Business Process 21C: The Jackhammer Tales

suitOver the past few months I’ve begun to reflect upon how I arrived here at the intersection of process and innovation in the Enterprise.  It occurred to me that everything I learned as a researcher, a writer, and an industry observer in the services provider space  (my pre-Internet career) now had great bearing on what I was seeing in the Enterprise as a result of the pace of disruptive technologies impacting the market.  The question that kept re-emerging for me was: how are rigidly defined business processes that were hammered out in the 90s reconfiguring to adapt to better, faster, more efficient ways of meeting customer needs?  Even more puzzling is, if my friend Josh’s old joke is correct, “SAP is like pouring concrete into a company,” how are large enterprises dismantling foundational ERP systems to include disruptive technologies?  After all, no 21st Century business can stand to stay frozen in the past.  Even SAP itself is retooling to provide greater flexibility and real-time actions and insights with its HANA in-memory database and its JAM social platform.

This big question has been vexing me for a while, so I asked my friend and fellow Enterprise Irregular, Phil Fersht at HfS Research, if he’d be interested in an exploratory study to see how BPO providers and consultants are responding to new advances in mobile, social, the Internet of things– all new capabilities that were not present when the majority of institutional business processes were “cemented” into the Enterprise. I’ve seen evidence of several companies who’ve been introducing social, in particular, to provide greater value to customers.  Of course, some of the best examples are coming from platform vendors themselves such as this post, “Enterprise Social is about Business Process Redesign”  by CEO  at Socialtext.  But, I’ve seen other examples such as Deloitte’s work in this area explained in this post, “Social Reengineering by Design,” and even examples about how large consulting firms are changing their own internal processes as a result of new ways of working, as evidenced by this post, “Spark – taking Collaboration and Corporate Social Networking to a new Level at PwC.”   Luckily, Phil agreed this is an area definitely worth pursuing, so we’ve kicked the study off this week.  We’re compiling data and hope to publish results in the early May timeframe.

I’m really happy to be working in this area that combines my long history of covering the traditional outsourcing sector with my area of interest for this current iteration of my career in next generation technologies.  Phil has done an amazing job with HfS Research, too, so I’m proud to be contributing to their strong brand in the market.  HfS was recently named one of the leading analyst firms in a formidable field of competitors.  Last week, I paid a visit to my longtime business advisor Mort Meyersen, who is an icon in the outsourcing field having helped build EDS and then Perot Systems.  It feels good to be back among old friends, mashing up what I’ve been learning from new friends.

I will be working hard on this study for the next few months, but also working on the startup we announced a few weeks ago, Change Agents Worldwide.  So, busy, busy, but really having fun.  Hope to see some of you at SXSW, but I will be hunkered down and only getting out to a few of the evening events.  Please keep up with me on Foursquare if you’d like to connect while you’re here in Austin.

Pinch me. SAP is Dreaming up Social for the Enterprise.

With Patel’s new position, SAP recently moved “social” into its cloud group where it will support all SAP suites and concentrations (CRM, for example) in a new social platform that will be structured to support the business horizontally and seamlessly across on-premise and cloud offerings. The group is building what they’re calling, “Project Robus.” (Latin for resolve or purpose.)

This was my 5th year attending SAP‘s gala SAPPHIRE event.   You can see from my previous blog posts, a recurring theme in all of them is SAP’s cold shoulder toward all things social.

2008What I-know-I-don’t-know about E2.0 and SAP from Sapphire ’08

 “Enterprise 2.0 is just not a burning issue on the minds of top SAP execs… SAP execs mirror the same sentiment as our executive clients: they have serious businesses to run– not a lot of time for the giddy consumery stuff. SAP software fuels the nitty gritty of hard-core business processes for most of the largest enterprises in the world. Where blogging (for example) fits into getting a raw material through the factory floor to a finished product, booked in inventory and ready to move through a supply chain is just not obvious to me right now. So the likelihood of an Enterprise 2.0 bolt-on to SAP is just as slim as it is naive.”
“So, once again, SAP invited me to its annual SAPPHIRE and ASUG event. I find myself wondering if SAP will get return on their investment in me once again. The answer is, probably not…  The reality is SAP and its global customer base are just not ready for the socialization of the enterprise. It’s just not a topic that commands attention at this massive event (despite my valiant efforts to bring it up in every executive briefing). The majority of conversations at SAPPHIRE revolve around common themes such as decision-making, analysis, data, spreadsheets, databases, reports, statistics, and business processes. In other words, the real work that goes on in real businesses.”
“For me, SAPPHIRE presents a unique opportunity to re-calibrate and diffuse the hype chamber that self-perpetuates around the 2.0 phenomenon.   SAPPHIRE is the 2.0 Rehab that I voluntarily commit myself to every year for one week. Only at SAPPHIRE do I get an opportunity to see the world the way my Council members do– that the 2.0/social business hoopla is enjoyed and shared by a small minority of corporate professionals.  Through the eyes of SAP customers and the SAP eco-system, I gain unique insight into the tremendous task ahead which involves a host of issues, not the least of which is tying 2.0 transformation to the enterprise business processes that run the world’s most successful businesses.”

This year, in 2012, it looks like things might be taking a new turn.  At least the lip service is on message.  Readers of this blog should know SAP recently hired the #e20 community’s good friend Sameer Patel to assume the position of Social Czar at SAP.  Patel has his work cut out  for him, however.  The two social platforms that qualify as social at SAP are StreamWork and SuccessFactor’s Jam (formerly CubeTree).  Two platforms that, frankly, don’t see much social traction in large enterprise. Neither one ever comes up in a landscape conversation of social collaboration software, and turning up examples of hard core users has been pretty slim among those of us who keep an eye on this category.  CubeTree, in fact, was never a player.  With Patel’s new position, SAP recently moved “social”  into its cloud group where it will support all SAP suites and concentrations (CRM, for example) in a new social platform that will be structured to support the business horizontally and seamlessly across on-premise and cloud offerings.  The group is building what they’re calling, “Project Robus.” (Latin for resolve or purpose.)

What’s probably most significant about Project Robus is that all development is being led by SuccessFactor’s co-founder and  technical cloud guru, Aaron Au. Au  is the lead architect and will run engineering for the project.  The operating vision behind the socialization of SAP’s massive ENSW footprint hinges squarely on integrating social with business process.  As Patel describes it, “This is core infrastructure.  It’s like application servers and middleware.”  The orientation is on business activities first, and social features second.  In other words, use cases will drive how and when social interacts with a business process.  All social presentations within the SAP product suite will touch the Robus platform.  My blogger colleague Alan Lepofsky describes it as “social plumbing.”

The pressure to deliver social is on SuccessFactors CEO Lars Dalgaard who is the Board executive advocate for social. Dalgaard is breathing new life and new ideas into the software behemoth.  He appears to have much support from co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Snabe, as most cloud and social questions asked at the scheduled media/analyst interview were turned over to Dalgaard.   There is evidence in the market that SAP has finally embraced the principles of a more collaborative, social business world (see Jim Snabe’s opinion piece in the Financial Times, “Social Networking and the Future of Business“).

I want to believe SAP will pull this off, but there is a small part of me that wants to scream, “You’re doing it wrong!”  It’s as if SAP is looking for a software solution to a human opportunity.  Focusing on the unstructured data and time spent between workflows is anathema to SAP’s heritage and corporate culture.  And even if the executive and management ranks see the opportunity, the rank and file are going to be puzzled.  We were sitting at dinner with a number of SAP mentors and I asked if any of them were using StreamWork.  All heads shook no.  One mentor said he wouldn’t even bother logging on.  My enterprise blogger friends roll their eyes when I talk about how social is about reinventing the way we work.  But they’re not seeing the changes I’m seeing in large organizations that are successful with social reinvention.  Luckily, I’m not the only one talking about this.  The enterprise is ready for a different way to work.

But, like Kermit, it’s the lovers, the dreamers, and me.  Those of us who are under Social Business’ spell are true believers.  I hope Lars Dalgaard and the SAP executive team can execute on the human potential of social, but I’m still a bit skeptical.

See Dalgaard’s “dream” app.  Here’s to hoping they pull it off.

Serendipity Happens… to Deliver Million$

As the world turns… social, expect to be surprised by the fruits of serendipity.  When large workforces embrace working socially, or as I love to call it – in “socialworking” mode, they discover new ways of solving problems and creating opportunities.  Insights are revealed in the fluid web of connections and sharing. We’ve seen a dramatic mood swing toward all things social this year.  Even the naysayers have been touting the benefits of working socially recently.

I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight just one example of how working in a truly social organization delivers benefits that could never have been predicted in an executive conference room undergoing the scrutiny of a hard-core ROI analysis.

 

The Million Dollar Cry for Help

This vignette comes from our member Andrew Carusone at Lowe’s Companies, Inc. who told the story at our workshop this summer.  Lowe’s on-boarded 100% of its employee base to its collaborative platform, IBM Connections last year.  That’s every executive, store manager, retail clerk, and stock boy on the payroll.  The entire Lowe’s workforce of 289,000 employees have access to Connections.  What’s interesting is that less than 17,000 of these employees are salaried employees, and even less are members of the management team.  The challenge for the Lowe’s social business team is to inspire the employee base to turn to the platform in the course of their normal day’s work.  For some employees, it comes naturally.

During beta tests, an enterprising Paint Department employee decided to try something new to demonstrate the ease of cleaning a Teflon paint tray.  She poured latex paint into it, let it dry, and then peeled the paint out whole.  She left both the paint “mold” and the paint tray on the paint counter.  Customers were amazed and delighted. Suddenly, she was sold out of the paint trays and shoppers were clamoring for more.

The employee turned to all of her traditional channels to get additional inventory.  She accessed the company’s enterprise inventory system, however, like most major retailers, the business process tightly controls the amount of additional inventory employees can request.  After exhausting other traditional sources, the employee then turned to the Connections platform and asked “out loud”* if anyone knew how she could get more inventory.  Funny thing happened.  Although everyone felt her pain on the inventory shortage, they started replicating her paint mold/tray demo in their stores.  And guess what?   Suddenly other stores were selling out of the paint trays too.  As interest in the thread and the display idea grew in popularity, sales skyrocketed.

When applied on an enterprise level, the unique display idea represented more than a million dollars in additional revenue of the SHUR-LINE Teflon 9″ Metal Tray.  With that single serendipitous public share –employee-to-employee – at the kind of scale that Lowe’s enabled with its full workforce deployment, ideas like this can easily pay in full for the technology platforms that enabled it.  And this is just a single example.  Our Lowe’s members say these examples happen all the time.  I have a few more along these lines from other members I’ll post in the future.

What’s interesting to me in this example is that when the sanctioned business process that the Lowe’s employee was “workflowed” to use failed to deliver, it prompted her to seek out alternatives. (The company regulates how much inventory a store can order and when.)  She also reached out via other channels: email, phone calls, etc., with little success.   It was only after she circumvented the traditional sources and leveraged the power of pull within her employee base, did the company realize this unexpected windfall in revenue.   Not because she was able to order more inventory (her original ask), but because she shared her clever merchandising technique with the employee base creating demand for her idea far beyond her single store.  As Andy says, “What felt like a pebble – landed like a stone!”

It was the innovative idea that went viral in the company, resulting in the huge inventory demand (and subsequent sales) corporate-wide.   Smart employees throughout the ages have always found better ways to accomplish their goals, but these massive collaborative platforms are yielding leapfrogs in productivity and serendipitous wins on a large scale.  Be sure not to overlook this important upside of working socially.  In other words, “Be careful what you don’t ask for, you just might get it.”

*We talk a lot about “working out loud” in the Council.  Try it.  It just may delight you. 

Focusing on Adoption (exclusively) is a Dead-End

For an early adopter market, adoption in this space always seems to get a bad rap.  Why is that?  Because adoption is not the end-game.  It’s the beginning.  In the Council, the members are focused on changing hearts and minds and promoting the use of social tools in order to drive acceptance for a new way of working.  In Deloitte’s excellent report issued today, Social Software for Business Performance, we couldn’t agree more with the findings.  In fact, the rap on “adoption” uses our research to make the point.  There is no benefit in adoption for adoption’s sake.

It’s important to understand that “technology” adoption is the beginning of the journey.  It’s the first wagon wheel turn on a Westward Ho! trek toward complete embrace of a workforce that is socially calibrated and connected.  If you want to experience the benefits of working socially, workforces need to be comfortable and see the benefit of the radical internal organizational change it requires.  It sometimes amuses me that the folks who are critical of the adoption effort required are not particularly proficient in working socially in the first place, and cling to the world they know which is process-oriented and rooted in the industrialization (machining) of the enterprise.

I’ve often said that the adoption story is much less about the technology than it is about the organizational dynamics required to rewire the culture toward a more open, more egalitarian society if you will.  My source on this does not hail from any new technology fad.  In fact, it’s a paper originally published in 1957.  It is a supplement to a paper called, “How Farm People Accept New Ideas.”  It draws from a sociology, not technology foundation.

Introducing these concepts and making them stick inside a large organization is, indeed, a lot like cat-herding.  But, these are not cats or kittens. Change is painful and difficult inside large organizations.  One of the best quotes we heard from last year’s BlackBelt Workshop at the Boston Enterprise 2.0 conference was from one of our members who said, “These are not cats we’re herding; they’re Tigers, and they bite!”

Business process oriented vendors are getting savvy to social.  Council members just had a great Q&A yesterday with SFDC’s Chatter lead, Chuck Ganapathi, yesterday, and we’re planning a demo and conversation with Tibbr in the near future.   My prediction is we will see new business processes that replace or obsolete old ones more and more as, well, adoption proliferates throughout the enterprise.

Mama Weer All Crazee-Social Now!

Indeed, a Quiet Riot is percolating in the heretofore boring ERP sector.  I spotted Josh Greenbaum‘s post on “Enterprise Relationship Planning” this afternoon.  In the Council, we have dredged up a 90s label– The Extended Enterprise— to categorize discussions about how our members are architecting their socio-collaborative initiatives to span partners in their supplier, distributor, and delivery chains.  Included here is the massive momentum around Social CRM that is touching the customer in personal ways as well and reinventing what it means to be proactive and responsive to existing and potential buyers.  One of our largest members recently  made a platform selection choice based nearly exclusively on the chosen vendor’s ability to bridge to external collaborators while retaining the ability to keep the conversation secure behind the firewall.  All of our members are somewhere in the adoption phase of evaluating these options.  The confluence of all SaaS and enterprise legacy systems and social is coming… It’s not if, it’s when.

The unique thread that links the revitalization of  all these mechanical, cumbersome, process-driven software “systems” is people.  People with intelligence, with tacit knowledge, with “exceptions” expertise.  We had a fantastic Council guru Q&A last week with Socialtext’s Ross Mayfield.  Socialtext cites a whopping statistic that turns traditional ERP on its head, “An estimated 60 to 80% of an organization’s work is ‘exception’ oriented.”  Squeezing the life (variability) out of a process is passe and will be replaced or supplementing with social data to improve its effectiveness, not detract from it.  This is a revolutionary idea.

This sentiment is expressed by one of our members, Todd Weidman,  who was discussing the rigidity of the Six Sigma process:

“In my experience in financial services, it’s used as a framework to eliminate as much process variation as possible. The processes become repeatable, follow a strict pattern, and ideally you reduce the cost of any transaction (and make it predictable, standard, and outsourcable). That’s fine if your building something to spec (manufacturing), but in any service-based industry, client needs demand many different types of solutions – think financial planning – there may be a number of different inputs for a customized solution. That, of course, requires collaboration between participants.”

Indeed, the future is about relationships.  And relationships are about people, not stuff.

If Social Media will be like Air, Enterprise 2.0 will be like Carbon

The year I transferred from a small, liberal State college to the ginormous State University, I started the fall semester with a bevy of difficult subjects: Chemistry, Calculus, Introduction to Philosophy, and Abnormal Psychology.  When I showed up for my first day of Chemistry, little did I know I had entered the wrong classroom.  I was seated in an Organic Chemistry class, not beginner Chemistry.  Of course, I made a good show of it– nodding with the professor at different intervals, taking notes,  looking confident.  Meanwhile, I had no idea what he was talking about and wanted to run out of there screaming.  However, I now know that 40 minutes was not a waste.  I learned something day one at that class I never forgot.  That lesson is that all organic compounds (and all lifeforms on the planet) have one thing in carbon: Carbon.

I was thinking of this random fact the last few days when I read somewhere that Social Media goddess @charleneli was recently quoted saying, “Social Media will be like air.” (Love that, actually.)  And also because there’s been a bit of to and fro from the business process stalwarts who have once again found the Enterprise 2.0 conversation to occupy their fancy.

Because (admittedly) I have somewhat of an unfair 50-yard line view of the playing field for Enterprise 2.0 adoption in the work I do for The 2.0 Adoption Council, I feel relatively confident in saying, “If Social Media will be like Air, Enterprise 2.0 will be like Carbon.”  I commented to this effect on Zoli’s Enterprise Irregulars re-post of David Terrar’s @DT‘s blog post, although I’m not sure the EI blog is drawing traffic these days.

This is a great post. Read it on @DT’s blog. Totally agree that the bridge between traditional enterprise systems/data/process is the “missing link” in the e20 evolutionary branch of life. Where social will be “like air” as @charleneli says, Enterprise 2.0 will be like Carbon (where Carbon compounds form the basis of all known life.)

But looking at the enterprise through the process prism is not the right perspective, imho. The enterprise of the future will be a social web of connected individuals and teams– innovating, experimenting, verifying, discovering, deciding. The correct view is to analyze the social layer and align process to meet the demands of an ever more productive and innovative workforce.

My friend @sameerpatel has just completed a report, “The Real-Time Enterprise.” Although I have not read this report, I’m fairly certain Sameer and I see the world through a similar lens. I highly recommend you check it out. Enterprise 2.0 is coming.  It’s analogous to trying to stop the Internet from encroaching on global trade in the late 90s.  In the decades to come, it will permeate every business process, every line of communication, every channel to every member of the eco-system of the Enterprise.  Count on it.