The rise of the “social worker” in the social enterprise

Note: this article was originally written and published in April 2010. Food for thought.

I couldn’t sleep last night. Something to do with too much Red Bull.

Anyway, I digress because my mind wandered to the subject of managing unstructured, adhoc and mainly paper/ email based processes that are mainly in the domain of the “Knowledge Worker” and then it dawned on me that there is another community of people who are starting to emerge with Enterprise 2.0 and the collaborative layer: the “Social Worker”. Now it’s a little unfortunate that the term already exists in a different context and the meaning and connotations associated with don’t relate but bear with me.

Social Workers are those whose primary domain is to interact within the internal enterprise and externally with suppliers and customers using social and collaborative software and techniques. This includes Social BPM, Social CRM and anything else enabled in the same way akin to the Dreamforce vision. They may sit anywhere in the organisation, perform very different roles and hold varying titles in the hierarchy, again much like a Knowledge Worker would, but their skillset is very much in leveraging the power of collaboration in a more cohesive and holistic way than just simple interaction. You could argue that eventually everyone will become a “social” worker in time because we’ll all be interacting a lot more and the collaborative layer will be the very fabric throughout every organisation and SOA will no longer be ‘Service’ Oriented Architecture but replaced with Social Oriented Architecture, but these guys it will be part of their every day life non-stop rather than adhoc. Could we have Social Centres of Excellence and Social Champions ? Who knows.

And where that leads to is back to my argument on traditional hierarchy vs. flexible community based enterprise models. Because Knowledge Workers and Social Workers are not bound by silos, their work cuts across boundaries, they sit anywhere, interact with who they need to no matter what level. Social becomes the strands between them all, not org structures.

The upshot ?

·  Social is becoming a glue between market segments; ECM, CRM, BPM, the lines are converging because social is bringing them together, it’s something far more than just collaborative software
·  Social has the power to completely render an enterprise structure in a different way, bringing internal resources, suppliers and customers closer together that hierarchy could never achieve.

Social is going to shake things up a lot more than people perhaps realise.

When I spoke about the “social worker” it struck me that all the talk of customer-centric operations and processes are starting to finally come true, it’s just never been the domain of one sector but a combination and with the social enterprise looming fast now is the time to capitalise on this.

Social is bringing new levels of collaboration and transparency across the enterprise from the inside and across the supply chain, Social CRM is doing exactly the same but as the outward face of the organisation, and in the middle is that new type of glue, Social, that seems to allow technical and management convergence of the two areas.

After watching the Salesforce fallout this week it’s apparent that a lot of thought has gone into enterprise social software and opening up the doors from the inside but there’s still a lot to be done on the outward path towards the customer to allow them to interact with an organisation in the same way. Seamless and transparent interaction have to be the keys in order to create real customer-centricity, a customer should not have to think about who, what, how or why they are engaging.

In order to engage on their level though I feel that internally the enterprise has to transform to be as flexible as possible, that both knowledge workers and social workers will rise to the fore because of the way they interact with the unstructured processes that touch customers and that community based structures will emerge as the business model of the future.

Whether it happens in 1 year or 5 years, this is the just the beginning. The clock has started ticking….

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