Social business design

“Social business design” is a term you’ve probably not encountered before. I was introduced to it last evening by social computing expert and entrepreneur Lee Bryant at Headshift where I attended an event to explore the themes covered in the report Social Networking for the Legal Profession authored by him with Penny Edwards. I don’t know if Lee coined the phrase, but it does an excellent job encapsulating the paradigm shift we’re now experiencing as corporations get to grips with the “new” internet (aka Web 2.0).

The 20th century was all about the growth of corporations, pushing products and services to customers, developing top-down management and, in the latter quarter, developing computerised processes to do this more efficiently through centralised systems. Some of those systems worked well some of the time for some of the people (guess which!); many have failed dismally; all were costly.

Social business design is about redesigning those structures and processes to deliver solutions that people actually want, not what the corporation thinks they should have. It is about connecting and engaging with – indeed exploiting (but in the nicest possible way) – those who matter to the business: customers and employees. Success is possible today with very modest investment in systems and software – most of it nowadays is free or all-but; all that’s needed is the need and enthusiasm of the end-users who willingly put in most of the grunt work.

So far, so very Silicon Valley. But some of the leading UK Big Law firms are doing just this, as we heard:

  • Mark Gould, Head of Knowledge Management at Addleshaw Goddard and KM blogger explained the relationship between online social networking, knowledge management and social computing initiatives in the firm.
  • Steve Perry, Head of Knowledge and Business Development at Freshfields, illustrated and explained their extensive social intranet – wiki spaces, blogs and external resources all plugged into personalised iFreshfields start pages.
  • Sam Dimond, Director of Knowledge Systems Clifford Chance, told how wiki spaces and blogs had been enthusiastically adopted and cut project-related email by 90 per cent.

Whatever you think about big business or Big Law, these guys are showing that it can be conducted in a way that benefits the business by engaging and empowering the people that matter.

Hats off to Headshift and their enlightened clients.

Update: Penny Edwards has now written up the presentations on the Headshift blog: