Reflections on SocialBusinessForum 2013

The annual Social Business Forum held in Milan, Italy has now been operating for 6 years. I have the honour of speaking at all 6 forums so it was not a surprise that a former attendee asked “was there anything new?”. I’d like to say that I could immediately gush with a string of amazing new developments, but in truth the question did stump me for a while. I had to sit back and reflect on the past 6 years, and there have been developments. Not the amazing blockbuster types, but clearly an evolution, more so than revolution. So in no particular order here they are:

– in 2008 at forum #1 it was the first time I witnessed the speakers, other than myself (we were all on the stage for the entire event) tweeting about the speeches. In my naivety I thought they were all being terribly rude, with lap tops open…no pads in those days… doing their email there up on the stage while a fellow speaker was talking….. until it tweeked as to what they were doing. For the 2013 edition there were more than 5,000 tweets and 800+ tweeters with tweets coming in at over 1 a second during the keynotes. We provided the networking page for the event by social network mapping the tweet traffic. I’m saving some more in-depth analysis for a later post.

– ‘The Happiness Economy’, the opening keynote by Open Knowledge Founders Rosario Sica and Emanuele Scotti was certainly a first for me. It brought home the need to appreciate that money isn’t everything. In fact happiness is a social construct, it should therefore be natural for us to expect that the social business movement should deliver both happiness and economic benefits.

Jacob Morgan from Chess Media Group told a very funny story to start his speech about catching a late night train from Venice to Milan with his new fiancee. As sometimes happens in Italy an announcement was made that the train would be delayed at a platform for about 30 minutes, so Jacob got out to walk on the platform. As also sometimes happens in Italy, after much less that 30 minutes the doors closed and the train started moving off. He was forced to make a decision to run and jump in through an open window…so his moral of the story…don’t get left standing on the platform. His story was so good I actually forgot what the main content of the speech was. But I later found out that Jacob was born in Australia….so clearly he has a good story telling heritage!

Sameer Patel was at his controversial best by pouring cold water over the social business fever with some real adoption facts …. its still not all that good! Sameer is now with SAP…and it looks like he is having an impact. Unlike many of the other vendors it appears that the SB features will be more than bolt-ons.

– To continue with ‘vendor land’, for me the last few years have been uninspiring. No shortage of new products but my sense is that the ‘big guys’ are finally coming. IBM, Microsoft (now with Yammer, rather than a sparsely dressed sharepoint) and SAP, along with Oracle are getting serious…and there are a lot of big corporate and government players just waiting for this to happen. I think we will see a boost in corporate adoption through these established players. I visited Microsoft in Stockholm after the forum and they are very upbeat about social now, with the Yammer acquisition. Its good for Yammer too as now the Microsoft Enterprise subscribers get Yammer rolled in. It also means life is going to get tough for Enterprise SB start-ups. In the social SCM space I’m still disappointed at the ‘content’ over ‘relationship’ focus. Mining social business content streams can be useful, but doesn’t the ‘R’ in CRM stand for ‘Relationship’?

– I did enjoy Talligent’s CEO Rob Howard‘s statement in his keynote, that it would be useless for him to stand there and present brochure-ware as we wouldn’t listen. In fact that is a little how I felt even in the exhibition area. My usually opening question to the vendors is ‘what is distinctive about your product’….yet to hear anything memorable! But Rob just talked about applications….much more compelling.

Ray Wang and Esteban Kolsky broke the ‘stand and speak’ format by conducting an entertaining CMO vs CIO debate. Ray had to work hard….he noted that he lost the toss :) The message was compelling though…corporate IT have some major challenges in transforming from Dr. No’s to ‘yes men/women’.

George Siemens, the Social Learning guru was back again and speculating about the major transformations that the sector is facing. No doubt ‘social’ is going to play a big part in George’s view. George just received a grant to study the effects of MOOCs…bound to be a best seller!

– I discovered another Aussie disguised as a New York banking wizz. Brett King gave a keynote on Banking 3.0. He wrote the book which has become a big seller but also has attracted $mill in venture capital to build a banking platform which can actually tell you the impact on you annual budget when you are just about to press the buy button! I sense from the discussions I had on this that it may not appeal to everyone though….sometimes we just don’t want to know!

– My final reflection is ‘what comes around goes around’. After 6 years of social business I am experiencing Knowledge Management in the 1990s all over again. Many case studies that look similar; lots of talk about ROI or not ROI; vendors that mostly don’t ‘get it’; perhaps with just one key difference….KM became ‘content centric’ something it still hasn’t shaken off. SB is ‘connections’ centric…though the content kings are still trying hard.

I like the ‘connections’ perspective…so all is still good. I think the coming years will see Knowledge Management start to fulfil its true potential through social business.