I’m on a flight to Boston to dip into TechWeb’s Flagship Enterprise 2.0 Conference – the definitive watering hole for all enterprise social enthusiasts. Every year we look for both practical insights so practitioners can advance their effort on the ground, but as important this event is where one gets a sense of potential forward movement of the industry as a whole.
The movement if you will, started in 2006, then got tucked under the Social Business moniker, and found itself being tugged sideways, towards the Social Enterprise brand. How meaningful any of these shifts have been towards performance acceleraton is still being assessed. No question about one fact though – its been a great effort to lift all boats as we look to unlock hidden talents of our customers and employees.
But fundamental questions remain that no amount of marketing air cover can hide:
1. I wrote about the state of the state a few months ago as I saw it, and many of you commented. Now, are we still talking about just sharing, connecting, flows and streams or is there an innate understanding of what meaningful collaboration really entails.
2. Your business, if its global, is facing massive volatility these days. For instance, regardless of whether you build or sell or even do nothing in Europe, the Euro is a global problem and requires more agility and nimbleness in how we organize, how we react and keep charging forward as business whilst still managing operational and financial risk. In principle, connected organizations can help a lot here – connections not just internally but with partners and with respect to keeping your customers close to you in these turbulent times. But that takes far more than people to people connections and even general purpose collaboration. It’s about proximity to core process, real time analytics and data access and to content to have all inputs you need to collaborate and execute. Where are we aligning the value of what we do, to such real problems?
3. Blurring lines between the front and back office. Michael Porters model, based on primary and support activities as he called it, nicely broke this out at a time when we were busy moving from paper to technology. But in a socially connected world, informed customers could care less about this. If your prospect wants an expert answer found deep in the bowels of your supply chain, you need to extract that and get it to them so they can make a purchase decision. Are we still abstractly talking about fluid connections between customers, employees and partners or are we coming closer to providing smarter connections that can expertly find the right brains but also enable audit trails and necessary workflows to augment socializing?
4. Is social tech still hiding in Venus and process tech on Mars? Our industry colleague Dion Hinchcliffe does a super job illustrating how the technology is consolidating or as he says, collapsing into the grip of large vendors. But are we getting closer to making technology confirm to how we work or are we still forcing an unnatural way of work. For instance, are activity streams still just so cool that its ok for important notifications to fall off the front page just because I was out to lunch? Lets see about that.
I’ve bet my current career on this market category so I’m as vested as anyone attending in getting real answers to such questions. I consider these unemotional questions that I know many of you are also thinking about.
My role has changed in the past couple of months as I joined SAP and I’ve largely gone underground, both for personal reasons and for what we’re building at SAP. Other than the occasional visit to the #socbiz hashtag on Twitter on the weekend, an unintended benefit of this is that its forced me to step almost completely out of our echo chamber. Many of you like me don’t drink too much of the kool-aid and SAP has exposed me further to gnarly customer problems and extremely practical buyers and so it puts a lot of social business banter in even sharper contrast. Not implying that the process laden world is better – but it further highlights the need to be mercilessly practical about the value of social.
This conference is familiar ground to me. I’ve been privileged to serve on the advisory board and as track chair for the Strategy and the Sales and Marketing tracks over the years. The organizers and the content strategy is always top notch and this years line up of analysts, consultants, and doers is even broader than years past. They do all they can do. Now lets see if the stories deliver in a way that aligns to the larger problem set faced by typical buyers and instantly hits home for those executives up at night trying to execute day in and day out.
All that said, one thing is for sure: This is, by far, THE best group of people who attend this event and they share selflessly. I hope to have some time to meet up with some of my close friends and industry colleagues in attendance.