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The New Visionaries: Interview with Scott Hebner

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I was more than happy to be able to get Scott Hebner of IBM to dedicate a slice of his time to chat with me about his — and IBM’s — thinking about social business.

Proving the world is a small place, once again, I was having a conversation with Kat Mandelstein of PWC the other day regarding Chautauqua, the open community exploring the future of work and advocating new ways to work together, and I learned that she had worked for Scott some years ago, when she was with IBM.

Scott Hubner
Scott Hubner

About Scott

Scott has has over two decades in enterprise software market development, product management, and marketing, across a broad range of technology segments. Since July 2013 he has been  the VP of Social Business Solutions at IBM, and earlier has had lead roles for IBM’s Tivoli, Rational, Websphere, and related solutions.

The Interview

Stowe Boyd: In a recent report (you cited in a Forbes post) 62% of businesses are expanding their investments in social business, and you correlated that with their technology investment, which is now understood to to be the single most important factor in company success. But the investments in social business are not solely technology, right?

Scott Hebner: That’s absolutely right. Social business is not just about the technology and tools, but the intangibles, culture, psychology, sociology, behavior. If you think about it, all businesses are becoming social business whether they realize it or not, as a by product of people using social technologies in and out of work. The enterprise is becoming transparent like never before as organizational siloes break down and everyone now on the front lines with customers. Thus, when an organizations commits to harnessing the power of social business, its invests in its people, how they share knowledge, how they build differentiated expertise, how they best harness relationships. Organizations are are now prioritizing mutual trust, empowerment, responsiveness and authenticity as key attributes of a modern enterprise. In fact, 65% are now updating their organizational designs, policies, operating principles and business processes to best empower their people while protecting the enterprise.

• We’re witnessing a significant evolutionary stage in social business. Social started as tools that would help to increase collaboration internally, across an organization. Marketers immediately recognized the benefits of using social to reach new customers and markets. But now, we’re seeing social unlock new engines of innovation across an enterprise, every business process and department. Social has become the new intelligence for driving business outcomes. – Scott Hebner •

We’re finding that by investing in social business, companies are evolving their organizational design to embody a new style of leadership that facilitates a more collaborative, responsive, transparent and authentic way to work and engage with customers. They’re creating cultures of mutual trust which empowers people to engage and act, guided by social governance policies that employees understand, comply with and respect. Social is so much more than tools and technology, it’s people.

SB: How does this new culture of trust manifest itself? Some companies have decided to let employees decide on their own where and at what hours to work, for example, or how much vacation time to take. Is that the sort of result you’d expect from increased trust?

SH: We, here at IBM, have been focused on becoming a social business ourself and learned a lot about this area. Interesting enough, the first question we are often asked is about our policy and governance approach as people realize this is a fundamentally new way to work. In this new world, organizations are becoming more transparent for sure. With transparency come the need to trust your employees and build a highly authentic culture. In this new culture, however, trust certainly isn’t a free-for-all. There needs to be clearly defined policies and governance models to ensure that people are empowered while concurrently protecting the enterprise. A great example of this is IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines. Almost a decade ago, IBMers used a wiki to create a set of guidelines for all IBMers who wanted to blog. These guidelines aimed to provide helpful, practical advice to protect both IBM bloggers and IBM.

The guidelines have been reexamined over the years in light of ever-evolving technologies and online social tools to ensure they remain current to the needs of employees and the company. These efforts have broadened the scope of the existing guidelines to include all forms of social computing.

Each year IBMers are required to review and agree to this set of guidelines, providing a regular reminder of IBM’s encouragement and IBMers’ responsible involvement today in this rapidly growing environment of relationship, learning and collaboration.

SB: How would you characterize the state of practice today for social business? Are most companies still in the initial stages of becoming social? Do you have an easy-to-understand model of social business maturity?

SH:We’re witnessing a significant evolutionary stage in social business. Social started as tools that would help to increase collaboration internally, across an organization. Marketers immediately recognized the benefits of using social to reach new customers and markets. But now, we’re seeing social unlock new engines of innovation across an enterprise, every business process and department. Social has become the new intelligence for driving business outcomes. For example, human resource professionals are using social combined with analytics to optimize workforce talent. Social business is really becoming business as usual. The use of social has now evolved from a medium of personal interaction to an indispensable tool of business and commercial engagement. With 66% participating in professional communities, 81 percent engaging in a brand conversations and 61 percent evaluating what others think and do, people are improving how they work and make decisions.

In terms of maturity, we’re still seeing a pretty significant discrepancy between leading social businesses and those organizations are just dipping their toes in. That being said, social is the future of how the modern enterprise will work. We live in a social world. With two billion social connections and over three billion expressions per day, social is fueling the emergence of a knowledge economy. Social business maturity is never fully realized but there is a distinct path and it centers around your people. Empowering your people by activating a digital ecosystem for both customers and employees. Understanding your people by applying analytics and acting upon this new social data. And lastly, trusting your people, pervasively harnessing a transparent and authentic way of working. By mastering these areas organizations will thrive as holistic social businesses.

SB: Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, said ‘Understand the social network not as your new water cooler, but as your new production line.’ That’s the sort of insight that we should expect from the CEOs of companies further along the adoption path, right?

SH: We certainly think so. Social is truly the new production line for the knowledge age. It may have started as a way to increase collaboration, but today social is so much more. Think about it, knowledge is being created and shared at unprecedented rates. Its a gold mine just waiting to be tapped by leaders. It’s enabling employees to learn rapidly, build distinctive expertise and then share that expertise within specialized communities to help solve business challenges. It’s fueling client-centric innovation by crowdsourcing ideas and resources. It’s expanding customer sales, loyalty and advocacy through exceptional digital experiences, providing access to expertise, collective knowledge and personalized value.

• Understand the social network not as your new water cooler, but as your new production line. – Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO •

Our CxO survey of 4000+ across the globe was titled “The Customer Activated Enterprise” because the c-suite, including CEOs, are recognizing the shift toward more open, social and collaborative models of business operation that bring employees and customers together in entirely new ways. It is people, after all, that are the engines of innovation.

SB: The network effects of communications technologies are well known. An office worker get immediate benefits from a stapler even if others in the office don’t have them. But to get value from a fax machine, a cell phone, or an enterprise social network solution you need others to get on board the innovation for it to have any value, and as more do so, the value of the communication network goes up exponentially. And at some critical asymptote in the adoption curve, something profound happens, and the world changes. We’ve seen that with email, cell phones, and today with smart devices. Do you think we will see that turning point in the world of business? Will social revolutionize the way we work, and if so, when?

SH: The revolution is underway. With the open nature of today’s business environment, where 70 percent of employees are engaged in social activities both internally and externally, organizations are working differently. Importantly, the use of social has now evolved to an indispensable tool of business and commercial engagement. With 66 percent participating in professional communities, 81 percent engaging in a brand conversations and 61 percent evaluating what others think and do, people are improving how they work and make decisions. In the end, social technologies are changing the nature of the business processes that both consumers and employees rely on. It’s humanizing them, it’s feeding them with behavioral and sentimental data, and its simplifying them.

By 2020, because of the pervasive adoption of social technologies, new systems of people-centric engagement will be mainstream; successful enterprises are now able to tap into shared insight, collective knowledge and expertise at the individual level to empower more meaningful engagement with both employees and customers.

SB: I agree that it is a revolution, which also means that it’s being pursued by a movement. And I necessarily think that also means a break with at least some parts of 20th century notions of business. As I recently wrote, a lot of what goes on today in business is not only broken, but dangerous.

SH: Certainly, just as the internet changed the economics of information and business models, social business is making a significant mark on the way business operates and consumers buy. It’s truly reengineering the way work gets done, but in an incremental manner.

It’s amazing when you think that just a few years ago social was pretty much exclusively viewed as a tool for students and teens to connect with one another. But today, some 65+ percent of workers are engaged in professional communities and commercial activities. With the explosion of mobile devices, the power of analytics and new cloud delivery models, what we have is a perfect storm of industry trends that make this the time for social to really impact the business world. And the role that social plays is the amplification of human capability. People. The sociology and psychology of people is changing. And people make up workforces and marketplace.

Enterprises now participate in digital ecosystems which are fusing marketplaces and workforces in entirely new ways. It’s natural, therefore, for enterprises to have to evolve their operating designs.

SB: Thanks for your insights, Scott.

SH: Thanks for having me, Stowe.