Enough with the “Social Media” already

[Image (cc) quinnanya]
I don’t know who coined the term “Social Media” but I’d love to wring their neck. I think the name single handedly prevents widespread enterprise adoption of powerful tools. In common parlance Social = Party and Media = Entertainment. You might as well be asking your Executive Officer for 200 grand to pay the clown making balloon animals by the buffet. On the other hand, if we call it what it is, “Modern Communications Infrastructure”, suddenly 200K sounds like a bargain!
I know! I know! It is what it is and we’re stuck with the name. I’ll get over it, but here’s the problem. We’re running out of time. More specifically, companies are running out of time. In my first few posts on 3 Geeks, I wrote about the End of Corporate IT or as I called it the CorpTechPocalypse. Two of the reasons I gave were Software as a Service and the Consumerization of IT. These two factors have come together in the phenomenon of Enterprise SaaS companies marketing directly to end users. Their marketing plan goes something like this: 1) Give 80% of your product away for free. 2) Get employees inside the firewall to start using it. 3) Wait for the IT guy to call to find out how to administer/control your product. 4) Charge him a nominal fee for the admin console.
Now, I’m not bemoaning the practice. In fact, I think it’s rather ingenious. Enterprise adoption of software is a huge endeavor requiring a committee of people to develop an RFP, evaluate responses, pick a solution, work with operations and development to incorporate the product, train the users, etc. etc. It can take years to get a new software product up and running. The SaaS Trojan technique completely bypasses the typical corporate BS and goes straight to the people who will ultimately benefit from the product. And It’s WAY more efficient than the traditional process. Within the next few years your company will probably adopt at least one SaaS product this way simply because this is the future of enterprise software. Aaron Levie, CEO of Box.net, a file sharing solution, stated this approach explicitly in an interview with Fast Company last week.
FC: So someone in any department within an organization just decides they need help sharing files, they sign up on Box.net, then that spreads virally for the organization--and then once it gets big enough, you monetize that with premium features?
AL: Exactly. Once there's a significant population of users in an organization, we'll usually get a call from the IT buyer. He’ll say: We have all these services. Now, I want a secure way the people can use these tools, I want oversight across the network, I want people to authenticate in ways consistent with other authentication processes we use.
And Box.net is not alone, Yammer and Present.ly do essentially the same thing with enterprise twitter type clients. 37Signals doesn’t have the exactly the same model, but they make enterprise quality software cheap enough that a department head can decide to bypass the IT department and deploy new software to all of her people for the cost of a couple of martinis per month.
I know what you’re thinking. “Man the barricades! Batten the Hatches! Block those sites, we won’t let our users get to them!” Unless you’re going to take the nanagement approach of my alter ego and whitelist your internet access, it simply can’t be done. It’s a losing battle. As soon as you block one, ten more will rise up to take it’s place. This is happening now and you can’t stop it. But there is one way to counteract the SaaS Trojan, at least in regard to social SaaS – get ahead of it. Adopt the tools now. If you provide approved alternatives to your employees, then they will likely use those instead of finding their own solutions behind your back.
I’m not suggesting everyone needs to run out today and spend a fortune on Social Media tools. What you need to do is evaluate and approve a 21st Century Communications Infrastructure, which includes employee profiles, blogs, wikis, micro-blogging, collaboration tools, and whatever else that comes along in the near future. Email and telephone does not constitute a Modern Communications Infrastructure anymore.
Here’s the kicker – and lot’s of people will disagree with me here – you don’t need to decide exactly how you’re going to use the social tools before you adopt them. You need to make them available to your employees, and let your employees decide how and when to use them. Because, once your employees make the decision to use social tools, they want to start using those tools immediately, not in 6 months or a year. The traditional enterprise project based approach to software acquisition takes too long. SaaS Trojans will provide the tools immediately and you will have lost the ability to choose what software is appropriate for your company. The beauty of a SaaS solution is that for a very low cost you can make all of those tools available now, if the usage increases, then and only then will your costs increase. So stop worrying about how to explain "Social Media" to your 63 year old Managing Partner, it's just a "Modern Communications Infrastructure". He's not likely to ever start blogging or wikiing anyway. The kid you hired last week, however, will one day be your MP. He tweets 150 times a day, and he blames the IT department for making it so difficult to communicate at work. He'll be the first one to sign up for a SaaS Trojan. In fact, he probably already has.

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Ryan McClead said...

@ihutchinson points out on twitter that I may be underestimating the barriers to entry for cheap SaaS solutions. He lists "The tipping point, security concerns, support services, IT complexity/integration, ease of use and overall fear of change" as barriers that could prevent the adoption of SaaS solutions originally entering the enterprise via the Trojan SaaS technique. All very good points, each of these could easily destroy adoption of traditional enterprise software, but I think they're less likely to destroy SaaS Trojans.
Typical Enterprise software is designed with the IT department in mind. Their primary concern is security, support, and integration. That often leads to software that is difficult to use for the end user. SaaS Trojans are primarily designed with consumers in mind. Ease of use is their foot in the door and they specifically target the power users who don't have the same fear of change that the general population does. Those power users also tend to be social hubs. If they’ve found an easy solution, they are going to share it. From the consumer point of view the software is “Free”, it does everything I need, and it’s easy to use. Why shouldn’t I use it? Meanwhile, the SaaS company has no deadline. Giving the consumer portion of their software away for free is just their marketing expense. They can wait until the software goes viral within an organization and IT gets involved. Only after that Tipping Point has been reached do the concerns about security, support, and integration even come up. And that’s when the SaaS company makes their sales pitch. They have answers for all of the typical IT concerns and they’ve had those tools in place from the beginning (because that’s their business model) but if you want their Enterprise tools you have to pay for them.
Now the IT department is faced with the following dilemma: There is clearly a demand for this type of product, evidenced by the number of our users already using it. We can either shut down the site from within the firewall and begin a project to find another more traditional solution that does the same thing, which could take years, will require training, great expense, and greatly annoy the people currently using the product. Or, we can pay this company a relatively small amount per user, have all of the features we require, grow the project slowly and organically, keep our users happy, and have the product up and running from day one. Of course, the difficulty of that decision will depend largely on the type of SaaS we’re talking about. But if it provides legitimate functionality that you currently do not provide to your users, AND the SaaS company can meet your IT requirements, then the choice becomes a simple one, and the Trojan has successfully bypassed your standard software acquisition bureaucracy.

Mark said...

This is interesting - I don't claim to be an expert but I've always been fascinated by the rise of technology (especially in business).


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