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Collective Intelligence and Business

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Illustration: http://bestpracticehub.com/

In the early 1990s, the most IT-advanced companies were only trying to understand what ERP systems were and whether they should concern themselves with that new class of applications.  They carried out pilot projects to adopt some ERP modules of which the financial one was the most popular.  No one at that time could foresee that ERP adoption would require a long-term strategy which would still be being refined a quarter of a century later.

A quarter of a century has passed.  But today only a half of the companies that started adopting ERP back in the last century can boast successful ERP implementation strategies. Quite a few Russian companies have not yet started developing their ERP strategies.

The above is very important for understanding the current state and prospects of other class of technologies and enterprise applications.  I am talking about social business technologies that are now at the same stage as were the ERP technologies a quarter of a century ago.

Today only enthusiasts and visionaries are arming themselves with various social applications.  In 95% of cases, they just run pilot projects and don’t have any goal-oriented plan, not to speak of a long-term strategy.  Companies that do prefer a conservative approach have not even started experimenting with the new technologies.

One would think, so what?  History repeats itself with each new class of technologies.  Another 20-25 years will pass and social business will become mainstream.  But not this time, I should say.  It is about to happen much sooner because the next-generation technologies are spreading increasingly fast, being further accelerated by growing Internet usage in all areas of business, even in those where the Internet has apparently nothing to do.

So ‘conservatives’ have 5-7 years at the very outside. Otherwise it will be too late to try to catch up. It is highly possible that conservatives will be thrown out of business for good as a result of missing out on opportunities to gain new competitive advantages.

And that is why the expertise of the advanced enthusiasts and visionaries is so important today – they have been developing business socialization strategies for many years.

One of the most advanced companies is the Asian Development Bank (ADB) which 10 years ago carried out one-time crowdsourcing projects and then developed and implemented a long-term strategy to socialize their business.

Back in 2001-2005 the ADB understood that one-time crowdsourcing projects were only the first step. To get real benefits, they needed permanent communities of practice (CoPs). Rather than being confined to special sites (reservations for social technologies), those CoPs should be integrated directly into the online environment of the existing business processes. There are 15 CoPs in ADB now.  They are focused on solving the problems in different sectoral and thematic domains.

The CoPs were created in accordance with the Knowledge Management Directions and Action Plan.  The first plan (2009-2011) has been already completed.  The second plan, for the period from 2013 to 2015, is being carried out.  Both the plans and the results achieved can be found on the ADB site.

But now to the main question. What are the main factors that make ADB’s СоРs successful?
These are as follows:

1. CoPs participate in the bank’s policy making in different areas,
2. CoPs participate in recruitment and promotion of employees,
3. CoPs are accountable to the bank management for their functional areas,
4. Projects performed by the CoPs undergo a comprehensive expert examination,
5. CoPs guide functional training programs for the staff of the bank,
6. All the CoPs have their own independent budget.

And the main conclusion is as follows:
- Participation in CoPs may not necessarily be voluntary
. Practice has shown that CoPs consisting exclusively of volunteers may not achieve any goals, other than simply social networking for employees.

These are fundamental factors that have led to ABC’s success after more than ten years of restructuring its business along social lines.  And I’ll be very glad to write about a Russian company making use of this example of best international practice.

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Sergey Karelov

Соучредитель и CTO Witology