ROI and Social Computing

    October 4, 2007

Over the last couple of days, I have been reading with great interest a number of the different blog posts that the last two articles I wrote on ROI and Social Computing have sparkled and, as I am going through them digesting some of the great points they bring together (Something I will blog about as well at a later time), I thought I would create an interim post to share some further thoughts, but this time around referencing the comments that people have been leaving in those articles I created.

So from here onwards I am going to spend some time commenting on the superb reply that I got here in ITtoolbox from Jim Johnson over at Making the Business Case for Social Computing – Part Deux, which you can read over here as well.

In that lengthy comment, Jim comes to discuss how both social computing and Knowledge Management "are sitting on the edge of a major bottleneck in IT development" and he gets to describe that bottleneck as the gap between:

"—- separate knowledge and interests —- and —- agreed upon activities, processes and plans."

You would probably need to read the paragraphs that come after that particular quote, because they surely are fascinating. Towards the end of it all, Jim comes to propose a new concept called "Collaborative process development", which he gets to talk a whole lot more over at his weblog ActionMap Waves (Including an intriguing scorecard that, if anything, surely is worth while investigating further).

However, what I found really interesting and worth while noting as well is the following paragraph, just towards the end:

"With respect to the ROI of social networking and knowledge management, I recommend positioning social networking as a supporting tool for the new category of collaborative process development.

If social networking can be seen to accelerate collaborative process development, and reduce some of the 100’s of billions of dollars in waste in IT every year, I suspect that it will get the attention of the CFO."

WOW! There you have it, one very thoughtful approach towards proving the ROI of Social Computing that may well be worth while exploring further. It sounds pretty solid, don’t you think?

However, I am not totally convinced about it 100% and more than anything else because it is placing the focus on something that is just one of the main reasons why traditional KM failed over the course of the years (And those who have been reading this blog for a while would know where I am heading right now).

Yes, indeed, that extra focus on tools and processes is what got us in trouble in the first place. We should not forget that social computing is everything but tools and processes. It is all about the people! It is a philosophy, a lifestyle, i.e. that growing urge from knowledge workers to go out there, connect with other knowledge workers, build further up their relationships and share their knowledge.

That is where a new form of ROI for Social Computing should be based on. If social software is all about knowledge workers involved in different various conversations, the least we could do to showcase a new form of such ROI (much more effective and efficient for social computing) is to place the focus where it should have been all along: on the people!

Those knowledge workers should be the ones defining the ROI of social computing, because, after all, they are the ones living it, so there isn’t probably a better way of defining what it should look like, since they know it better than anyone else. So a good start for CFOs to work their way through ROI for social software is to go where it matters: the knowledge workers themselves. But that would be the subject for another blog post at a later time …