Over the last year, we’ve been tracking the rise of the second great networked discipline:
Systems of engagement.
As I explored the subject in detail a year ago, we’ve long had a deference for transaction systems, those workhorses of the enterprise that process and track the essential records that our keep organizations running. For decades, they’ve been the most expensive, complex, and vital components of the infrastructure than runs our organizations. They’ve also been the main focus of attention and investment when it comes to driving value and productivity for the business with technology.
Until recently that is, when the present communications revolution upended our notions of which data was vital — and which incidental — to how our companies functioned. In particular, the rise of the Internet, e-mail, and then social media has created a vast network of new channels, communities, and ecosystems of communication that have essentially reframed the discussion for the business world. In short, who we are connected to, what everyone is saying, and then determining how it impacts us as a business has been moved onto more or less equal footing with the other key systems for running our organizations.
To underscore this point, Constellation Research’s Ray Wang just last week posted his initial work in formalizing this new construct in our business landscape: The “engagement platform” as a full-on entity in its own right. As our level of engagement with the world keeps increasing, becoming more real-time and impactful to how we work, more and more attention is being given to the discipline. What an articulation of the elements of a modern engagement system gives us, specifically, is a way to reason about what they consist of, what they do, and how we can apply them to improve our businesses.
More than just growing as a proportion of our time, however, digital engagement platforms themselves are in the midst of a major shift as well. While Web sites, e-mail, and even older channels such as the telephone, are older yet still important engagement channels (backed by older, more primitive systems of engagement), they are not longer where the growth or focus is. For these, we have to look at to social channels in all their myriad forms, which have eclipsed all other forms of communication in the last few years.
The intrinsic power of social engagement
For discussion purposes, it’s worth noting that social channels have a number of powerful and unique properties that make them function better in most situations than legacy channels. This is why systems of engagement of the future will be extensively focused on these properties, which are:
- One-to-any (high scale.) Conversations can be very large in social media, even up to millions of participants in scope. Consequently, the information flows, and their aggregate value, can be very high compared to previous methods.
- Open participation (high network effect.) There is little predetermination of the actors that should be involved and little presumption of who should be allowed to contribute to a given conversation. This spurs self-organizing involvement of stakeholders and higher level of contribution, innovation, and value, especially compared to close participation.
- High simultaneity (efficient.) Social is highly asynchronous, and isn’t interruptive of work (in the way, say, a phone call, SMS or instant message can be.) This enables a lot of people to participate in the same conversation at once, with no real upper limit.
- High visibility: Easier to reuse (shared value.) Social conversations are visible by default, provided the broadest possible value to the community.
- Possible to analyze (good insight.) Because conversations are visible, they can be handled en masse to filter, analyze, and search them for the information that’s needed by just about anyone.
Now, is the average business person about to run out and start shopping for an engagement platform in a general sense? Not hardly. However, discussing them and what their capabilities are allows us to determine how best we should develop the function in the era of engagement. Because that’s where we are today: Business gets done through the interaction of people, inside and outside of our organizations, working together to achieved shared goals. A growing percentage of this interaction, this teamwork, is done through new digital engagement channels such as social networks, online communities, social customer care solutions, social intranets, digital marketing tools, etc.
The core question becomes this? How then, can this profusion of channels, applications, and tools — all increasingly based in new digital constructs — be corralled into a consistent, coherent and fundamentally useful set of business services? This is the real object here when we talk in the abstract about getting better at understanding systems of engagement.
While Ray has his own breakdown of the components of an engagement platform, my core discipline is social business. For the purposes of this discussion, I’d like to lay down a description that is more specific to that domain, yet adaptable to most modern forms of engagement. The goal: Provide a clear description that lets us organize for engagement better than most of us have been able to up to now.
Elements of the Modern Engagement Platform
Below is my take (see second figure) on the modern engagement platform and what its components are. Note that as of today, such a platform is really a set of capabilities that we have to acquire and put together ourselves. You can’t buy a one-size-fits-all way of engaging with the world, yet. However, you can acquire the parts that you need and improve how you connect with, share, and co-create with the world.
- Listening capability. Engaged companies must continuously be monitoring the conversations happening in other systems of engagement. Listening is the root function of the social business virtuous cycle.
- Interaction channels. Both direct user experience (typically via an activity stream) as well as representation of what is happening in related channels, especially major social networks and special interest communities. This often is at least the primary social network for the company (which are increasingly connected to external networks too), but it also any application that enables workers to engage back to the world.
- Filtering & analytics. As I discussed recently in the principles of engagement at scale, a means must be found to reduce the totality of relevant conversation to something that the enterprise can manage. Filtering and analytics forms the basis of this capability and is generally part of a big data suite.
- Search & Discovery. Much of the ROI in social business comes from being able to find the information in the right conversation during or after the fact. Effective engagement platforms ensure everyone can find the relevant conversations to participate in or obtain knowledge from.
- App Connectors. As Facebook, Twitter, Jive, IBM, and others have found, social networking isn’t interesting without additional context, and in a business context these are often the transaction systems themselves. As I’ve said before, the next business app you use may be in a social network, and this is another key form of engagement, albeit on the emerging side.
- Workflow/BPM. Structured business processes is where rubber meets the road and this means connecting systems of record with systems of engagement with some linear structure. This has been a major discussion in the industry and must be part of a mature engagement platform.
- Event Management. This includes everything from notifications to exception handling should be included in terms of making sure important situations are properly managed in terms of engagement.
- Domain-Specific Apps. This is where business-specific solutions live that enable and optimize marketing, sales, customer care, product development, operations, collaboration, and more.
- Interaction History. This is the master database of all engagement, past and present, upon which the engagement platform operates. In contains a copy of the identities, social graphs, conversations, attached media, and more of all relevant engagement so that it can be analyzed, searched, integrated into apps, and so forth as needed by any business purpose.
- Integration and Sync. Connection to an organization’s systems of record as needed to reduce duplication, ensure consistency, and reduce the (very artificial, in my opinion) gap between engagement and transaction systems.
To reiterate, the engagement platforms of the next few years will have many but not all of these components. It will be up to organizations to assemble the capabilities they need into solutions that are specific to the needs of their business. In particular, those becoming social businesses will need these capabilities in a relatively mature form at an enterprise-level in abundance and broadly deployed to their users.
At Dachis Group, we’ve made an extensive investment in many of these engagement capabilities so that our clients have the best tools at hand to achieve competitive advantage and realize their social business value proposition. To learn more about these, please consult the resources below, some of which are freely available.