Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The real reason why business should adopt Enterprise 2.0 tools

Whenever I go to my local super market I prefer the automated check-out counters. I seek out people only when I have questions or when I am not sure about something. When I do approach people, they normally are very glad to help me out and I am grateful when they do. Although I prefer automated check-out counters for their efficiency, i make it a point to go to grocery stores that have helpful people. This is true for other standard processes such as airline check-ins, reservations and many other services. With every passing day, I see jobs eliminated in almost every kind of business.

While many workers in the developed world complain about outsourcing, that is only one of the factors affecting business as usual. Automation of standard procedures, enabled by technology, affects the nature of work much more than outsourcing. This is true for blue collar as well as white collar work. We are able to produce more with less, make inexpensive products and eliminate the need for human intervention in many places.

So what should workers who are trained for routine jobs do?
It is not the end of the day for all workers in the developed world. If we watch carefully, we will realize that we are not really required to perform routine jobs. We are valuable only when we can step in to handle exceptions. Exceptions are not rare. In fact exceptions are the norm in a substantial portion of employee time in professional service, supply chain management, sales, health care and customer service.

Today people try and can go to the cheapest source for routine products are services. However we are very demanding consumers and are willing to pay for exceptional products and services. Just think about how much money you paid for your iPod, your Bose headphones, your cappuccino or your favourite plumber. Suddenly, the word exception does not have a bad connotation. In fact, at work, every exception is an opportunity to be exceptional and hence demand a premium for your product or service.

How can software help workers in the developed world?
Even though exceptional situations are the norm in the day to day work of most employees, today's business software is designed only to enable the standard process. Software is carefully designed to take every exception out of the process, wipe out any opportunity for excitement, eliminate the need for interacting with people and make a person's job as listless as possible. People to people interaction is what creates value for the individual and the business. While current business software has made us efficient, we have also systematically reduced the opportunity to create, improve or delight.

This needs to change. If software wants to play a role in the growth of the western world, software need to be designed and built to help employees do their regular work, which is erroneously referred to as exceptions. What a human being does in most of the jobs in developed countries, is handle exceptions. If it is not an exception, most probably a machine (or some one who is willing to do the job for lower pay) can perform it.

If we watch closely, people who provide exceptional work always seek our the right people and right information required to address an exception. They normally know whom to contact to get the information or expertise. Such contacts are almost always weak connections outside the organizational hierarchy. So they strive to find, establish and maintain these weak contacts and do what it takes to stay in touch with them. This is not difficult because human beings are naturally wired for such behavior.

In the consumer world, we have tools that enable people to find, establish and maintain weak connections in context. There is an urgent need to provide such tools for people at work. These tools are normally referred to as Enterprise 2.0 tools. I believe that Enterprise 2.0 tools need to and will become the core of business software in the near future, not just an add-on to existing tools. Make such change happen is a major part of the work I and my colleagues do in the Career OnDemand project at SAP.

Contrary to popular belief, the need for tools is primarily driven by the changing nature of work and the urgent need to create value. "Attracting younger workers" is sometimes referred to as the reason to adopt Enterprise 2.0 tools. After researching this for almost two years, I have come to the conclusion that Enterprise 2.0 tools adoption is necessary for creating business value. The fact that adoption of Enterprise 2.0 tools can help you attract talent from the younger generation to your company is a bonus.

If you are interested in this topic, i have a few book suggestions. 'Pull' by John Hagel and John Sealy Brown. "A whole new mind" by Daniel Pink".
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