Applying learnings from the past to social business today

Applying learnings from the past to social business today
– by Matt English

Some of us can remember the early days of computerization. This new and exciting concept brought with it many questions and uncertainties to business. There was a sense that computerization was inevitable, but mixed with much ambivalence about what its real impact might be. Indeed, there was scepticism about how far this new activity would go, and the extent of its impact in the future. The concept of transforming organisations through computerization was not widely appreciated. Indeed, the term EDP (or Electronically Data Processing) was the rather passive term used as a descriptor for what computerization meant and how it was viewed.

Today, we find ourselves at a similar point regarding social business and its potential impact on organisations. Whilst business today is moving with much greater speed on this issue compared to the emerging era of computerization, there are nevertheless some interesting parallels in the journey.

Firstly, the full extent of the transformation opportunity is still to be fully recognised. Many organisations are clearly experimenting with what social business can mean for them and their industry. But how many organisations are actively shaping and articulating social business strategies into their forward thinking to drive real transformation?

A second parallel is the extent of understanding and involvement by the C-suite. Many executives are treading rather cautiously in social business, and as a result may be missing opportunities to find new revenue streams or shape new opportunities with their customers. How many executives a really engaged in social business activity?

So what should organisations be doing regarding social business and lessons from the past? There are three things requiring senior management attention across many industries:

  1. The C-suite needs to be involved personally in social media to experience first hand what it means. This will help to form a view on how social business can add value to their organisation. In the early days of computerisation, it was not until executives experienced its “touch and feel” that they were able to grasp its power and future significance for their organisations.
  2. There needs to be a real focus on social business strategy which is elevated to the senior executive team planning, discussion and tracking. This is a senior executive responsibility as it represents a true transformation opportunity. It does not reside in just one function of the organisation. The early days of computerisation had responsibility sitting with the “EDP” department rather than across the broader executive team. Real transformation potential was unlocked only when the senior team became more engaged.
  3. Finally, it is important to recognise the learning curve that will be confronted in social business. There are many “do’s” and “donts”, but there is no simple formula or “one size fits all” approach. Organisations need to apply all the dimensions of managing change to achieve success. The early days of computerisation (and some to this day) were characterised by quite challenging experiences around managing change and driving real value.
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