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Enterprise Social Software – Yet Another Boondoggle

By Andrew Pollack on 12/13/2012 at 03:59 PM EST
This has all happened before. In 2001 "Knowledge Management" was all the buzz. Everyone had to have it. IDC was predicting a massive market for this new sector ($5.4 Billion by 2004). How's your IBM KDS server doing these days?

(Source1 - IDG, Source2 - The Free Library, Source3 - KM World)

I used to ask someone I know who worked in the I.T. department of a clothing retailer to try standing up in a meeting now and then and ask “How will this help us sell shirts?” It’s a serious question. I’ve seen countless I.T. projects fail, or just fail to do much good, after spending millions of dollars solving a problem that didn’t really exist while at the same time ignoring the plaintive cries of the workers in the rest of the company pleading for small improvements to make their day to day jobs a little smoother.

If you work in a consultative role with customers then sure, you may have need from time to time to locate that obscure piece of knowledge known only to some coworker you’ve never met in an office half way around the world. You may then need software that can dig out that expertise, locate the resource, and instantly chat with the person while language translations happen in real time, all so they can rapidly respond to customer demands.

Those kinds of people do exist. In fact, they probably exist in our industry more than almost any other and that may be where our bias toward thinking of their needs comes from. Where most of those people certainly do not work, however, is in the bulk of all those cubicles where all those people in our offices do the work that actually makes the money for the company. Unless the company itself is a consulting services firm, most of the people doing most of the work are just trying to get through day processing whatever normal everyday tasks they get paid to do. They don’t need or want to talk to a guru in Whogivesacrapistan about the essential role of a particular type of staff used by sheep herding tribesman of the Northern Plains. They just need John, who sits two cubes over, to sign off on this year’s fabric order.

Our industry has a reputation for creating problems in order to create solutions and sell them. For the overwhelming majority of knowledge workers, the need is for decent document creation, project management, highly customized process management, and straightforward communications tools. Adding “streams” of information just gives them another thing to be expected to keep up with. “You didn’t see that? Why not? It was in my stream yesterday.” No matter how much you want to, you’re not allowed to answer “because I was too busy actually doing my job to keep up with your stream”.

The stuff I’ve seen out there being sold as “Social Software” comes down to the following parts:

1. Profiles: Something most employees would rather not have. It adds yet another level of anxiety. Is my profile up to date? Did I forget to include every single skill I’ve ever had? I made a camp fire once in Girl Scouts that started with just one match, should that be there? Is my picture both attractive and at the same time professional enough? Argh! Who cares? Most employees have no need or desire to expand the number of people they’re working with, and when they do it seems to work ok to be introduced!

2. Streams: Based on warmed over and badly done imitations of Facebook or Twitter, what these really are is an endless dump of all the information everyone else wants you to have. They are an excuse for poorly organized information storage. They are the exact opposite of the “taxonomy” idea from the last “giant new paradigm” called Knowledge Management. You don’t dare not subscribe to someone’s output at work – if they find out, they’ll think that you don’t value them. These become an endless task of constantly checking for new additions lest you be caught “out of the loop” by not reading.

3. Document Repositories: Like file sharing, but done badly and dumped into streams. It’s excellent when documents are in the stream, because then they keep getting moved downstream where you have to go looking for them.

4. Workflow: At best, very expensive to customize in any serious way and with functionality not yet on par with what Lotus Notes gave you in 1993. This is probably the most important and effective thing an I.T. organization can add after a working email system and it’s now been moved into an expensive and complex “Social” context.

Let’s not forget that we’re spending MILLIONS of dollars to do this. Is it any wonder that the business side of the house is constantly trying to find ways to outsource the I.T. shop?

According to IDC, the KM access software segment will lead the way in terms of revenue and growth and overtake the infrastructure segment in 2002. Its revenue will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46%, from $500 million in 1999 to $3.3 billion in 2004. In comparison, the total knowledge management software market will increase at a CAGR of 31%.

IDC Forecasts the Knowledge Management Software Market to Reach $5.4 Billion Worldwide by 2004


These endless boondoggles are just attempts to define new markets and suck down millions of dollars from hapless customers and are nothing but a distraction from our real job as I.T. professionals -- helping our customers do THEIR job better and make more money for their own companies. As long as we keep conveniently forgetting why we exist, and that we are a cost of doing business -- not the business itself -- the business side of the house will always be looking for new ways to outsource or otherwise control our endless costs.

It's time to wake up and build the software people want.


There are  - loading -  comments....

re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Vitor Pereira on 12/14/2012 at 05:17 AM EST
Although I do agree with you about the whole thing being over-hyped as usual by
an industry that indeed tends to create solutions looking for problems there
are a couple things I see differently.

1. Profiles: It's not about my profile and I shouldn't be obsessed with it. You
make it sound like paranoia or something. What I care about is being able to
find people that can help me get the job done and maybe avoid sub-contracting
outside the company when I do have a resource inside. And yes, I'll keep mine
updated so that others can find me too. Question, why do you have a LinkedIn
profile?

3. Document Repositories: Documents & Streams? Say what?

4. Workflow: if you talking about Connections, yes. Bloody expensive and
painful to customize and you can forget about functionality ever being on par.
But hey, do you need to customize it? Are the extensibility points not enough
to easily bring in your Domino apps? I don't know the answer either, yet.
Debate.

Major gripes I have with this particular product is lack of consistency between
apps (who ever brought in the new mail piece with spell checking and left it
out of the other editors should be taken around the back and shot. Twice).
Amongst other things I attribute this to different parts of the product having
different product managers. I wonder if they know each other.
The wiki is also a joke, I stopped trying to bring people in who have been
using wikis for ages. It's game over when they see the wiki in Connections. I
quit trying when they threatened to tie me to a tree outside in the cold winter
and leave me to die if I didn't shut up about it.
re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Andrew Magerman on 12/14/2012 at 08:05 AM EST
Hear, hear!

1

I have just about reached saturation point with Social Business. One of the
weaknesses of all these grand theories is that your average employee is not
interested in the well-being of the company, he wants more money, more
recognition, and job security. Asking employees to catalogue and document all
the specific know-how which makes their job secure is just not realistic. I
only know the IT community which does that, and that is made possible only
because IT Know-How has such a short half-life. My previous job was as a
Thermodynamics engineer, and I can tell you the senior engineers would never,
ever, distribute the very knowledge which makes them senior.

Totally agree on your 'just help the normal people work a little bit more
efficiently' point of view.
re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Julian Bus on 12/14/2012 at 08:44 AM EST
You do have valid points, and I mostly agree.

But, that doesn't matter at all. Social Business is IBM's current hype, and in
a couple of years there will be the next hype. If you or I like it or not,
doesn't matter at all. If a customer wants to do "social business" and gives me
money to organize it or implement stuff, then so be it.

But personally, I see so many companies that even don't have a CRM system, or
electronic workflows. And THAT is stuff that really matters, in my humble
opinion.
re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Craig Wiseman on 12/14/2012 at 09:15 AM EST
- Knowledge Management is critical!
- Portals are critical!
- Social is critical!

I sees a pattern.
re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Andrew Pollack on 12/14/2012 at 10:09 AM EST
I see dead software...

re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Craig Wiseman on 12/14/2012 at 10:44 AM EST
You mean, "past revenue".
re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Ed Maloney on 12/14/2012 at 01:02 PM EST
Ha - next you'll be telling us that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes!
re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Andrew Pollack on 12/14/2012 at 05:23 PM EST
No. The Emperor is a little naked man, and clearly not well endowed.
re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Henning Heinz on 12/14/2012 at 04:57 PM EST
I do agree with you (as I did with your previous topics too). The problem is if
all the social stuff fails, some people hope that IBM will come back to Notes
and Domino and make it shine again.
Unfortunately I believe this is not going to happen. IBM will just push
something else and it will never be Notes and Domino. At least not as long as
Steve Mills heads the software division at IBM.
And this is why I really don't care if IBM is painting everything social or
selling some uber systems to a few hundred customers worldwide.
My business is different and IBM marketing really helps here. Most messages
will never reach my customers (which is the tiny SMB segment) because IBM in
most cases is just making some smarter planet somewhere in the world.
re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Andrew Pollack on 12/14/2012 at 05:18 PM EST
Yeah, Henning, I agree with you. I used to wait for those intervals where the
previous big idea failed and the next hadn't come along and hope for some love
for the classic platform. Nearly all the big improvements in recent years
have come since Workplace failed. We're just past that now.
re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Dwight Wilbanks on 12/31/2012 at 01:33 PM EST
In my opinion,IBM will never make is shine again, because to do so would be too
much of an embarrassment.

I still prefer the R7 client. Not because I've not given the new (and not so
new) stuff a try. It just works better.
re: Enterprise Social Software u2013 Yet Another Boondoggle By Luke on 12/14/2012 at 07:18 PM EST
There was a good comment posted on Volker's site linking to this post today -
about making an internal StackExchange site. It's spot on and hasn't received
the attention it should.

Instead of a hideously complicated discovery exercise to tease out internal
knowledge, it is a lot easier simply to create a way to ask questions, get
answers and recognize both helpful peers and smart questions. As an employee, I
just want to know "who do I talk to for hosting of an app for a smart TV?". As
a manager, I want to know who of my team is helping others out (and who is
taking all their time answering questions and not doing work!) That's
StackExchange.

The other thing worth mentioning is that the vast majority of social knowledge
in a corporation CANNOT be put on the record. Part of what makes people
effective is knowing that so-and-so is an untrustworthy ass; that the Director
of this-and-this is utterly incompetent but her assistant can always be counted
on to get thing solved. You can't put that in a stream or ANYWHERE.
Corporations are social; however, the social knowledge is off the record to be
effective.

Good job on linking back to the KM boondoggle of a decade ago. It's a good
parallel.

Cheers!

Luke


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