The Article in Brief:
- IT based networks are significantly changing our world and the way people connect and interact, unobstructed by borders, time differences and/or cultural backgrounds.
- Businesses and industries, academic work, governmental and non-governmental organisations and many others have to, already started to or will adapt to this development.
- For tapping the full potential of mankind as well as for securing future innovation and progress, different kinds of players need to link up with each other.
- What works for private occasions with Facebook and similar is not enough for professional networks.
- Professionals not only need modern communication ability but also trustworthy and secure platforms for the empowerment of collaboration, innovation along defined processes, financing, recruitment, trading or sharing and involvement of all stakeholders.
- Solutions like LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter initiated a development that can be base for value oriented professional networking and for lasting satisfaction, closeness and binding in relationships.
- Web-based design principles and techniques show the way to embed other IT tools and applications as well.
- Redundant input and documentation as well as countless solutions and logins are cumbersome and will be consolidated.
- There is much to learn from other developments (like around CRM).
- Apple and Amazon are blueprints for revolutionising markets as ecosystems in which manyfold devices and business models can play a liberating role.
- Crowd Sourcing/Funding, online payment methods or digital currencies and Sharing Economy open up unprecedented opportunities.
- The big challenge is to create a holistic, IT driven ecosphere to shape a global, virtual, sustainable environment for profitable inspiration, creativity, productivity, change, progress and space for prolific competition, as well as a toolset for enabling more efficient and effective interdisciplinary cooperation; closed when needed but open whenever possible and beneficial.
The Initial Situation of a Virtually Wired Global World
The world is growing together more and more, each and every day. People in that global environment are getting connected increasingly, less and less restrained by borders, time differences and/or cultural backgrounds.
Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others did not start this development but they unlocked and accelerated much of it on the virtual, web-based level by forming international communities, providing them with cutting edge, versatile, easy to understand and to use platforms that impress with their enormous numbers of users. These represent significant parts of our world’s society, even more when you take Chinese services into account, like – to name two – Sina Weibo or the omnipresent WeChat.
With players, resources and mankind’s potential spread all over our planet and manyfold disciplinary fields, globalisation makes that development highly needed for the professional level as well.
Meanwhile many businesses and organisations use all the named above and similar services for communication with their customers.
However, to liberate the full capability of our global society and to secure future progress there is much more to be achieved.
The Needs for IT Based Professional Networking
It became quite fashionable amongst some providers of business networking solutions to speak of “Facebook for Business”, “Social Networking for Professionals”, “Social Intranet” and the like.
When you have a look at most of the services, those phrases are referring to, you quickly see that the companies behind indeed seem to mainly aim on functions that are known from established social networks already.
But professional work is not aiming solely on exchange and surely not on simply writing messages, recommending movies, books, restaurants, enhancing posts with photos and videos, commenting on them, rating and sharing them.
It is neither a killer application when you get rid of e-mails by just transferring their content into social intranets.
Communication is essential and the named aspects can bring it to a new level. But professional work is also about collaboration and therefore involvement of e.g. employees, co-researchers, fellow volunteers, suppliers, customers, (non-)governmental institutions and in general stakeholders:
- It is about processes and process steps that already exist or that are about to be set up in the real world that need to be represented, followed and moderated in the virtual one as well.
- It is about value that we get from our customers in form of recommendations and reputation, feedback on products and services, also suggestions for new ones and in form of equity.
- It is about the value that our customers get from us – in partnership with our suppliers – and that is the fundament for our equity: deliverables addressing the customers’ needs, sorrows and hardships.
- It is about research and innovation to develop such deliverables, new ways of thinking and approaches for securing the future.
- It is about bringing together the right people and disciplines, employers and employees, hierarchical levels, departments and teams, organisations, branches and supply chains, groups of interest, partners, think tanks etc. with their diverse expertise, competences, complementary approaches and solution/service/brand/skill portfolios (see also Crowd Sourcing) to make innovation happen.
- It is about secure and reliable data that needs to be processed and visualised for a better understanding of challenging environments and how to contribute to and benefit from them.
- It is about creating a space that every player can trust and that is not allowing to misuse its potential power.
- It is about closed, private circles whenever required and openness if possible and beneficial.
- It is about setting up an infrastructure for financing (see also Crowd Funding and online payment methods or digital currencies), recruiting, trading or sharing (Sharing Economy) products and services.
- It is about avoiding redundant input and documentation as well as countless solutions with multiple logins, interfaces and structures.
- It is about making things possible that cannot be achieved when being disconnected.
- And much more.
Providers naming their solutions “Facebook for Business” or “Social Whatever” appear in a way that either they did not (yet) understand the necessities above. Or they do not (yet) have what would be needed for it.
Most probably even if they state that they used these kinds of phrases only because it made the matter simpler and they were able to explain the solution faster, when time was short.
What to Learn from other Developments
When CRM (Customer Relationship Management) became a term that woke great enthusiasm, many companies spent vast sums of money, as everybody needed to have CRM. But what many of them got was something that the employees as the main users could not or did not want to use and which often did not bring benefit to them, to the managers and executives that they did not have before, with other solutions and databases already at hand.
Some of the same companies invested a second and even a third time, before CRM got established, not being a buzzword any longer. Unfortunately much of CRM stayed way below its potential from my personal point of view. For example:
- Sticking closely to the literal “Customer” in “Customer Relationship Management”, supplier relationships often played no or just a minor role as did balanced scorecards.
- Customer relationships’ worth was mostly, if at all, measured by ABC analysis, instead of, for instance, by looking at customer lifetime value, indirect earnings coming from recommendations, also by (potential) customers that bring less or no income directly.
- Instead of measuring and controlling what customers got for their money or value contribution, focus was on what is gotten from them in the shortest possible time.
- CRM could have been the fundament for short-, intermediate AND long-term planning as well as success orientation, also for lasting customer satisfaction, customer closeness and customer binding, but seemingly short-term sight – even more than intermediate one – eventually won.
Will a resembling development take place again, just with companies investing largely in business related social networks, until solutions work well enough, but stay under their vast possibilities?
Much reason for hope is there that it will go another way this time.
Some solution providers think about more than just features that are already known from Facebook & Co.
Task and list management, intelligent calendars, polls or surveys and the like are no killer applications either, as they just make Outlook and Exchange Server and other existing functionality more appealing – design and experience wise – and available on a social networking level. But at least they aim on some practical aspects around everyday work and collaboration.
Crowd Sourcing, Crowd Funding, online payment methods or digital currencies and Sharing Economy have been mentioned already above.
Promising is, what is offered today by networks like LinkedIn, Google+ and also Twitter:
- Active and content aware moderation is provided in the foreground, additionally to intelligent automation in the background.
- Tailored information and editorials by experts are made available, thereby also new channels for journalists and publishers.
- Influencers contribute distinct value, like sharing or introducing fresh thinking, state-of-the-art or even revolutionary approaches, previously unknown visionaries, movers and shakers and organisations.
- Beneficial insights into almost every field of interest, one can imagine, and links between them are made possible.
- Web conferencing as an embedded and extensible service is one vehicle that enables more direct and personal involvement of contributors and interested persons in presentations and discussions.
- Limitations and stagnations that are coming from parallel, solitary and not wired entities of creativity and productiveness can be overcome.
- People from all over the world and from various fields are getting connected, also interdisciplinary.
- Recruiting is not limited to simplest job listings but is potentially taking place, referring to specific context.
- Basically, access is open to everyone and to all kinds of devices, mobile or immobile, which motivates and makes possible democratised participation.
- Vivid, creative and inspiring communities are established and large user bases can build critical masses to ignite change and progress.
- Continuous technological improvement and thoughtful diversification of features and strategic or programmatic targets presently preserve the solutions’ pioneering character and prepare the ground for future success.
This is a good start and might be a nucleus for future professional networks, empowering interdisciplinary exchange, collaboration, innovation and productive competition. Maybe the real potential of CRM but also ERP and the like is yet to be fully unlocked as well on the path ahead.
Today’s vast landscape of IT based applications and platforms, no matter if off- or online, is providing even more potentially extending tools that are increasing everyday work’s efficiency and effectiveness, simplicity and convenience.
Some of them offer space for improvement as they tend to overwhelm their users with complex user interfaces and their sheer amount of functions, combined with the necessity of learning to use them.
On the other hand latest web applications show how user interfaces can be made instinctively usable and user experiences very appealing.
By following web-based design principles and techniques, available or upcoming IT applications and platforms could build a global online toolset that enhanced immensely professional work, management of tasks and processes as well as organisation of collaboration in general.
It should not be forgotten the revolutionising role from other trend-setting companies.
Apple established an ecosystem of hardware, software, development kits, online stores and a new business model that allowed earnings with immaterial goods that before were in peril. New kinds of devices like iPod, iPhone, iPad, and ones that is yet only speculated about a lot, reshaped the online and mobile markets and lead to major changes at other companies as well, which too was base for the great success of Google’s Android platform.
Amazon is about to completely change the way how authors are publishing books, gives them a chance to market them without the need of having an agent and a publisher in the background and allows them to get a fairer share for their genuine creative work. With its step into newspaper publishing Amazon is seen as one initiator of even bigger change of classical, analogue media. Other providers in this field started to rethink their old business models, also the use of the vast possibilities today’s digital media provide.
The major question is how to create an holistic, at the same time trustworthy ecosphere in which existing solutions/services, as sketched above, were combined with aspects that I did not mention or which yet have to come.
Learn about a further outline on what such an ecosphere might look like, for what it could provide a beneficial infrastructure and how money could be earned with and inside of it in the second part.