Ben Gilchriest, lead of Capgemini Australia’s MSS consulting practice, considers that social media and digital is not only changing the way we act as consumers, it’s changing the way we work, at work….. but what does this mean for enterprise?

Like a lot of people that work in the digital space I’m a big user of digital tools to enhance the way I get things done; whether that be to connect with friends, organise social events, capture, share and edit content, visualise and share ideas, research new purchases, or manage finances. The outcome is that I can do much more in less time and with less effort. The late Steve Jobs, with his skill for simplifying and distilling concepts, described this very well; “computers are like a bicycle for the mind”. Namely, they greatly improve our ability to do a task without getting in the way of it. There’s a wide range of tools available to do this; file sharing, video sharing, photo editing, smartphones, laptops, tablets, and so on. An enormous number of applications, and devices that enable us to achieve more.

Conceptually this idea isn’t new. Steve Jobs first made this thought public in 1990 and has not been alone in evolving the computer over the intervening 21 years to help us do this. Much of this evolution has been defined by a clear compartmentalisation between “work” and “play”. Devices and applications that you use in work, and ones that you use at home. Purpose, design, and thus platform and function have been largely separate. However, in the same way that digital transformation is blurring the boundary between digital and physical it’s also blurring the boundary between work and play.  This is being driven from two directions;

(1)    Professionalisation of consumer tools; tools like Vimeo’s on-line video service or YouTube were designed for consumers but their ease of use has meant that they’re used by amateurs and professionals on equal terms. Services like iStockphoto have seen the reverse trend, originally designed for professionals, the ease of use has meant a lot of consumers use the platform to showcase and sell their photos.

(2)  “Consumer-isation” of professional tools; professional grade tools and devices are now in the hands of the consumer. As a consumer we now have access, for example, to affordable devices that can record broadcast quality video. Just three years ago these were beyond the reach of even the most enthusiastic amateur. Equally, digital has opened up professional grade tools such Adobe’s Creative Suite who recently announced that it’s making this package  available on a subscription basis, lowering the entry point from thousands of dollars to hundreds.

This is not just about tools and platforms though, it’s about how we’re using the internet more generally.  We now expect to be able to interact with other customers to solve problems, review products or services, and share ideas (peer-to-peer).. If we have a problem we want to find the person who has the best answer through communities and forums rather than going through a company hierarchy. For example, at the mobile company giffgaff, customers market, sell, and provide service to other customers. The company plays only a small role in these activities.

In addition, consumers are increasingly making the shift from push to pull. We only want content that’s relevant to our interests at a time that’s convenient to us. For example, on-demand services where you create your own viewing schedule rather than being tied to one defined by the network, such as Deutsche Telekoms “Entertain” service. Or tailored news applications, like Zite, which not only allows you to customise the content you get but learns which articles you like and increases its relevance to you over time. We no longer want to filter what is sent to us, we want intelligent systems to filter before we receive it.

In short, the boundary between professional and consumer is become less of a boundary and more of a spectrum. Take Kachiwachi, a Logictech customer who made over 40,000 posts to help other customers on the Logitech community, saving the company an estimated $100,000. Is he an employee or a customer?

This is also happening in the opposite direction as we increasingly take our expectations and ways of working outside work into work. So what are the implications of this? As our comfort with working  peer-to-peer increases we want to get to the right individuals to solve a problem shifting away from hierarchies and corporate structures to communities, wikis, and other social tools. So rather than employees organising around functions there’s an increasing movement to organise around problems, regardless of where you sit in the business (perhaps someone in Finance has the best answer to a problem in Marketing). Equally, push-versus-pull means we want to move away from e-mail, intranets, newsletters, and noticeboards, towards personalised feeds that are exactly relevant to our interests or the topic we’re working on. Whether those feeds are news, conversations, or people we follow.

All of this is very uncomfortable for “the enterprise” as, in the same way that true social media adoption requires a relinquishing of control to customers, it requires a relinquishing of control to the employee. The challenge is that whilst we may want to take time to think about and manage the introduction of this Enterprise 2.0 way of working, many of the platforms that enable these approaches are already creeping in. For example, enterprise social networking tools like Yammer, Socialcast, and Chatter are all web-based with an entry point that’s free so they can be ‘installed’ without going through either the normal IT or budget review processes.

It’s clear that digital transformation is having an impact at a much broader level than just the business to consumer level. We need to understand and address these challenges because, whilst not all companies will choose to go down the social / digital route, increasingly the world out there is affecting the world in here. The blurring of the boundary between all these perspectives, work and play, physical and digital, consumer expectations and employee expectations, means that it’s unavoidable.