The Harry Potter Approach To Enterprise Social Computing
I’ve just been reading an article on Forbes, “How this CIO Helped Bayer Become Social”, and became incensed enough to write this riposte.
What the article says
The article is discussing the success of Bayer’s Material Science CIO Kurt De Ruwe, who apparently has created an irreversible movement by introducing social technologies in his organisation.
“You can’t stop it. Once you make it available to the right people on the right platform the magic happens. The users are all driving adoption, creating value and they are much happier. All in all its inexpensive to run and the impact it has on the organisation, though difficult to quantify in numbers is huge.”
The article goes on to claim that there are no shortage of benefits and lists the following;
- Ironically, people are talking again
- They find experts faster and more efficiently
- Employees share a lot more information – “It’ culture changing”
- One place where knowledge and people can connect
- The power of the crowd
- Executives are more accessible
Apparently 66% of employees are using the whole platform on a regular basis. The article wraps up with a quote from Kurt De Ruwe,
“Sometimes if people ask me to quantifiy in Euros or dollars what the platform has delivered to us – I tell them to look at the change of mindset, the information sharing, and how quickly information passes around Bayer. Things that otherwise may have taken two or three weeks to uncover, now take hours”
Finally the article advises us that it’s hard to argue with that kind of success and that we should all jump in.
What I have to say.
Or for an international audience who may not be familiar with that particular English colloquialism,
Let’s take another look at some of that article.
Firstly, there is the title of the article, “How This CIO Helped Bayer Become Social”. It suggests that being ‘social’ is an objective. It’s not. I’d be more impressed with a title such as “How This CIO increased profits by 50% using Social Computing”.
Then there is the claim that you just have to make it available to people on the right platform and the magic happens. I don’t believe that making technology available without a business purpose is going to get you very far, and I don’t believe in magic.
Next there is the claim that the users are driving adoption, creating value and are much happier. People may be using the technology but if you didn’t start with a specific purpose then it would take a considerable amount of luck for everyone to spontaneously start using it for a purpose that was aligned with your business goals. What value is being created and how is it being measured exactly? Gartner analysts sum it up well in the book The Social Organisation,
“A focus on business value begins with purpose, because purpose is the basis for assessing value” (Bradley and McDonald 2011)
Next comes the list of so-called benefits. Not a single number in sight. Imagine that you were trying to put together a business case and were citing these benefits. It’d look something like this;
- We want to spend £x to get people talking again
- We want to spend £x so that people can find experts faster and more efficiently
- We want to spend £x so that employees share a lot more information
Which people are talking to which people and why? What business benefit does it deliver? Which people are finding which experts? How much faster is it? How much more efficiently can they find them? Which employees are sharing which information? How does this help?
You get the idea.
The quote from De Ruwe at the end of the article sums it up. When asked to quantify the benefits in Euros or dollars he is unable to do so. Not even a vague estimate. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Not a sausage.
I totally disagree with the final comment in the article. It’s very easy to argue with that kind of success. To begin with I question how success is being defined since there are apparently no objectives to start with, and no one can quantify the value. And it is most definitely not time we all jumped in.
I am not saying that Kurt De Ruwe has not been successful with his social initiative. He and his organisation may well be very satisfied with the results of their investment. But this is not a good model to follow. Gartner’s research shows that only around 10% of this type of provide and pray social initiatives succeed (Bradley and McDonald 2011).
Why do I care?
This kind of propaganda does nothing to help anyone in the long term. Software vendors may benefit in the short-term from license revenues as gullible organisations rush to install social technology and wait for the magic. But eventually the vast majority of these initiatives will fail to deliver any value and the end clients will become even more disillusioned with the consultants and the software vendors. Is it any wonder that research shows around 70% of IT projects ‘fail’?
I am a great advocate of social computing technologies they have already changed our social lives, are playing a part in changing the geo-political picture and I have no doubt will eventually change the way we work. But it’s not magic. It’s very basic stuff. What are you trying to achieve? How will you know when you’ve done it?
My advice is that when it comes to social computing engage a consultant who understands that technology provides no benefits unless applied to business challenges or opportunities, and can help you in identifying those opportunities. If you want magic then go and see a Harry Potter film.
Bradley, Anthony J., and McDonald, Mark P (2011), “The Social Organisation: How to use social media to tap the collective genius of your customers and employee“, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston MA, USA