Social Business is growing up.

Starting on a tangent…

One of the beauties of the written word, particularly in digital format, is that it cannot be “worn out” in the physical sense which makes me think that overuse is the digital equivalent where we become desensitised to the significance and numb to the meaning being conveyed.

At the current rate, words and phrases such as “change”, “paradigm”, “new world”, “connected economy” and “radically different” are being overused to the point of being worn out of meaning – and I know I play my part in that!

But how else do we talk about the significance and magnitude of some of the converging trends racing towards us as businesses, industries, nations and societies?

Back on topic…

Much of my between-the-ears pondering of late has been grappling with what I see as the significance of Social Business and how it relates to these trends. Trying to get beyond some of the “nice” idealistic notions and at the heart of why it needs to be understood as relevant to our leaders and core to their organisations’ ability to thrive tomorrow – whether they be in industry, education or government.

Steve Denning, in concluding his Forbes article Why Apple and GE Are Bringing Back Manufacturing, identifies a number of the changes that we are already beginning to see from some of today’s thriving organisations, and highlights themes I’d expect to hear in conversation with any Social Business strategist worthy of the title:

Success in this new world of manufacturing will require a radically different kind of management from the hierarchical bureaucracy focused on shareholder value that is now prevalent in large firms. It will require a different goal (delighting the customer), a different role for managers (enabling self-organizing teams), a different way of coordinating work (dynamic linking), different values (continuous improvement and radical transparency) and different communications (horizontal conversations). Merely shifting the locus of production is not enough. Companies need systemic change—a new management paradigm.

Cause or Effect?

Perhaps it is a question of maturity, further evidence that it’s just the first innings of social in the enterprise is over, and the reality the hype cycle waits for no-one? Emanuele Quintarelli shared some insight in a recent post:

The fascinating thing is that we moved to the Through of Disillusionment without ever fully experiencing the Peak of Inflated Expectations given that most executives have yet to understand the meaning of this social revolution while pundits are ringing the bell of a next new thing.

Which leads me to think of things in the context of Denning’s words. Executives don’t need to understand “social”, they need to recognise the change under way and the disruption ahead of us. We should objectively question the current state of play in the Social Business space – the vendors, initiatives and case studies we are familiar with – and whether they are truly cause, or rather effect?

We need to see Social Business efforts morph into systemic change programs of the scale Denning eludes to, that will ensure organisations can continue to thrive.

A new end game for Social Business

So whilst we may be rewriting the end game for Social Business, I don’t feel we’re moving the goalposts. To borrow a few more words from Emanuele:

We can call it Social Media Marketing, Social CRM, Enterprise 2.0 or Social Business. Nonetheless we’ll be still missing the point until the broader picture will come together by connecting social to the digital landscape and embedding digital into the real business realm.

I certainly agree, and thanks to the likes of Dion Hinchcliffe‘s Architecture Of A Social Business, and The Community Roundtable‘s Community Maturity Model, we have some great direction.

But what is ever so challenging to capture in a diagram are the levels of complexity, the strength of leadership and commitment needed, the variables and unknowns, the “human factor”.

What began as the enterprise adopting Web 2.0 approaches continues to take on new meaning and significance. It is now core to building and leading organisations fit for purpose.

Social Business is growing up.

Ford cars to become open-source crowd-enabled modular products

Tuned Pontiac console
Lego Jeep Wrangler
It’s modular!

Only yesterday I was discussing with friends and colleagues potential impacts of 3D printing, how a number of trends and technology advances are combining to put us as the consumer at the centre of product experiences, providing us with unprecedented choice and the ability to co-create as active participants in the design, configuration and even the manufacturing of our purchases.

A coincidence then that up pops an article on RWW about how Ford is looking at cars becoming “open-source crowd-enabled modular products”.

“Let’s say you don’t like these steering wheel buttons. Maybe you could slap in a capacitive touch controller,” he said. “Using this platform, people would, by themselves, be able to design things.”

Tuned Pontiac console
Tuned Pontiac console

Nice idea I thought, but haven’t we been “tuning” cars forever? How does this differ? I’d like to be clear on what I mean by “tuning”, and once again Wikipedia’s definition serves our purpose:

“Car tuning is a generalized term referring to the act of improving the performance or appearance of a vehicle….. Most vehicles leave the factory set up for an average driver’s expectations and conditions, tuning on the other hand, has become a way to personalize the characteristics of a vehicle to the owner’s preference”

Sparkly Merc

Sounds pretty similar, so what are Ford up to? Reading on I learn that Ford’s research lab aims to:

enable innovators – even those with limited resources and technical chops – to see the automobile as a platform for creativity.

1950 Mercury
1950 Mercury

That certainly made me sit up. This sounds more significant than a nice gesture to the minority of car owners adding a bit of chrome and a body kit – with respect to all the creative and talented folks customising their wheels! –  and is talk much more in line with some of the trends thinking I mentioned earlier.

In the next few months, Ford expects to release the beta version of its car app developer kit. There are already more than 1,000 developers waiting to be notified when it’s ready. At that point, this lab’s work will shift to supporting and growing a community of car hackers. “We’re interested in spurring the creation of an ecosystem,”

"Iles de Paix" modular polyhedra
Community! Ecosystem!

There we go, a “community”, an “ecosystem”, I had a feeling these two might get a mention, we can’t be going anywhere these days without them! Seriously!

But again, we might argue this is nothing new in the world of car-modding. Even as someone who has never even replaced the pommel on a gear stick, I know that there are magazines to buy, meetups to go to, engine tuning services, and a myriad of shiny but loud exhaust pipes, carbon fibre trim, LED lights, the list goes on….

The difference as I see it – and it’s an important distinction – is in the use of the word “developer”.

Ford’s OpenXC API runs on a combination of Arduino and Android platforms – technology chosen to make modding your car as easy as programming a smartphone. The system can potentially access the 1,000 or more data points, generated by sensors on Ford vehicles and served up via the 16-pin onboard diagnostics port (a standard feature of all cars since 1996). The Ford toolkit encourages development of software as well as add-on hardware.

Moving into the social, networked era…

This is taking car tuning into the social, networked era. You may think it rings of putting domotica on four wheels. Indeed, it may start with a lot of that. Yet the number of sensors churning out data will continue to grow, those 1,000+ data points exponentially. The possibilities for innovative new features begin to rack up.

Why not imagine a heads-up display incorporating real-time GPS-located braking distances based upon crowd-sourced braking distances and speeds from other motorists driving the same road?

Whilst I just came up with the idea to illustrate a point, I’d wager on it not being particularly original. T.J. Giuli – who runs the Ford lab – we can assume has many of his own. Yet even he recognises this is already something with significant momentum behind it, likely driven in a large part by the passionate car tuning community.

“Tons of people are already making car apps that work with OBD2 readers, or replacing the center stack with their own car computer. That’s happening today, and there’s nothing that anybody can do to stop it. So, it’s a good idea for OEMs like Ford to make this really easy. Hopefully, we can benefit customers with a lot of awesome new features.”

Don’t believe him? Take a quick look at DashCommand on Apple’s app store….

Whilst taking our car purchasing choices and configurations well beyond the current website-based, more marketing focused attempts can only be a good thing, what I find interesting here is the extent to which approaches like this have to potential to bring significant additional value over time.

Modular manufacturing
Modular manufacturing

There are the obvious categories such as efficiency, safety, but what about some that are potentially more challenging? it remains a reality that a car purchase is an irregular event for many of us, particularly in today’s economic climate – again, something we could argue is a good thing. Yet our transport needs change over time, whether it be lifestyle, location, children….

I’m optimistic that initiatives like this from Ford can gain the legs necessary to see innovative strides forward. Wouldn’t it be good if where we are able to re-configure aspects of our cars to help cope with those changing needs rather than simply have to go out and buy a new one….

As it turns out, that is not a new idea either! Whilst browsing for images to illustrate this post, I turned up one of Dave Gray‘s wonderful drawings, with the following details:

A US-based company named Wikispeed has adopted a modular approach with the design of the SGT01, a car designed as a modular platform which will empower suppliers to innovate freely. Each part of the car is a component that fits into a standard interface.

It will be interesting to watch this evolve.

Recommended further reading:

If you got this far and found it even remotely interesting, Dave Gray‘s article “The future is podular” is much better!