“It’s just the internet at work.”

After 5 months of using a social business platform, I’ve stopped talking about social business.

Hundreds of elevator pitches, demos, and blog posts later, I’ve pared down my description of our social collaboration platform to 6 words:

“It’s just the internet at work.”

The biggest opportunity no one talks about

When it comes to getting things done inside the firm, many large companies simply missed the big mega-trends that we all take for granted as individuals. Search? Social filters? Self-service? We all have much better tools at home than at work.

Although there are 100s of millions of people working in large firms – over 13 million in the top 50 US companies alone – most of them are working like it’s 1995, in a pre-Google, pre-Facebook era.

That’s a huge opportunity since, in the past few years, it’s become easier and more practical to implement the kinds of shifts that have been happening on the internet inside our firms.

Unfortunately, social software vendors and collaboration experts tend to talk about things like improved innovation, communications, and employee engagement. Those are nice stories, but they’re missing the headline.

The real story

The headline is how much commercial value these collaboration platforms can unlock. Beyond blogging and tweeting, we can finally transform how 100s of millions of people work, making a tremendous difference in both operating costs and productivity.

We all know the internet is great for exposing waste and highlighting opportunities; for  connecting experts and coordinating work; for tapping into collective wisdom to solve and create.

Now we can use that power at work to address all sorts of problems that have plagued firms internally – reducing internal service costs, consolidating communications platforms, crowd-sourcing the quality of asset inventory data, reducing printing and storage, cross-selling.

These and many other valuable use cases can generate $500+ million of value for a large firm.  And there are a lot of large firms.

That’s what social software vendors and every collaboration team should be talking about.

The kicker

There’s still more to the story. Just as the internet has created tremendous commercial opportunities for firms, it’s created tremendous opportunities for individuals.

The “internet at work” lets people work out loud, shape their reputation, and control their career. It’s a key to re-humanizing our firms.

So, my job and my message are gradually becoming simpler. If you can generate enough value, and do it in such a way that it serves individuals’ self interest, then you don’t need to do a song and dance about what social business is or isn’t.

Everybody’s familiar with the many kinds of transformations brought about by the internet. Now, we’re just putting that to work inside the firm.


About John Stepper

Driving adoption of collaboration and social media platforms at Deutsche Bank. (Opinions here are my own.)
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7 Responses to “It’s just the internet at work.”

  1. Sam G says:

    John, I like the simplicity of this quote… but if someone were to respond with “what do you mean by that” how would you address them? Eg. what 2 or 3 examples might you use?

  2. John Stepper says:

    A use case I find everyone can relate to is service requests inside the firm. When we have an issue with a product or service at home, we’re used to searching for an answer and finding online forums either from the vendor or from people contributing on their own.

    At most firms, though, we still have extraordinary numbers of emails & phone calls to help desks and to anyone we can find for HR, IT, or facilities issues.

    That one simple use case – shifting that internal service burden to online forums (augmented by community feedback and contribution to further improve quality and comprehensiveness) – is worth $10+ million for large firms.

    This post covers the broader service issues. And you’re question is inspiring me to write up a more complete business treatment of this and other use cases…


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