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What’s the real value of social software in enterprise

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Earlier today I spent several invigorating hours talking to two analysts, one of them is a good friend, who are gathering material for a case study on social software and collaboration and were interested in my approach and experience of introducing corporations to the world of social web/media/software. In a nutshell it is ‘technology comes after or behind people’ and I find the tools only as interesting as their functionality and usability helps people do whatever they need to do.

Social software has an added dimension, which is that it should not be handled or implemented by IT departments or even marketing or HR departments, and certainly not in a traditionally organised and run enterprise. So I wasn’t sure whether I could offer what they are looking for.

Interesting and worthwhile knowledge emerged from the discussion but I am yet to be convinced about it lending itself to case study format and whether it has any meaning within the current metrics requirements.

Here is an example: I described the ‘implementation’ of a wiki used by the staff in a team of about 40 people. The wiki has been set up for sharing of work priorities on a weekly basis, to notify others about absence from the office, projects, holidays, announcements. It was originally set up for one specific purpose – to save several hours a week for the person collating information into an email that became obsolete almost the moment it was dispatched to everyone.

Very quickly more information and functions were added as their usefulness became apparent. It would be fair to say that the wiki has turned, gradually and without much ado into a kind of team intranet. It has been ticking over in the background with the users driving and looking after it. Not the IT department which has had zero involvement.

Now what about the value of the wiki? The current metrics allow for a straightforward calculations based on time saved for the one person and then distributed across more people who now have contribute to the wiki. Not a huge deal really and the time saving alone would most likely not warranty the introduction of the wiki, if that’s how its implementation had been approached it.

The value of correct and better class of information, timely and updated as needed, adjustments to the type of information recorded, the focus the wiki brought to the department, the better communication seems always lost in such calculations. There are, after all, no metrics for it. However, true metrics zealots would deny there is value in the above and these are direct outcomes of the tool.

But what about the indirect ones? They are the most valuable aspects of the wiki’s impact but they cannot be tied in any measurable way to it.

1. The autonomy employees experience when driving not only the content but also the structure of a collaborative working place. The sense of ownership and ability to have impact – social software tools are almost exclusively under the control of the individual as they are build around the user (the good ones anyway) and this brings an unheard of degree of user-centricity to inflexible process-driven environments.

2. The first hand knowledge of the tool, the experience of its capabilities and limitations. The value there is those same employees will introduce the wiki they use regularly in one areas of work into other areas and projects. I’d argue that this is the most significant and long-term value of social media and social software tools at this stage of their use in enterprise. If anyone tells me they can put metrics on that, I’ll just call them a consultant (not a nice thing in my book!).

In short, the current metrics and the way we approach measurement of value in enterprise is deeply flawed and inadequate. The answer is to look at alternatives measures of value that we can’t see it for the metrics right now.

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4 Responses to “What’s the real value of social software in enterprise”


  1. Power up your business with a Wiki | WOWNDADI
    on Mar 28th, 2008
    @ 20:36 pm

    [...] a Wiki Reading a post on David Tebbutt’s blog – You calling me a consultant? – lead me to: What’s the real value of social software in enterprise from Adriana Lukas. And that lead to this [...]


  2. Leon Benjamin
    on Apr 6th, 2008
    @ 22:14 pm

    Hi Adriana,

    Doc Searls – one of the co-authors of the seminal Cluetrain Manifesto recently said;

    “Think of markets as three overlapping circles: Transaction, Conversation and Relationship. Our financial system is Transaction run amok. Metastasized. Optimized at all costs. Impoverished in the Conversation department, and dismissive of Relationship entirely. We’ve been systematically eliminating Relationship for decades, excluding, devaluing and controlling human interaction wherever possible, to maximize efficiency and mechanization.”

    And here is a a clue to the challenge of measuring relationship capital. The issues you highlight on measurement and metrics are valid but ‘command-and-control’ mindsets approach the problem in a 19th century, as old as the hills kinda way. Forward looking companies are using Social Network Analysis techniques to identify the movers and shakers in their organisation. I know of at least one company that is turning away business from large companies for its services. Typical SNA providers run software over email servers and PABXs. They scan the conversations and build up pictures of social networks, leaders, influencers. Companies pay a lot of money for this data. It helps them plan mergers & acquisitions, succession plan for key people and understand how work actually gets done in their organisation.

    The value is first in the behaviour change. How difficult is it for companies to achieve this by conventional means? How valuable is this? Second, the value is in the data. Networks like Ecademy, LinkedIN and Xing have this data. More so than some of the organisations of the very employees who exist in these networks. Data includes; private messaging stats, group contributions, peer reviews & comment, reputation ratings, network size, degrees of separation, and so on.

    Don’t underestimate the work that is going on around the value of social networks – both commercial academic. Remember that ‘good will’ value in a listed company can be as high as 60% of its market capitalisation. But no one knows how to measure it. That’s why fund managers are putting up to 2% of their profits into research to discover how to measure what are essentially relationships.


  3. Quote of the day : Tomas Kohl
    on May 10th, 2008
    @ 5:40 am

    [...] Adriana Lukas writing about the usefulness of wikis (and social software in general) in the enterprise: [...]


  4. FEDERICA
    on May 27th, 2008
    @ 13:13 pm

    can i ask you what do you think about the originality of social software linked to academic library?

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