It could be the year life ends after “The Rock” impacts Portugal, or the year that IPv4 IP addresses are exhausted.  Or it could be the year that Social CRM goes mainstream.  Maybe even the year that Blue Waters – the closest living relative to SkyNet – comes online.

In reality, it is another collection of 365 days (plus minus a few hours here and there) that is a blank slate.  An open road into the future.

Have a great New Year celebration with your family, let out a deep sigh that 2010 is gone, recharge, and come back next week ready for whatever the future may bring.

The road is wide open; Albert Einstein once said “I never think about the future, it comes soon enough“.

(the picture above is one that my wife took that I think is a great way to show the future — bright, yet unknown)

Happy New Year!

What Social Business Needs Now

Today’s guest post is from Anthony Nemelka, a long-time veteran of the social business technology scene and currently the CEO of Teleplace, Inc..

I have a lot of young friends. Many of them turn to me for both personal and professional advice. It’s kind of scary, actually, when you realize you’ve become the mentor rather than the mentored.

Because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future and how to best prepare oneself for a world of rapid and constant change. It’s a difficult environment for good decision making and a reminder of why social collaboration is transforming the way we make decisions every day. It’s the only way to cope.

Of course we all try to make the best decisions possible. But I for one have found that the pace of change has obsoleted most of ways I made decisions in the past. In fact, I’m down to about 4 solid general purpose tools in my decision making toolbox:

1. The Golden Rule (for basic survival)

2. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (to better understand why people do what they do),

3. Algebra (to help identify the most important variables in any situation), and

4. Walter Gretzky’s admonition to “Skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.” (to keep yourself thinking ahead)

I’ve been using these tools quite a lot lately. They’re very powerful and easy to carry around with me all the time. I certainly had them with me as I attended the recent E 2.0 conference, and boy did they come in handy there.

By the end of the conference’s first day, I realized that something had fundamentally changed. The evangelical conferences of the past had given way to practical conversations about standards and best practices. It appeared that the Social Business (aka E 2.0, Social CRM, etc) community had accurately predicted where the puck would be and was now in firm control of its destiny.

But it was equally clear that no one was celebrating quite yet. Some, oddly, were even declaring defeat. I found myself wondering what’s going on here? Surely everyone should be thrilled with the apparent progress—not moaning about it!

But as any hockey player will tell you, getting your stick on the puck doesn’t count for much. It just gives you a better chance of shaping your destiny. And perhaps that’s the challenge now facing the Social Business community. Collectively, we are in a great position to shape our destiny. We’ve successfully skated to where the puck would be. But now we face a conundrum:  where the heck is the net??

Being reflective for a moment, I think the Social Business community has done a poor job defining what success looks like. We talk transformation, but we don’t describe it in a way that gets anyone excited. We’re like a bunch of pioneers on our way to California who never talk about why any of us should want to go there in the first place. And that could be why some among us have been sounding so pessimistic lately.

That needs to change. And fortunately it is changing. But it’s not the vendors or consultants that are creating the change. It’s the users. Organizations are transforming the way they operate. They are deploying social business tools and techniques to great success. And they’re doing so because they have to. It’s the only way for them to cope. And the fact is that they are in control of the puck now, not the Social Business vendor and analyst community.  We skated to where the puck would be, but users—large enterprises in particular—are in control of the puck. They are the ones defining success now.

So all of us Social Business vendors and analysts should know exactly where the net is located. It’s right behind us. Our customers are backing us into the net. I know that sounds a bit ass-backward, but that’s how evolution works. Evolution is an exercise in ass-backwardness, and this market is evolving quite quickly now. We’re being pushed by our customers backward into the net. And frankly, we’re beginning to look like a bunch of dorks. It’s time we all turn around and face the net. It’s time for a fresh round of listening to our customers.

So what are users saying to the Social Business community?  A look at some of the newer attendees of the E 2.0 conference lends some interesting clues.

For one, all of the major Unified Communications folks had a major presence at the conference this year. Their message was quite simple: social business collaboration tools need to be deployed as part of an enterprise’s overall communications strategy and infrastructure. Unified Communications (UC) is giving way to Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C), with social business collaboration being a core component of the UC&C stack. How do you think these vendors came up with this idea? Yup, they heard it from their customers. They’ve been told that compliance and security requirements need to apply to social collaboration in the same way they apply to other communication and collaboration activities in the enterprise. For those with a lot of experience working with large enterprises, it’s a pretty obvious requirement and one we better get our heads around fast.

HR business process folks also had a major presence at the conference this year. Their message was also quite simple: communication and collaboration need to happen “in the flow of work”—a phrase first coined by the Social Business community’s own Michael Idinopulos a few years ago. Where do you think they heard that? The same place Michael did—from customers. People want and need to communicate and collaborate as they perform their work, which is usually in the context of a business task—automated or otherwise. At the conference, Geoffrey Moore referred to this as live session collaboration, which in his opinion is the next major opportunity and challenge for the Social Business community. Whether that’s true or not, it’s easy to understand the benefits of making real-time communication and collaboration tools seamlessly accessible from within business applications, email included.

Social CRM advocates and Community Managers also turned out to the conference in large numbers. Their messages, too, were clear: stop erecting barriers between internal and external collaboration, and recognize that there is a science behind maximizing the effectiveness of enterprise communication and collaboration. Ignore these realities at your own peril. And yes, they, too, having been hearing this from users.

So what are users telling the market?  Integrate with how we operate. Don’t interrupt. Become part of the fabric. Follow our lead. We’re in control of things now.

What will customer-driven success look like? I suspect that activity stream monitors will begin to be proudly displayed in the lobby of every business in America (I’m only half joking). Certainly the press will begin to talk about social businesses in the same way it talks about Web businesses—huge disruptors to old-style businesses. Social Business management consulting practices will become highly strategic to all the large consulting firms. Tightly integrated, cross-enterprise Social Business collaboration tools will be as accessible and easy to use as a telephone. Visionary investors will make billions of dollars feeding this mega-trend through wise investments in the ecosystem.  Entrepreneurs will make wads of cash and blow it all on exotic sports cars.  And the government will institute a Social Business tax because social businesses will be the only ones making any money.

So that’s my vision of success for the Social Business community. What’s yours? If nothing else, I hope you have your skates on!

What Does Jive Think of Social Business?

Closing the series of interviews today, the final player is Jive.

Before I go further – a huge thanks to all those who helped me with this project.  It was very interesting to me, and most of the comments and emails I got said very much the same.  Too many to mention, but you know who you are – thanks.

You can find all the previous ones at these links: OracleAttensityFuze DigitalMoxie SoftwareSAPGetSatisfactionRightNow TechnologiesLithiumbluekiwiNetBase, and Assistly.

I will post my summary / commentary / rebuttal / whatever-you-want-to-call-it next Tuesday (have a special guest post on Monday, related to this same topic).

Jive’s Answers below…

1) Where is the Social world going to be in 12 months? 24 months?

We need to consider three perspectives in this answer:  what is happening in the consumer space; the maturity of the social business space and its adoption by the market; and lessons learned from enterprises running social businesses.

In the consumer space Facebook continues to set the agenda:

  1. Created an app framework for 3rd party innovation
  2. Positioned themselves as the identity server of the internet
  3. Activity Filtering
  4. Evolved the Social Graph
  5. Addressing Unified Communication

Basically we are seeing the creation of a platform in our personal lives that allows us to have all of the functionality and tools we need to stay easily aware & connected to anyone we care about.  At the heart of this strategy has been the social graph, and Facebook’s leadership in terms of showing how this information can make for a personalized experience.

The maturity of the social business continues its advance.  If you look beyond point solutions like wikis and blogs then things really kicked off in 2007.  Visionary companies recognized the power that social technologies can bring to business and adopted it to engage with their employees and customers. Now success stories are emerging with proven value. More pragmatic companies are starting to evaluate what it can do for them, but they are speaking the language of business needs and objectives rather than talking technology. This is putting pressure on the technology providers to address critical requirements around integration with existing business systems and thorny issues of compliance Social Business is finding its way out of the chasm; standard early adoption stages in a new market.

What are we learning from the companies who have been using Social Business software for years?

  • Performance and user experience will always be the most important aspect of the software
  • If you don’t address the noise, then all of the functionality in the world won’t matter
  • Social Business software must play nicely with other systems. No one needs another silo.
  • In order to solve the most valuable use cases employees need to be able to connect & engage with customers in the forum and at the time they desire
  • Businesses engaging with partners and other businesses is not a well solved problem yet with the solutions that currently exist
  • Mobile and tablets are becoming the preferred mode of accessing these solutions

Social Business platforms will need to address some of the fundamentals that Facebook has done in the consumer space such as how to tackle a 3rd party ecosystem, deal with the noise, handle the collision course with other forms of communication, and leverage the power of the enterprise social graph to personalize experience & content; Facebook was not built for business.

In the enterprise it is about getting real work done, providing real value, and doing it in a way that leverages existing investments all in an environment that is highly regulated. As it continues to be better understood how these new technologies provide a new way to work you’ll eventually see “social” drop from the label entirely—but I think that is more than 2 years out!

2) How can businesses not be left behind?

I would say first and foremost any business needs to have three things before they leave 2010:

  • Clarity on their business strategy and how they win at whatever they do
  • Someone on the payroll who understands the opportunities that social business technology makes possible and can map that to the business strategy
  • A plan to get started in the area that will have the most impact on your business.

You don’t need to do everything at once. You certainly shouldn’t do something just because everyone else is doing it. This isn’t about having a social media strategy on Facebook or Twitter. But, you need to get started somewhere and you need to get started now so that you can benefit from the organizational learning that will ultimately transform your business.

3) What is going to happen in three years and beyond in the world of social?

Social business will lose the “social” part of the label.  I think Social Business platforms will emerge to be a new kind of interface for awareness, communication, and action within the enterprise. If you think about it most of the communication tools we use today were created over a decade ago in a time that didn’t contemplate the levels of information the average enterprise worker needs to be aware of in order to make good decisions, or the amount of communication required just to keep up. The world is moving faster and we are all desperate for tools to help us do our jobs more effectively.

The fact that social technology is involved in every aspect of business from sales to marketing to engineering to customer service is going to appear retroactively obvious.