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The Tao of Enterprise Social Software


Enterprise Social Software is inherently freeform and unstructured. That is its strength with respect to collaboration. Good social software allows you to interact with anyone in anyway that seems appropriate.

This lack of structure is also its weakness with respect to organizational processes. Traditional enterprise systems and processes rely on the fact that the format and structure of its inputs and outputs are known. Trying to implement social software as a replacement for traditional enterprise systems and processes will not work.


The secret to the successful implementation of social software within the enterprise is that it must work in conjunction with existing structured processes and systems. Social software should augment, not replace, the systems you already have in place in your organization.

The best way to introduce social software into your organization is not to begin with a general statement of, "I want to collaborate better".  Instead the correct entry point to is to start with your existing processes and figure out how social software can be used to augment those processes.

If you look at most organizational processes in existence you will typically see the 80/20 rule in effect. Eighty percent of the output is generated by twenty percent of the effort. The other 80% of the effort is spent generating 20% of the output. This extra effort comes in one of two forms:

  • Time lost in dealing with exceptions, trying to find the information, or the exception case just being lost and forgotten.
  • Resources used in trying to programmatically handle exceptions.

Think of "exceptions" as any information flow that does not follow prescribed or predictable pattern. These exceptions are exactly the situations that traditional enterprise systems and processes do not handle well, AND exactly the situations that social software does handle extremely well.

Targeting social software to handle the backside of the 80/20 rule will yield a huge benefit to the organization by:

  • Reducing the time it takes to handle exceptions
  • Ensuring that exceptions do not fall through the cracks from being to hard to deal with
  • Eliminate resource drain from trying to programmatically deal with exceptions

Designing social software to work in conjunction with enterprise systems will lead to more effective operations.

1 Comment

This was a rather interesting post about organizational effectiveness and social software. There are lots of formal and informal ways to go about this. Microsoft has its Sharepoint for enterprises and Google has it's own form of organizing information such as Google docs. The author was right to do so by stating the lack of structure is a weak point of social software and finding the right balance of loose and structured design is imperative for organizations to be successfu. I think the solution is simple: Skype. By gathering all the necessary contacts pertinent for communication and correspondance an alliance can be formed and the flow of information can be achieved. Software developments may seem enticing and can lure the individual into a group or organization, however, the informal organizations can often accomplish more than the formal.