Social Business 2013: Less Talking. More Doing.

December 4 2012 12:30:00 AM Comments Disabled
It's that time of year where analysts gaze into our crystal balls and make predictions about the trends we expect to see in the upcoming months. My thoughts about 2013 are based on the hundreds of conversations I've had with social business product vendors and customers over the last twelve months. Below I'll list my top predictions for 2013, but if you only have a moment here are the mains idea that I want to share:

For customers, 2013 will be a year of taking action. Over the last few years organizations have invested a great deal of resources into learning about the technological and cultural shifts required for social business transformation. Now they can move past the struggles explaining "Facebook for the Enterprise" and instead focus on implementing the social features that will help their employees get their jobs done.

For product vendors, 2013 will be less about creating shiny new features and more about helping their customers (and prospects) derive real business value from their platforms. Yes, of course there will still be innovations in user experience, mobile access, analytics and many more, but for the next little while the "competitive feature wars" will be less important than proving they understand how to help organizations succeed.  

In other words, "Less talking, more doing."

Now let's get into some specific areas that I believe will contribute significantly to the way employees get their jobs done in 2013. I'm going to skip covering obvious topics like increased adoption in mobile, cloud and gamification and focus on what I refer to as "Structured Collaboration". I'm not talking about imposing rigid rules or strict processes. Structured Collaboration occurs by adding just a little extra organization to the things people create and share. You'll notice a few of the items below don't actually involve new or innovative concepts. Still, these topics all contribute to improving the way employees get their work done.

Collaborative applications for specific business purposes.
Over the last few years, companies have worked to get their employees comfortable with the concepts of sharing information openly (i.e. social) via tools like blogs, wikis and activity streams. In 2012 the next stage of social was popularized by the overused phrase "add social features to core business applications." This involves augmenting tools like ERP, HR, and CRM tools. That's great, but there are still several unique business processes that are not served out of the box by these core platforms. For these, companies have previously relied on tools like Lotus Notes applications, spreadsheets or custom developed databases. In 2013 we'll see organizations building custom applications on cloud based platforms like, Amazon, Microsoft Azure, as well as tools like Podio, Filemaker and Quickbase. These structured applications make it easier for employees to create and share information in a consistent format (via fields, forms and views) versus authoring simple unstructured pages in wikis or community forums. Unlike previous generations of collaborative applications, these new apps will include all the expected social features (comments, liking tagging, streams, etc) and cloud app integrations (file sharing, CRM, calendar, etc.) people have come to expect.  

Information will be structured around projects.
In 2012 I wrote a lot about Social Task Management (STM), the combination of traditional project management tools with enterprise social networking. By associating status updates, task assignments and shared content with specific projects, employees can become far more organized and get their work done more effectively. In 2013 STM features will become more mainstream in social business platforms, and employees will begin to use these tools to help organize the abundance of information currently being shared randomly in social networks. Some platforms like IBM Connections and Traction TeamPage have had STM features for years, and newer platforms are adding STM via acquisitions, like Jive purchasing Producteev. There will certainly be more STM vendors acquired in 2013, and some startups will shutdown or pivot as the market consolidates.

Personal Task Automation helps employees get their jobs done.
While Business Process Automation (BPA) tools have been around for years, they are traditionally only used by system administrators and application developers to link together or integrate complex corporate processes like invoicing, resource planning or inventory control. In 2012 web sites like IFTTT and Zapier introduced a new generation of workflow tools that use simple rules and actions to automate tasks which span popular web-based applications. Example: If your name or company is mentioned on a social media site it could trigger the creation of a new page in your favourite note taking application. These tools are simple enough that non-technical people can configure them, but the issue is they are stand-alone web sites that require individuals to have accounts, they are not an integrated part of a platform supported by corporate IT. In 2013 these features will begin to surface in enterprise collaboration suites, enabling employees to configure triggers and actions based on their internal business processes. For example, say a product manager uploads a presentation about an upcoming release, personal task automation could automatically set up a web conference to train the Sales team and notify the marketing team to include the new content on the company web site. With personal task automation, employees could save time by reducing manual tasks and cut down on mistakes that occur when people forget to perform certain actions.  

Keep track of information from multiple applications.
Remember when blogs first become popular? You had to manually surf from site to site each day to see if there were any updates. Then along came "News Aggregators" or "Feed Readers" (like Google Reader) that pulled all the updates into a single inbox making it easier to keep up to date. A similar scenario is now playing out, this time with dozens of different types of cloud based applications, like file sharing sites, social networks, support forums, CRM apps, financial and invoicing sites, etc. The more cloud based applications you use, the harder it is to keep track of what's going on. Enter Cloud Application Aggregators like Hojoki, Kitedesk, CloudWork, CloudSnap, CloudHQ, Pinterest and others. These sites provide a single place to work with multiple applications. If these vendors can add enterprise grade features in areas like security, directory, administration and compliance then they will begin to gain traction with large organizations, especially those that follow a "best of breed" approach to choosing collaboration solutions.

Elearning makes a comeback as social learning.
In 2011 the hot area for "social" was Customer Relationship Management, or CRM. In 2012 it was Human Resources. In 2013 one of the most talked about verticals for "social" will be education, training and certification. The recent improvements in technology and culture around "social" form a perfect environment to foster collaborative learning. Employees are now more comfortable with sharing ideas and best practices, it's easier to author and share documentation and mobile devices provide access from almost anywhere.

It's time to turn that webcam on at work.
The industry has been talking about video conferencing for almost a decade, but outside of vendor product demos, how often is video really used? Improvements in camera technology (especially on mobile phones and tablets), less bandwidth challenges (improved codecs and faster home network connections) and cultural acceptance (e.g. Google Hangouts) are now at a point where the use of video during web-conferences could finally become a reality.  

Stop letting those great conversations go to waste.
Remember when you had that great idea on that conference call last month, but no one wrote it down and now you can't remember the details? Startups like HarQen are looking to solve this issue by indexing and tagging audio, making it easy to find information and take action on tasks. I first found out about HarQen at Oracle OpenWorld and I hope to see features like this built into all web conferencing and chat solutions. Imagine putting this together with the Social Task Management and Personal Automation topics I mentioned above. I can't count the amount of times I could have benefited from a solution like this.

Wild Card: Reality gets an upgrade.

Ok, I'll throw one fun idea out there, augmented or blended reality. For those of you not familiar with this area, it involves displaying additional content in the context of the real world by looking through something like your mobile phone, tablet or special glasses. For example, looking at a catalog though the camera on your phone and seeing 3D models of the products displayed above the page. There are several vendors in this space, including Metaio, Layar and Aurasma. Currently some of the most common use cases are selling/marketing consumer products, enhancing video games and providing additional information to manufacturing and life sciences/healthcare processes. But imagine adding a "3rd dimension" to collaboration tools such as activity streams, profile pages, of even presentations and spreadsheets. I don't think there is tremendous business value there yet, but new ideas have to start somewhere, so perhaps we'll see a few fringe uses of augmented reality at work in 2013.

Bonus: Collaboration Companies To Watch in 2013

List alphabetically below are a few of the collaboration startups that I believe will make news in 2013. I'm not going to go into detail about them here, but anyone looking for more information should contact me to set up advisory sessions.
  • Atlassian
  • Box
  • Evernote
  • GetSatisfaction
  • Huddle
  • Igloo
  • Okta
  • TechSmith
  • ƜberConference

So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree? What do you think I left off? What do you hope to see in 2013? What do you hope NOT to see in 2013?