The relevance of Social Business Software in the context of Soft Systems Methodology

Introduced to systems thinking during my EMBA, I have been a total convert for over three years now. In addition to creating a shift in my perceptions and the way in which I approach business and life in general, it was also the primary motivator behind the co-creation of a Social Business Software platform.

Social Business Software, SBS, creates an environment where systems thinking can be practiced and executed. Here’s what I mean.

The premise of Soft Systems Methodology, SSM, is that ‘whatever the nature of the organisation, assume that the individuals within it are pursuing purposeful activity.’

Now one would assume that all organisations today exist because they have a purposeful activity. Most, one would assume, are to keep stakeholders happy, to show growth and sustained profitability over time.

Why then, in so many organisations, are the alignments of the individuals within the organisation often conflicted with the purposeful activity of the enterprise as a whole?

The successful deployment of Social Business Software within an organisation seeks to align the organisations purposeful activity with that of the individuals within. It seeks, in a virtual setting, to merge the silo’s that exist within the enterprise and to some extent the hierarchy, by creating a virtual space for the enterprise. SBS requires trust and leaders who believe that the people in their companies really matter. That they have great ideas, seen and experienced through a different lens and perspective, and that by allowing them to share these ideas and impart their knowledge it will eventually lead to a richer more aligned and productive enterprise.

SBS creates the virtual space for executives to make announcements, to drive the company’s objectives through their teams. Idea generation and knowledge sharing happen across departments and hierarchies and the organisation really has the opportunity to align its purposeful activities with that of its people.

Successfully deployed SBS within enterprises has returned amazing results:

  • 15% increase in employee productivity;
  • 2-4% bottom line improvement,
  • reduced email load by 21%,
  • reduced meetings by 16%,
  • reduced the time to find knowledge, expertise and best practices by 34%,
  • 24% decrease in employee turnover,
  • 61% increase in employee connectedness,
  • 38% increase in employee satisfaction,
  • increase in deal size by 5%,
  • increase in win rate by 12%,
  • decrease in RFP response time by 25%,
  • increase in number of deals per year by 8%,
  • decrease in deal cycle time by 22%,
  • increase in sales per rep. 13%,
  • reduction in staff turnover by 12%
  • increase in sales per rep by 13% .

Gys is the Co-founder and CEO of WyseTalk (Pty) Ltd. Africa’s leading social business software platform. Gys’s Masters thesis entitled ‘The delay of Social business Software in the Enterprise and its effects’ has won him international acclaim.

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How Social Business Software could revolutionise business.

Here’s something I read recently and it is probably something that resonates with you in your own work environment: “You run an organisation with many people, all working for common goals: your goals. You tell them what to do and what you want done and you give them money to do it. This sounds simple but rarely is… During their daily tasks, they struggle to find things, they struggle to find experts that can help them, they struggle to find information that can help them get their jobs done faster, more efficiently. This is frustrating to say the least and over time good employees leave, some of them are experts and you are left wondering how much knowledge just walked out of the door.”

This is not a new problem, and despite progression from paper file cabinets to intranets, it has still not been solved. Getting things done takes coordination, which incurs what we call high coordination costs. These costs include management, infrastructure, and meetings – many meetings. In fact in large organisations I am sure people ask “how do these guys manage to get stuff done?”

What I have described in the first two paragraphs underpins the goals of Social Business software (SBS). I think that it is a revolution much like the internet was a revolution to get people together in ways that were unimaginable 25 to 30 years ago.

In order for Social Business to succeed however, you need to understand what specific problems your organisation has. Typically communication is a major problem, next is collaboration, next is knowledge sharing, then developing corporate culture and finally building a solution which encompasses the mission and vision of the organisation which in turns satisfies the stakeholders.

Social Business Software as an organisational paradigm is fairly new. The technology exists but its not about the technology… its about the will to change how we do things as a business. This is both the challenge and the promise of SBS. Imagine for a moment your organisation one where your employees feel fulfilled and happy in their jobs, their stress reduced, they trust their managers and their peers and they feel as though they are part of something great.

So before you get started consider the following 3 points:

1)    What are the issues? What are the issues that your company is currently wrestling with?

2)    Are you able to measure and test what is going on in your company?  Your exploration into transforming and improving your company needs to start with facts. You need to explore and understand these restrainers before you introduce a new understanding.

3)    Get help… It is going to be very hard to fix these problems on your own. If companies were able to do it by themselves, they would have done it already.

To find help with this you need to engage with a great team. A knowledgeable SBS deployment team with great passion for what they do, with great case studies and great references.

Written by Gys Kappers. CEO and co-founder of WyseTalk, Africa’s leading Social Business Software business. Gys has an 18 year track record in running large enterprise businesses, has an Executive MBA degree and completed his Masters thesis on ‘the delay of social business software in the enterprise and its effects.’

System Thinking in the Enterprise

Why do things in business happen so much faster or slower than everybody thinks it will? And why you can be doing something that has always worked and then suddenly discover, to your great disappointment, that these actions no longer work?

Systems thinking offers a different perspective… allow me to elaborate: ever since the industrial revolution, Western society has benefited from science, logic, and reductionism over intuition and holism. Psychologically and politically we would much rather assume that the cause of a problem is ‘out there’ rather than ‘in here.’ It’s almost irresistible to blame something or someone else, to shift responsibility away from ourselves, and to look for the control knob, the product, the pill, the technical fix that will make the problem go away.

As businesses many will study and execute business rules and create incentives that help of hinder new technologies (the adoption of Social Business Software). Or we see ‘policy resistance’ as we combine decision-making power and the nature of relationships in your business community. In systems thinking we call these characteristics and behaviors ‘archetypes.’ In business these archetypes are responsible for some of the most intransigent and potentially dangerous business problems… but with understanding systems thinking you can transform to produce desirable behaviors in culture within your business over time.

If what I have written makes sense to you then consider what Social Business Software (SBS) can deliver to your organisation, your ecosystem. Imagine if you believe that your people are all different, and different in a good way, that allows them through the platform to ‘ask different kinds of questions?’ Your people, your teams, see things that you don’t see. You can create an environment where you come at the world in a different way…You need to believe that your people have different views and ‘lenses’ on things and this can be complimentary to your processes or innovations and therefore revealing.

The world is more messy, more crowded, more interconnected, more interdependent and more rapidly changing than ever before, the more ways of seeing, the better. The successful deployment of SBS will allow your organisation to see more things, in real time. This combined with systems thinking will allow your ecosystem to reclaim your abilities to understand the parts, their interconnectedness, asking the ‘what if’ questions about possible and future behaviors and finally to be courageous about system redesign.

Then and only then can we use these insights as leaders to use these insights to make a difference to your organizations, to yourselves and to our world.

Gys Kappers is the co-founder and CEO of WyseTalk Africa’s leading Social Business Platform

The Multidimensional Organisation

Corporations today are in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex environment, they reorganise frequently. In fact, some appear to reorganise continuously. This reorganisation consumes a great deal of time, energy, money and lets not forget morale. The latter, the fear of layoffs is very unsettling and often leads to a marked decrease in productivity and quality of output across the enterprise. In this kind of environment innovation comes to a halt and executives and leadership typically view this as too risky.

When organisations are in this state, the stable state, they are like a coiled spring, their resistance to change tends to be proportional to the effort to change them; the more turbulent the environment, the more stability they seek.

Imagine though, for a moment, that you take the view that your organisation, in these times you should choose to be dynamic. Imagine you could adapt to change without reorganisation, without reorganisation, with less disruptive interventions, then the resistance to change would be significanlty reduced and you would have a more motivated, more productive workforce. This is the multidimensional organisation.

Most organisations are a division of labour. There are typically three; starting with functionally defined units whose outputs are principally consumed or used internally, for example, purchasing, finance, operations, legal, personnel and R&D. As such the organisational chart has a horizontal dimension which shows how labour is divided at each level, that is, how responsibility is allocated. The vertical dimension shows how labour at different levels is coordinated and integrated, that is, how authority is allocated. Typically they are designed from the top down, beginning with the CEO and sometimes a COO. At each successively lower level labour is divided again with one more criteria used at each level. The higher the level of criterion is used, the more importance is attributed to it.

Product or service defined units (its products) the outputs of which are principally consumed by the public such as soft drinks, entertainment and plastic containers for example.

The third and final part of the organisational unit is the market, or user defined units, which are defined by external customers to whom the organisation tries to sell its product. Here the organisations customers are defined by geography or definitions (ultimate consumer, retailers and wholesalers).

By bringing Social Business Software (SBS) into an organisations equation the functional dynamism of the organisation can be fully harnessed. By bringing and entire enterprise across the organisational spectrum together they can, through collaboration move from one needed state to another. For example, should an organisation be experiencing product issues, the enterprise can swarm and assist the product or service defined units into resolving issues and solving problems. Should the enterprise be experiencing consumer related issues, the enterprise could swarm to assist the market, or user defined units into solving problems.

Social Business Software (SBS) breaks down the hierarchies and silos that are prevalent in many organisations today. The overarching methodology is that organisations that deploy SBS successfully become more competitive, more innovative and more successful than their competitors.

Recent statistics reported by McKinsey have the following to say about businesses that have deployed SBS: 79% increase in ideas and innovations for the enterprise leading to a 13% increase in sales revenue leading to a 3-5% increase in overall deal size and bottom line improvement.

By believing that your workforce has a substantial brain capacity and that it is largely untapped leaves many organisations with a great capacity to innovate.

Building your Social Business Mission and Vision

It has been a while since my last post, apologies.

I recently read an amazing quote by Jose Ortega Gasset, 1966:  “Man has been able to grow enthusiastic over his vision of … unconvincing enterprises. He has put himself to work for the sake of an idea, seeking by magnificent exertions to arrive at the incredible. And in the end, he has arrived there. Beyond all doubt it is one of the vital sources of man’s power, to be thus able to kindle enthusiasm from the mere glimmer of something improbable, difficult, remote.”

During the initial phases of a Social Business Software deployment phase you have to engage and construct your Social Business Software Mission. This mission has to guide you in delivering your enterprises overarching Mission and Vision over time.

In this post, I will share some of our ideas and our methodologies.

So when we start out we make it clear that the social business mission is not a “motherhood statement” filled with pious platitudes… as an example “to provide the best value for money” or “intelligent and disciplined application of proven principles of organisation and management.” This is common sense right? No business would exist with saying they provide the worst value for money or that they intend to make undisciplined or unintelligent applications of unproved principles of organisation and management!

So here are five guiding principles:

  1. A Social Business Software mission statement should contain a formulation of the organisations ideals and do so in a way that makes possible valuation of its progress possible;The statement mustn’t state what it must do survive; it should state what it chooses to do to thrive. 
  2. A Social Business Software mission statement should define the business that the organisation wants to be in, not necessarily what it is in; (I have written on the the Open  Innovation Paradigm)How can the social business mission statement identify the general means by which the organisation can achieve its ideals. How can the platform expand on the organisations concept of itself?
  3. A Social Business Software mission statement should be unique and not suitable for any other organisation.. what will define the enterprise to match its overarching mission and vision;It also needs to layout the uniqueness of the organisation wrapping into it and understanding its culture.
  4. A Social Business Software mission statement should be relevant to all of the organisations stakeholders by stating its function relative to each type;How can the foundations be constructed so as to serve the interests of its stakeholders over time, not just those of management, stockholders or both. It must appeal to everyone in the enterprise.
  5. A Social Business Software mission statement should be exciting, challenging and inspiringIf it fails here, it will fail to produce change no matter what its other properties are.

Brief insight which hopefully provides insight into your building blocks for a successful SBS deployment.

Have a great weekend

Role of social business software in delivering innovation

Businesses today operate within a dynamic environment, shaped by variables, such as evolving legislation, globalisation and economic volatility. Disruptive new technologies create new competitors overnight and the only way to get and stay in front is constantly to innovate.

Innovation is sometimes thought of as the product of inspiration – a spark of genius whose timing or vessel cannot be predicted, or a closed process driven by research and development. In fact, creativity can be cultivated as a habit – by anyone – and it is better when it draws on more ideas.

By using a democratic, collaborative approach to innovation – called “open innovation” – companies can nurture an innovative capability and increase their output of quality ideas, thus increasing their chances of bringing about or weathering disruptive market change and gaining a competitive edge.

Stories abound of market-leading companies that do not respond to disruptive changes in their field of play with a more open approach to innovation. Once great, they find themselves unable to recreate the spark, as they are too set in their assumptions to deal properly with shifting realities. Inevitably, they fail.

One example is Eastman Kodak. The inventors and market leaders in photographic film for over a century filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in America at the beginning of 2012. ZDNet noted that while the company had actually made a latter-day innovative breakthrough with the first digital camera, it failed to respond to the erosion of its monopolistic hold over film and film development, brought about by the commoditisation of the digital camera by Sony and others.

Bitter defeat

Others, too, have tasted bitter defeat by not ably responding to change. Nokia, the world’s leading mobile phone producer, lost more than USD18 billion in market capitalisation when Apple created an irresistible wave of change with the iPhone. The resulting smart phone innovation went unmatched by anyone for years – certainly not by Nokia.

Then, suddenly, Samsung overtook Apple in global smart phone shipments. The difference? Samsung is a dyed-in-the-wool open company (unlike Apple) that taps its workforce and partners as well as the competitive landscape for ideas. The results speak for themselves.

Open companies communicate well, but traditional communications technologies haven’t kept up. Many comms channels have proliferated over the years, giving rise to an overwhelming range of ways to stay in touch, but none that offers an open, collaborative environment – one that everyone is at home in and in which their contribution is given equal weight and visibility.

Email doesn’t lend itself to elegant mass participation or visibility. Intranets have become notice boards with little chance of interactive discussion. Collaborative platforms do not include sophisticated communications that are so necessary for idea sharing. And unified communications platforms (videoconferencing, IP telephony, white boards etc) are expensive.

A new breed of “social business software”

Of late, social technologies have entered the corporate consciousness. A new breed of “social business software” (SBS) platforms, also known as enterprise social software, uses social principles in a business context, offering great promise for inclusive, structured brainstorming within communities. They take the form of social and networked modifications to corporate intranets and communications software platforms or standalone SBS platforms.

SBS, itself a disruptive change in the market, combines and integrates “sharing” features of social media sites with collaboration and standard unified communications support, giving company stakeholders a collective or group-based platform within which to contribute to the corporate conversation, with the safety and equality that comes with openness.

It is clear that a company of information workers who communicate better will also increase their workplace and project efficiencies. In addition, they will co-create better, more nuanced ideas – faster. And more efficient companies that have better ideas stand a better chance of leading markets.

Platforms like WyseTalk, Yammer and Jive have been successful at “ideation” or the seeding, testing and framing of ideas within companies. They harness the untapped brilliance of individuals on the strength of the principle that many heads are better than one, provided their cross-pollination is managed systematically. Collaboration-driven SBS tools provide that systematic, open approach to innovation.

Since the introduction of this nascent (two-year-old) field in South Africa, leading companies in health care, financial services, mining, software, retail and hospitality have embraced it to create workplace efficiencies, knowledge and best-practice sharing, and communication.

As a result of implementing SBS successfully (a certain amount of change management is essential), excellent ideas need not be wasted. They will be given the exposure that is traditionally reserved for inner-circle employees, subjected to open scrutiny and a wide array of potentially complimentary or better ideas, earning individuals and companies the recognition that might otherwise have been denied them forever.

(a recent article published in Biz community http://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/410/542/93631.html)

How Social Business Software (SBS) captures and integrates end user knowledge into improved business knowledge

Dynamic and Highly adaptable organizations today have been blurring the lines between strategic decision and operations. Here employees are generally expected to understand the organizations goals and strategies. Due to the pace of change businesses have to react, change and adapt these strategic goals frequently and do so rapidly.

If employees understand the visions and strategies and are in a well-designed social business software framework they can assist organizations achieve these goals.

Social Business Software aims to capture end-user tacit knowledge and integrate it within the existing knowledge of the business process models therefore forming a decentralized knowledge management framework. Thus the business processes that are designed are done with the participation of the organisational community aligned with the businesses strategic goals. Hence knowledge management through the use of SBS is created in two ways. Firstly current knowledge that exists within the organisation can be shared through the platform and secondly end-users can contribute to the existing knowledge with their own tacit knowledge.

Social Business Software allows for both a top-down and a bottom-up view of knowledge creation to occur through collaboration within their own business environment. One could argue that the top-down view of knowledge is very structured and compliant while the view on knowledge as ideation from the bottom-up can be seen in a less structured paradigm. Businesses that have fully embraced SBS have the ability to integrate formal and informal knowledge which allows to environment to adapt and change in order to achieve the strategic goals and vision of the enterprise.

The diagram below illustrates the Causal Loop of the Social Business enterprise commnity and knowledge capturing process.

Image

In conclusion, the distance between business strategy and business operation is becoming shorter. Organizations can no longer rely on crystallized procedures, though they strive for optimized business operation. Businesses today have to constantly adapt to environmental changes. Therefore SBS allows an organisation to emphasize standardization and optimization and pair it with adaptation and the achievement of needs. Overall it creates an environment, which integrates the formal knowledge described in business operation with tacit human knowledge and is able to constantly allow for the reinterpretation of business strategy in the face of business environment changes.