Connecting the Dots

Social Enterprise is an exciting concept and in a series of blog posts I will share some tips on how to make a desirable and productive user experience for The Social Enterprise.

What is The Social Enterprise?

The Social Enterprise is not a technology or software, it is a concept that refers to an organisation that is fully connected and where all things are  digitally integrated with each other using what I call The Social Glue.

It is an organisation that thinks differently and makes use of all the opportunities a digitally connected environment presents. It affects everything within the organisation from how systems integrate to how employees behave. It also has a profound impact in how the organisation interacts with its customers, how fast it can react to any correspondence and how well it can collaborate with them.

The switch to a Social Enterprise mindset can flip the company upside down by breaking down hierarchies and business silos and it creates a radically different and modern work environment suitable for the 21st century.  Here at Capgemini Yammer has played a big part as covered by my colleagues Tom Barton and Rick Mans, but there are many other success stories on the web.

Connecting the dots

Chances are your organisation already have several of the cornerstones of a Social Enterprise, email being one of them. You may also have a file repository, perhaps digital working groups and maybe even instant messaging tools.

But are they linked together? Do they all identify themselves as official tools of your company? Have they ever been officially introduced as such?

Historically  such initiatives were often not started at the top of the organisations. They were started by enthusiastic employees either by publicly being active on behalf of the company (whether in an official capacity or not) or who somehow got access to some server space and set up a wiki or similar to make life easier for themselves and their closest colleagues.

While such guerrilla tactics may have been borderline improper conduct they more often than not proved beneficial to the organisation and as such were adopted more widely with the management’s approval and backing.

Where does content live?

But the above isn’t actually a Social Enterprise strategy because these different initiatives, no matter how effective, are not working together as a single entity.

The first step is to look holistically at the systems and map out what each system brings to the collective experience because while they work independently of each other there is a danger of content being duplicated or misplaced leading to a disjointed experience forcing people back to old habits as they struggle to make sense of all these new systems spawning left and right.

Creating an overview of the systems will help determine where what type of content live which is crucial for an optimised workspace. It will also identify what functions might be missing for The Social Enterprise to function effectively as a single coherent system.

How do I find it?

For a traditional single site interface, such as a website, the rules for best practice in user experience design are:

  • Consistent Navigation Structure
  • Strong Search
  • All-Inclusive Sitemap.

But in reality very few Social Enterprises have a single global user interface as they make use of the default interface designs of the various systems. So for The Social Enterprise the two most important aspects are Search and Sitemap.

The search facility need to be able to search globally across systems and it needs the ability to return relevant results and provide user-controlled functions like filters. If the search cannot search all systems it need to state so very clearly and give the users alternative methods.

The sitemap is almost always forgotten for Social Enterprises because of how they appear out of individual systems fusing together. But nothing is more helpful for  users than a single place to see all the different locations with clear indications of what should be used for what purposes. It is not enough to only inform people when they join the company; they need a destination to constantly remind themselves of the logic rather than wasting time finding information on… how to find information.

How do I keep informed?

Real-time information is at the heart of The Social Enterprise as it strives to bring content to users when they need it. This inevitably creates a huge communication stream between people and people as well as between objects and people. However, receiving a flood of automatically generated email alerts is counter-productive as it is time-consuming to manage and hard to filter.

A new mechanism is needed that can aggregate all communication into a single stream of chronological entries. Imagine a single location where alerts from practical systems, from working groups and from colleagues are found in one place, effectively being the digital footprint of the company but delivered in a modified version tailored to each individual employees job role requirements and interests.

Such an organisational Lifestream need to be at the core of any Social Enterprise to be truly effective and software providers are aware of this offering systems that can act as this social backbone of The Social Enterprise, but it is important to remember whatever system is chosen, it need to integrate with all the other systems to be effective, otherwise it is just another digital location soon to be forgotten by the employees.

But what do you think?

Please let me know your thoughts and feel free to share any suggestions for the next article on how to make a desirable and productive user experience across The Social Enterprise.