At Forrester we get a lot of questions about the use of social technology within the enterprise. IT organizations are trying to uncover successful ways to apply social technology for their business customers – looking for the new solution will be the “Facebook for the enterprise”. We also know that many technology companies think this will be a crucial development in the market: a recent survey indicated that 74% of technology marketers and strategists believe web 2.0 tools will be important or very important to their business strategy over the next 1-3 years.
I personally believe that innovation tools have the best potential in the application of social technologies within businesses. What is innovation if not the ability to source ideas from disparate sources, manage those ideas through a commercial development process, and evaluate their success?
Social technologies can indeed play an important role in helping this process. For years, innovation consultants talked about the value of innovation funnels, innovation portfolios, open innovation, etc., but we never really recognized how important strong, dedicated innovation management is to the development of these new ideas.
But how much does social technology help in this regard? Many software vendors of innovation tools tell us they have happy customers, but I think fundamental questions remain about what drives people to participate in these enterprise-level-social technologies, and what kind of results come from them. Read through the comments on your favorite newspaper blog and the comments go from the mundane to the absurd. To be honest, I’ve seen the same level of commentary in many innovation management tools that rely on social technology.
I don’t believe social technologies, by themselves, have a role in the enterprise unless they are created by people who understand, at a deep level, how businesses work. A social technology advertised as a tool to drive innovation is not likely to work unless its designed by people who really understand innovation, and its implemented by people who understand organizational dynamics and are committed to the innovation process. I’ve seen a few examples of companies who really get it, and are helping their customers through the innovation process in a consulatative role, but in a large, fragmented marketplace for innovation development tools, they rarer than many would expect.
But, the good news, is this creates opportunity for companies that get it right. My impression is that innovation is valuable because its really hard to generate. Vendors need to spend less time thinking about their technology capabiliites, and more time thinking about the business problems of their potential customers.