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SOMESSO/Headshift Social Business Summit - a meeting of minds

I've been a regular at every SOMESSO event so far, and Lee Bryant kindly invited me to the latest incarnation last Thursday - a joint SOMESSO and Headshift one day Social Business Summit.   Sorting out a very embarrassing attack of the ave.exe virus delayed me enough that morning to miss the two keynotes from Jeff Dachis and JP Rangaswami (my Mac friends tell me I should make the switch, but I'm stubbornly staying on Windows along with 90% of my customers).  I was particularly disappointed missing JP, as everyone told me his session was excellent, breaking the way ahead with the social business topic down to transaction cost.  As soon as the video of his session is available, I'll update this post to include it.  

The social business theme is dear to my heart.  The word social and the social media term can be counter productive when talking to some business leaders about the way businesses needs to change in the 21st century.  This summit meeting was all about applying what I would call enterprise 2.0  and some would call social tools (blogs, wikis, micro-blogging, tagging and other collaboration tools) to help businesses be more effective.  As an example JP had talked about opening up his email inbox so that all of his team had access.  Doing something like that changes the working dynamic completely.  A commitment made in a private email is one thing, but it has a different social contract when it is made in the open with the whole team monitoring it.  The new tools provide a completely different, open and more transparent way of working compared to the old style email driven culture of so many organizations.  One of the summit moderators, my good mate Luis Saurez, is a well known example of the change, having lived without email (except for HR issues) for several years inside the IBM company.   The change in approach needs a culture change in many organizations where hoarding knowledge is the route to power in a command and control structure.  The "social business" of the title highlights a shift that is currently happening where these social tools need to be more integrated in to the day to day business processes of the organization.  Products like Salesforce Chatter are leading the way to bringing collaboration solutions and conventional business systems together, but we still have a long way to go to provide an integrated approach.  

The Summit brought together a very high quality audience to workshop the topic.  Take a look at George Nimeh's Twitter list of attendees to give you a flavour.  There were some great stories shared - I was very interested to hear from Mark Masterson on how CSC had managed to implement a company wide "pilot" of enterprise 2.0 functionality to all 92,000 employees, before they rolled out a more complete solution once that first step was deemed successful.  As always at this kind of conference, the networking and chats around the formal sessions were some of the most valuable aspects.  I particularly liked the group walking discussion in Green Park after lunch.  However, one of the flaws of the day was breaking us in to three groups to discuss social business in terms of internal collaboration, external connections, and the hybrid eco-system.  Social business needs a fully integrated approach.  The Cluetrain premise of "all markets are conversations" still holds true, and we should be considering an overall collaboration strategy that connects together the business with customers and partners, as well as individual use cases of enterprise social media tools.    

I was in Luis's internal group, where we were considering what a large, old style telco should be doing to change when confronted with a smaller, more agile new entrant to the market who is stealing their market share.  The discussion covered topics like education, collaboration processes and solutions, business analytics, the changing work place, a mission to humanize the enterprise, internal communication, innovation management and stakeholder management.  However, I couldn't help feeling the discussion was all too theoretical.  I wanted a pragmatic action plan of the "things" we should be doing.  Maybe the start would be an IBM Jam style activity over a 72 hour period to get everyone brainstorming on the transformation needed.  I wanted to know what they would put in place for better idea management.  What processes would they put in place to help employees be more creative? What should they be doing in practice to become more customer focused.  What community activities should they be setting up with their stakeholders?

When the other two groups came back to report, they both commented on how separating external and the eco-system didn't feel right.  Then Anne McCrossan synthesized the day, commenting that there was an element of frustration at the start, but that the social business concept has huge potential.  She confirmed that most businesses realize there is much more value they could be tapping in to in their internal and external relationships, but that there are associated risks too.  She talked about making the transition to this new way of working, but that strategic intent doesn't ever go away.  The framework for social business needs to incorporate governance, guidelines, and culture in the transition to a user centric business model with empowered employees.  She asked "what is the unifying thought of this business?" She went back to JP's idea that the transaction cost is going down, but that there are opportunities for innovation in marketing, and customer service and other business processes.

Lee Bryant closed the summit highlighting that apart from the keynotes there had been no shiny presentations.  He suggested the day had been messy and imperfect.  He thanked us for contributing, and told us Headshift are committed to an ambitious, long term goal to change the way organizations work (and not to play with technology).  He talked about it being a 5 year project, but that they would keep their feet on the ground.  He told us we should watch for output and material from the Summit, and I'll publish links here as soon as they become available.

I saw Ton Zylstra's thoughts.  He said:
"Considering the invited participants and the qualities and experience they brought we could have done and should have done way more than we did. I for one am sorry I could not see my way into the discussion to put this forward at the event itself"
Like Ton, I think we made a start, but the Summit is a long way off.   This was a great meeting of minds, but I can't help feeling it was a missed opportunity.  We should have made more of a start on the social business manifesto that we need to focus attention on the practicalities of how we connect internal and external collaboration with existing/traditional business solutions.    

Flickr photos from the event
Anne McCrossan's take on the day