“The social enterprise is actually nothing more than connecting what has historically been the back office processes of the organization, and replacing them with true front office engagement processes with the customer.”

-JP Rangaswami

JP Rangaswami is an incredible storyteller. As Chief Scientist at Salesforce.com, he makes sense out of big data. At this year’s Social Commerce Summit in London, JP used storytelling and vivid examples to make sense out of a big idea—the social enterprise.

The social enterprise is one of those nebulous terms that can mean any number of things, depending on one’s perspective. To illustrate the importance of perspective, JP told a story about mathematician Abraham Wald, who was tasked with preventing allied bomber loss by using statistical data to improve the way they were structurally reinforced. Wald’s colleagues wanted to reinforce the areas were the most bullet damage was seen on returning aircraft, reasoning that these were the areas that were suffering the most damage. Wald, however, correctly deduced that the sections on returning aircraft with no bullet damage were actually the sections that, when hit, were downing aircraft. To do this, he had to step back, and look beyond the data that he had been presented with.

If we step back to consider the social enterprise, JP argues, we see that, “in some ways, it’s really nothing new.” Ten years ago, the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto explained that “markets are conversations,” a central tenet of the social enterprise. Two years ago, time spent on social networks surpassed time spent on email. The broadcast model of “come into my parlor” that was standard since the 1950’s was replaced by “may I come into your parlor” years ago.

To understand the social enterprise, we need to understand these and other changes, says JP. A new generation of consumers is hyper-connected to their world, and the adoption curve has been completely “upended”—for the first time in human history, younger consumers get technology first.

We’re bringing consumer technologies like the iPad into our workplaces, which have had to adapt to us. In the same way, we’re bringing social to work, which has had a harder time adapting. Look at all the companies that have Facebook pages and ads, and yet, ban the use of Facebook among their employees: “The kind of segregation that implies is scary,” argues JP.

The social enterprise uses data from activity streams to extract meaning, map connections and make better things—products, systems, decisions, you name it. But without social objects—those things around which our social interactions are built—we have no data to work with. “Facebook,” explained JP, “wouldn’t exist if somebody hadn’t figured out how to put a camera on a mobile phone.” In this way, pictures became the social objects that powered Facebook, and the activity streams that fed its growth into a data behemoth.

Social enterprise makes sense of all of these changes in a way that creates value for businesses and consumers. But it’s not something that can be imposed or purchased, argues JP. It needs to be built from an understanding of “the way we’re now living our lives, and the relationship between companies and their customers.”

Want to see JP Rangaswami’s full presentation? Just click here for the video!

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