What Happened to Social Technologies in Enterprises?

In 2008, a former colleague Niall Cook wrote a prescient book called Enterprise 2.0: How Social Software Will Change the Future of Work that looked at how social technologies would improve employee communications within organizations, "unlock value" and increase productivity.

As with all such books there were a number of case studies of forward thinking organizations, most of which tellingly were technology or professional services companies,

In his forward to Niall's book, author Don Tapscott also presumed that:

Managers can exploit social networks, wikis, blogs, tags, collaborative filtering, digital brainstorms, telepresence and other tools of what Anthony Williams and I call 'the wiki workplace' . . .

Fast forward to 2012 and we have a study from McKinsey Global Institute called "The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies" that says we are on the cusp of a new world supported by the same technologies and forces that Niall talked about four years earlier:

Social technologies are beginning to deliver on their value potential, and more of this value will be realized in the coming years . . . In business, we expect to see the impact of social technologies grow, as management innovations start to accompany deployment, innovation, and adaptations of social technologies in and across enterprises . . . We believe that the interactions enabled by social technologies can encourage more engaged employees to bring their creative gifts to work.

So here we are in 2014, six years post-Niall, and from what I've seen — and I am happy to be challenged on this — we are still not there, at least on the dimension of the collaborative workplace.

Of the many organizations with which I work, I know of none using other than basic social technologies as synergetic tools internally. Some experiment with such platforms as Yammer for internal discussions and Google Drive and Egnyte for collusive document development and project management.

However, I haven't seen or read about any sea change in internal collaborative cultures as a result of social technologies nor even more sophisticated uses of Intranets (which also used to be touted as panaceas for alienation in the workplace and siloed communication). 

We may be entering the era of the "collaborative economy", as Jermiah Owyang and Alexandra Samuel call it, in which ordinary people are empowered "to share their unused resources, such as time and goods, often in a peer-to-peer commerce model". But for reasons I am not clear on —  other than an unwillingness to invest or basic lack of understanding of what the tools can do — the socially enabled collaborative workplace seems a ways off yet.

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