’m going to take it personally.
What I would say to Dennis and Larry is this; Perhaps the reason you keep seeing words like ‘culture, management, and process’ pop up is because social business is about trying to actually make that progress…by whatever means necessary, even if it requires dealing with the hard stuff. Perhaps we are finally learning from our past mistakes that some things, such as those messy people, cannot be ignored or shortcutted. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is the goal of business improvement that defines the movement of social business and not the technology. Shocking, I know.
Matt Ridings – @techguerilla