“When will you stop giving us more tools and start making our lives simpler”? That was the question I was asked during a casual meeting last week with some classmates from the University of Chicago. The inquiry came when we were talking about Social Media for the enterprise environment.
That was a very interesting perspective since, from my point of view, social media tools actually simplify our life, or perhaps more precisely, allow us to do more, learn more and connect more within the same given timeframe — and so long as Earth doesn’t change its trajectory or rotation, we will continue to only have 24h a day. Yet, that was a valid question from someone who was really feeling the pain of the number of new stuff available. A person who could not see the value of all that.
So I started exploring the point and the reasons behind that question. And then he said: “I can’t find someone to show me the tangible business benefits or return of investment of these tools. It’s always about ‘not staying behind’, ‘increased collaboration’ or vague ‘productivity benefits’ only. I have to decide whether I invest in R&D capabilities, marketing, human resources or giving ‘Facebook’ to our employees. I believe my decision is pretty obvious”.
I have to confess when said that way it is definitely hard to dispute. New technologies, trends and capabilities are now coming and going so fast that there aren’t real business cases available to benchmark from. If you wait too long you may be too far behind to catch up. If you adopt too early you run the risk of spending important part of your funds in fads. The race for productivity, innovation and speed to market is becoming so fast it’s being difficult to many people and companies to keep up.
A Business Value Proposition
I’d like to provide a view of the same topic from a different perspective though. The very reasons new solutions are being developed are: the fact businesses are searching opportunities to save cents of their costs, shave days between idea and commercialization, find where innovation is in the world rather than trust a few number of employees will come up with the next big thing, etc.
One example commonly used today is threadless.com. When in the recent past a company in the marketplace for few years, with very few employees would be able to connect with millions of volunteer workers willing to give away their great ideas for free? Few will get a small payment for their ideas if they are commercialized. Overhead costs for research and development become marginal and new ideas are popping up constantly. Instead of hiring some creative folks limited by their budget, the company decided to open its creative process to anyone in the world, and as a consequence, created a great brand, great products at a very low cost.
These capabilities are enabling companies of any size to tap into resources they would never be able to afford in the recent past. And what company wouldn't be willing to pay $2,000 for a $100,000 idea?
I was watching a TV show and before it went to a commercial they posted a question about consumer preferences regarding a related product. People should post their answer in Facebook. I obviously had to login to Facebook and see the result. In seconds a great wealth of information was available in that company’s page, directly associated to a very specific question and product. With the added benefit the company now could connect directly with some of those consumers for more information and relationship building. What is the value of that?
There are clear examples of real business value created by these capabilities. It seems to me the key lies on how creatively they are explored. It’s certainly easier to rely on the hammer to fix all issues if that’s the tool you used your entire life, but I guarantee a person with more tools will certainly achieve a better outcome. I have no doubt that professionals will have to adapt and make a conscious effort to learn about them. For a hammer will no longer be enough to compete in today’s world.
--- Vinicius da Costa is Associate Director, Collaboration and Social Media Solutions at Kraft Foods. This text represents his personal opinion and does not represent the views of Kraft Foods, Inc.
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