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​Why enterprise social platforms are an organisation’s primary innovation platform

​Why enterprise social platforms are an organisation’s primary innovation platform

The crisis of engagement in the modern workplace isn’t because people don’t want to care: it’s that organisations make it so hard to care. Enterprise social platforms are one of the most powerful tools that digital leaders have at their disposal.

‘Becoming social’ changes the way you think about what business has become.
‘Becoming social’ changes the way you think about what business has become.

Peter Drucker observed ‘what gets measured, gets managed’. How we define our world governs how we act in that world.

Measurement is a challenge digital leaders must overcome to capitalise on one of their greatest change levers: enterprise social platforms. Gerry Brown, Senior Analyst Customer Engagement for Ovum covered this point in his January 2016 paper ‘Reimagining Social Media for Customer Experience’:

“Although social metrics and measurement are still relatively undeveloped, ‘return on influence’ is fast becoming the new metric of choice for leading marketers. The downside of soft metrics such as this is the difficulty of demonstrating the direct "cause and effect" provided by traditional financial metrics such as return on investment (ROI) and return on capital employed. This lack of direct measurability has subdued enterprise investments in social to date.”

Because the investment criteria of organisations is based on the mass-production era organisation, digital era investments struggle to define their worth. The result is enterprise social platforms don’t get funded or, just as bad, get squeezed into a corner of the organisation.

The investment case for enterprise social platforms rests on digital leaders thinking through why these platforms are so important, which Brown makes plain:

“Social media represents a new method of business communication that is easier and more natural, intuitive, open, and honest than the traditional, formalized ‘suit and tie’ approach to doing business”

Most business leaders are familiar with the importance of ‘customer experience’. They understand the term, but not so much their own place within the customer experience. They are the least important participants in that experience if they do not themselves embrace social connectivity. This is an important message for leaders to understand. Again, Brown brings the point out:

“Enterprises need to acknowledge the emerging connection between quality customer experiences and journeys and effective social channel management. These are largely symbiotic – you cannot have one without the other. A ‘leap of faith’ may be required in terms of enterprise investment, because social measurements are still largely unconvincing and underdeveloped. However, if they are to be ultimately successful in their customer engagement strategies, enterprises need to become social in the way they do business rather than simply ‘doing social’ as a marketing function.”

‘Becoming social’ changes the way you think about what business has become. Brown identifies specific aspects how organisations and leaders can get stuck in ‘doing social’ as well as laying out a way forward:

“Most enterprises are organised to address social in a siloed way that is essentially bolted onto existing structure… Too often, enterprise social media platforms become the general-purpose mouthpiece for vocal members of staff – who all too often are not the subject-matter experts valued by external customers… Social contributions need to be “baked into” the remuneration plans and performance appraisals of all customer-facing staff members. Individuals need to be encouraged to manage their personal online brands as exposure on these channels becomes inevitable.”

Read more: The ‘L’ word

Locking social contribution into the remuneration of customer-facing staff (which, by the way, is everyone on an enterprise social platform) is important. A common response I hear to this idea is that people don’t have time for social, which reflects a misunderstanding of what social is. People make time for meetings and email, two of the least productive communication and collaboration mechanisms. We spend our time thinking, talking and writing. It takes little extra effort to use enterprise social platforms to capture some of this.


Jacques Bughin is a director based in McKinsey’s Brussels office and took a look at the hard numbers around enterprise social in his October 2015 report, Taking the Measure of the Networked Enterprise:

“It’s interesting that the incremental value from social technologies appears to be as large as it was from computers in the 1990s and, more recently, from technologies linked to big data.”

Read more: CIO Upfront: Breakthrough or middle ground?

Few doubt the impact of computers and big data. Another point raised by leaders doubting the impact of enterprise social is that organisational change needs to be widespread and planned. Bughin writes:

“…even incremental use among employees could significantly increase the value added for each technology... we also found returns to scope: using a second social technology doubles the value added at most levels of penetration.”

The promise of economies of scope is something digital leaders find exciting. Put another way, if leaders were presented with a means of doubling the value of big data investments simply by providing a cloud based SaaS platform, many wouldn’t give it a second thought.

The crisis of engagement in the modern workplace isn’t because people don’t want to care: it’s that organisations make it so hard to care. Enterprise social platforms are one of the most powerful tools that digital leaders have at their disposal.

Read more: Analytics now a boardroom conversation

The modern workplace is a social environment. Enterprise social platforms enable people to shape and influence the society of business they hope to take part in.

Rohan Light, Decisv


This is not a have-your-cake-and-eat-it situation. Clark Quinn wrote about the 'Miranda organisation' on his blog in October 2014: Miranda as in ‘anything you say can and will be used against you’. There are many such organisations and I expect they will have poorly performing enterprise social platforms. As Quinn says, it has to be safe to share.

So what is the big picture here? Why is it not safe to share in one organisation but it is safe in another? Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms gave us a starting point in their December 2014 HBR article Understanding New Power

“Among those heavily engaged with new power—particularly people under 30 (more than half the world’s population)—a common assumption is emerging: We all have an inalienable right to participate. For earlier generations, participation might have meant only the right to vote in elections every few years or maybe to join a union or religious community. Today, people increasingly expect to actively shape or create many aspects of their lives.”

Read more: The strategic CIO

Once people consider they have a right to something, being prevented from exercising that right transforms the issue into one of injustice. People with new power values see the issue as a matter of having a voice or not. And we can be sure from human history that people will always go where they have a voice. The idea of new power is subtle, as Heimans and Timms explain:

“New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”

Enterprise social platforms drive commercial and economic success because they enable people to describe the future of the company. This is what it means for an organisation to be social. It’s about providing a place for the community and letting the community evolve that place. Leaders who did their apprenticeships in the techniques of mass-production era can find it hard to respond. Heimans and Timms:

“Most organisations recognize that the nature of power is changing. But relatively few understand the keys to influence and impact in this new era. Companies see newly powerful entities using social media, so they layer on a bit of technology without changing their underlying models or values. They hire chief innovation officers who serve as “digital beards” for old power leaders. They “reach out” via Twitter. They host the occasional, awkwardly curated, lonely Google hangout with the CEO”

This idea of the digital beard goes to what the issue of authenticity means in the modern era. Authenticity in the context of social business isn’t about who you are as a leader. It’s about how you take away the restrictions that prevent your people from being who they are. We use the word ‘organisation’ to describe the work communities we build and lead. But the modern work place is more than the way we structure its activities.

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The modern workplace is a social environment. Enterprise social platforms enable people to shape and influence the society of business they hope to take part in. These platforms are the basis with which people in modern business organisations engage with each other. In this sense, the business that does every innovation except social innovation is not innovating at all.

Rohan Light worked at the enterprise level in Inland Revenue in a series of specialised roles in the risk, design, portfolio management and business group domains. He began to be consulted by business people on issues of strategy, management and execution, which led to the formation of Decisv. His formal strategy work led to teaching strategic thinking as an Associate at VUW’s Professional and Executive Development.

He cofounded the Enterprise Analytics Forum, a community of practice that meets to discuss issues relating to the fundamental challenges analytics poses to pre-digital business models. He extended his involvement in the analytics sector when he was appointed Chairman of the SAS Users of New Zealand. His purpose here is to help build a world class analytics capability for New Zealand.



Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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