Saturday, 5 November 2011

In the IBM Forum: conversations on social business


   After a week focusing on the ‘analogue’ / physical workplace, it was back into the digital world this week.  It was also a week on my feet as on Tuesday I chaired the Social Workplace conference in London and then on Wednesday and Thursday I chaired the new HR Technology (including social technology) conference in Amsterdam.  And it was a week of learning about IBM as I was with Jon Mell (who I interviewed recently) at the Social Workplace conference and Ian Bird at the HR Technology one.

But this focus actually started on Monday with a session at IBM featuring a few bloggers: Johnnie Moore, Peter Gold and Matt Alder (pictured) plus Mike Morrison (sat behind me) and some people from IBM, including Jon (pictured), and Stuart McRae, who I saw present on IBM’s jams earlier this Summer.

We kicked off with a suggestion from Jon Mell that in today’s organisation, where hierarchy doesn’t matter (doesn’t it?), being social is a key requirement, and that this needs to go beyond being digital.  For some reason, despite this encouragement to go broader, our conversation seemed to focus heavily on social tools.

Some of the key points we discussed, for me, were:

  • Our workforces are increasingly ahead of their organisations.
  • Despite this, social networking tools often aren’t working well in organisations – following your boss feel like friending your dad – not cool.
  • Where it works, it’s because social networking has been made an organic part of the business vs employees being social and then going back to work [though I challenged this as I think in the best social organisations, social plays a much bigger role than this].
  • There are some challenges in this too.  Stuart gave the example of auditors using the network of people they studies for their accountancy qualifications with in preference to senior staff in their own firms – leading to information leakage and greater difficulty in firms establishing their own approach.
  • People naturally follow social processes rather than business processes, so we need to unforce people (from using business processes) rather than force them (to use social processes).
  • Unplanned outcomes are often the most interesting.    Peter gave an example of a retail company where staff pushed back against being given T-shirts.  When consulted they suggested shirts with logos of their products and turned a cost into a profit item.  This could never have been planned.
  • This is the difficulty with traditional business cases.  ROI can be a red herring.  IBM rewarded people for providing case studies.  This helped adoption and helped provide benefits for continuing work after starting it.


We also talked quite a bit about IBM’s own (Lotus) Connections product – including a rather bizarre (to me) conversation comparing Connections to BuddyPress (just because I think this has precisely no connection to the social business), though we got into IBM’s own use of Connections more deeply at the Social Workplace conference.



So an interesting debate, though the most interesting part of the day for me was walking back to the tube with one of the other bloggers, (perhaps because this is where we got more social?). We both agreed that the session had suffered from a couple of limitations:

  • A lot of what makes social works is doing the right thing in a particular organisation. It depends on this – on what leaders or other individuals do – not what we as thought leaders think they should be doing!
  • We weren’t totally sure how much IBM has taken ownership of the event, or whether this is just a good idea of their PR agency.  And Jon, it really isn’t very social to disappear from your own session!


Anyway, you can keep track of IBM’s work on the social business at

Also see Peter Gold’s report on the session.


Technorati Tags: IBM,social,business,workplace,Stuart McRae,Jon Mell,Ian Bird


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