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Social Reengineering by Design

Shaking off the business constraints of 19th century platforms


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The strategies, practices and technologies of social business are maturing. No longer viewed as a fad or a distraction, different parts of many organizations are already realizing the potential. Marketing and public relations have established listening posts to track consumer sentiment in the public social sphere. Sales and customer service are integrating customer contacts across channels and connecting with R&D, manufacturing and fulfillment. CIOs have initiatives underway to give employees social tools for collaboration, finding and mining the knowledge of the enterprise, and creating new intellectual property assets with a more enlightened, user-centric approach to knowledge management.

The real potential of social business involves breaking down barriers that limit human potential and business performance. But it requires fundamentally rethinking how work gets done and how value is created in the Postdigital era – social reengineering of the business.

My Take
Hear John Hagel, Co-Chairman, Deloitte LLP Center for the Edge, describe first-hand his perspective on Social Reengineering by Design.


Watch video

Stephen Redwood, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, shares his perspective on designing a social business with intention, and highlights examples from the retail sector of how companies are applying social technology.


Read more about Social Reengineering by Design

Where do you start?

Social reengineering by design is about a deliberate approach to recognizing legacy assumptions that may be constraining your business performance and making your business social. It can require applying the social mantras of transparency and trust, creating new ways to motivate your employees and customers, and reshaping the content and context of work. While this is about technology-enabled transformation of business, the correct order of operations is still often strategy, then people, then process, then technology.

  • Choose your target. To start, select a business objective in an area which could potentially be positively disrupted if viewed as a social platform. Find areas where there is a natural community of stakeholders that could be tapped, but are currently poorly activated. Places where people, information and potentially operational assets could be brought together in a social network for a business purpose. Don’t let today’s behaviors limit exploration. One example might be R&D – linking your marketers, product engineers and sales team with service technicians and end-users, as well as your upstream manufacturing partners. Another may be demand planning, focused on suppliers, manufacturing, sales and marketing. Think through business objectives for the area, and what outcomes could be influenced if reengineered using a social mindset.
  • Social discovery. Identify the social network(s) relevant to accomplishing the selected business objective. This may cross your organization, customers and business partners – but also external third parties (other vendors, academics, luminaries). Social reengineering is about community, context and content – in that order. For likely candidates, do some digging. Who are the players that form the community – across internal hierarchies, within customer organizations, at business partners, or external parties? What are their relationships to the target objective? What content and context could empower the community?
  • Carrots and sticks. Articulate meaningful incentives for the identified social network to engage in the selected business goal. Participation is personal, so this is likely to be customized to the various personas being engaged. How do their interests align, and what kind of personalized incentives could be laid out to encourage participation in the social platform?
  • Think from scratch. What constraints are holding back the target area –operationally, organizationally, or technologically? They could be functions of the corporate structure, communication gaps, unwillingness or inability to collaborate, geographical concerns, perceived inequalities based on career levels, “not invented here” biases against external parties participating, or general political distractions. Or they could be well-defined restrictions based on regulatory or legal issues. Reengineering will likely require some drastic changes. From the constraints identified, which ones are within your company’s control? Will leadership help break through conventions and support the team through what may be an uncomfortable transition? Resist the instinct to standardize the new process up-front. Set boundary markers to guide behavior in the reengineered world, but leave freedom for experimentation and observe how work is getting done, and how the community is engaging. Let people stroll in the proverbial grass – waiting to pour concrete sidewalks until you understand where they are actually walking.
  • Final stop – the tools. Now is the time to look at tools and technology solutions – after clarity around business objectives, social platforms, communities, incentives and reengineering ambitions. By now there’s likely a handful of solutions deployed across the various lines of business. These opportunistic social efforts don’t necessarily need to be shut down, especially as they’re likely aligned to “no regret” pieces of the social value prop – listening, analytics and customer outreach. See what investments have been made and what can be reused, but don’t give undue preference to a stack just because a pocket of the business has already procured it. Make a strategic platform decision based on the broader transformational nature of the reengineered vision. Of course, looking at the tools may generate new ideas about constraints, incentives, or span of the social network, so don’t be afraid to iterate.

Bottom line

The postdigital forces, led by social, can be used to shape business and the way people naturally interact. As time, attention and engagement of your employees and customers becomes a more precious resource than compute power or standardized efficient processes, social platforms can relieve rather than serve traditional organizational constraints.

We’re no longer building technologies to enable just interaction – social platforms can be built for specific business purposes: specialized content, enhanced with context, enriched by the power of communities. This calls for a deliberate, intentional course to rethink how business gets done, using social to reengineer processes, systems and organization for the new economy. It is a course driven not by efficiencies and scale, but by mindshare and engagement.

1 Bornstein, D. Social Change’s Age of Enlightenment. Retrieved January 10, 2013, from


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