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What we can learn from a conference changing its name: a lot

The rise of digital transformation, and the decline of social business and enterprise 2.0


I am honored to be in the speaker’s roster for the upcoming Enterprise Digital Summit, scheduled for 21-22 October 2015 in London. My keynote is safely entitled Building Blocks of the Organization in the Digital Age, which gives me a great deal of leeway to talk about the future of the organization. But I am not going to dig into my talk, here. I have months to do that. (Although let me say that I will have to explode the premise of the title — that organizations can be ‘designed’ and ‘built’ like buildings or machines — and offer up more biological or sociological metaphors, instead.) Instead, I’d rather discuss the recent name change of the conference itself, and what that says about shifts in the global discourse around new ways of work.

The newly dubbed Enterprise Digital Summit was formerly known as the Enterprise 2.0 Summit. As the conference producer, Bjoern Negelmann, recently wrote,

We have been thinking about the scope of the Enterprise 2.0 Summit for quite some time. For a while now our beloved expert community has been telling us that “Social” has moved on, the “Enterprise 2.0” term is “dead” and that our conference heading doesn’t match the general “zeitgeist” of the current business landscape. We have argued against change, both because of the name recognition our event has in the community and because not every organisation is at the leading edge of change. However, in today’s disruptive business climate, every organisation’s business model is under threat and we are no different. It’s time to re-adjust. It’s time to change our name!

The question is where are we heading to? What is the best way of explaining the projects and programs of today and tomorrow?

Negelmann goes on to make a concise and partly convincing case that the rise in interest around digital transformation of the business is sucking all the oxygen out of the room, and subordinating activities that formerly might have been called enterprise 2.0 (when focused on technology first, and culture/organization/people second) or social business (when vice-versa). His colleague David Terrar added this,

During 2014 we started to shift our terminology again to digital disruption and digital transformation. The topic we are discussing is about much more than the tools and technology that organisations use to collaborate more effectively, to empower employees, to innovate and to connect with their customers, partners, employees and stakeholders in new and better ways.

It is about those things, but it is also about rethinking the world of work, adopting emergent strategy, and recognising the management shift required, along with new business models, that we must use to react and compete in the 21st century.

In a recent survey, 98% reported they are undergoing digital transformation, while only 25% could say they had a clear understanding of what that means. It’s clear we are grappling with the digital imperative, like it or not.

I define digital transformation this way:

A new operating model of business based on continuous innovation through the application of digital technologies and the restructuring of operations around customer experience to better engage with customers, the company ecosystem, and the greater marketplace.

This is both a customer-centric and technology centric perspective, and one in which workers and their work are subsumed in the efforts for innovation and operational effectiveness. In essence, the last decade of initiatives that were called social business or enterprise 2.0 (or, generically, social collaboration) are decreasing as a priority, or being completely dropped from the future agenda. Why? Why is it that digital transformation seems to be picking up where social business and enterprise 2.0 left off?

A few observations might make this clear.

First, social business is a web 2.0 era trend. The architecture of ‘social collaboration/enterprise 2.0’ tools is principally for office-bound knowledge workers with desktop computers, and based on fairly dated architectural motifs. Part of this new digital transformation is reaching all workers — on the manufacturing floor, building houses in the field, or in retail outlets — not just office workers, not just employees, not just knowledge workers.

Second, We’re now in a ‘mobile 1st, cloud 1st, people 1st’ era. Mobility is causing us to rethink nearly everything about work and business, which is invalidating many of the premises of social collaboration. We are truly working everywhere with everyone.

Third, the promise of higher productivity hasn’t materialized. I written a great deal about the failure of social collaboration, so I won’t elaborate here, except to assert that the productivity gains from this generation of social collaboration tools have been less than anticipated, to be generous.

I believe that the hard part of moving to a new way of work is not selecting tools to communicate with team members, or making old web 2.0 solutions work in a mobile world. On the contrary, the real barriers to a new way of work are cultural barriers. Or turned around, to get to a new way of work — one that is based on increased agility, resilience, and autonomy — requires a deepening of culture. And it may be that deep culture is what social business was always intended to mean, or at least what I thought it should mean.

The Boston Consulting Group makes a case for two chapters in digital transformation, where the first chapter is dedicated to operational turnaround based on the adoption of new technologies and practices.

bcg chapter 2

The second chapter is where the proof of the transformation lies, and it requires a transition to what the authors call adaptive innovation. That second chapter requires deepening culture, so that the organization is oriented toward new ways of working that align with both of — at the same time — the requirements of the new business model and the aspirations and motivations of the new workforce, those who are living on the other side of the transformation’s technological and sociological changes.

In a second post in this series of posts, I will explore the sense of urgency needed for deep cultural change to happen, and why the lack of a true sense of urgency can block deep change. Suffice it to say that adaptive innovation requires deep cultural change, and a sense of urgency to make those changes.

So, in the final analysis, as we entered chapter two in the realm of social business/enterprise 2.0, we hit the downward arc. Of course, there is a great deal of innovation in the broader area of work tech and the future of work, and we are entering chapter 1 of the digital transformation story. In that chapter, social business and enterprise 2.0 become historical antecedents. But the need for deep cultural change — yet again — will play the pivotal role in the coming second chapter of digital transformation.

That’s probably what I will talk about in October at the newly dubbed Enterprise Digital Summit event in London.


IBM is a sponsor of the Enterprise Digital Summit event.


This post was brought to you by IBM for MSPs and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s PivotPoint. Dedicated to providing valuable insight from industry thought leaders, PivotPoint offers expertise to help you develop, differentiate and scale your business.