Efficiency and business advantage is what many businesses see as their differentiator. A week or two back while following the Twitter Stream and some live blogging of Enterprise 2.0 Summit: London I kept hearing how there were no new companies talking about their own case studies than there were a few years back. Many presentations pointed to the same limited set of case studies. The worry derived from this was concern stagnation in the space.
The odd thing is when you talk with consultants, strategists, and advisors out doing work companies and other organizations in this space the list of organizations doing social business or working out loud well and looking to get the next bump up from the value they are seeing is really huge. There are more than the handful of organizations using social platforms extremely well in their organizations and getting great advantage.
Why So Quiet?
But, why are they not talking? There are a few reasons, but one of the biggest is the first sentence, “efficiency and business advantage”, how they work and get the job done is their differentiator, or a perceived differentiators. Many organizations will not allow their employees to talk about how they do their work at conferences. Talking at conferences about how they do their work gets stopped by legal. In the past 4 years I have talked with about 15 companies who would have made for great case studies and they submitted them at conferences, but they were not permitted speak.
Tied to “business advantage” (competitive advantage and manner of doing business) often has a piece of it tied to the market, if they are a publicly traded company. Most organizations that are publicly traded do not reveal publicly who their main technical solution suppliers are for their internal work to ward of an negative impact to their stock price from a problem from one of their suppliers (technical problem or corporate perceived problems). The markets are fickle and not overly rational, so most organizations see it as not wanting collateral damage being publicly tied to a supplier. Additionally, most organizations have a diversified supplier base for redundancy and familiarity to enable a rather swift change to another vendor.
So, how do these stories get out? Most often these stories get out second hand and are not attributed to any company. The organization is generalized, but distinct stories roughed out to get a point across. Most companies looking for case studies are looking for names of companies and people that can give the case study sharp reality. This is particularly true when finding a company in the same industry vertical.
Another large factor limiting new case studies is vendors will put forward organizations who are doing great things with their platform. But, the reality is most organizations are doing really well, because they are using more than one platform to get the job done. Most vendors don’t want to tell that story as they want to be “the only one”. When vendors find organizations that will talk the vendor most often wants to ensure the organization is telling their vendor friendly story. Homogenous organizations are becoming incredibly rare these days. While many vendors have a much broader range of “darling” clients at their own vendor sponsored events (clients usually only talk about vendor focussed use), but at non-vendor focussed events the spotlight is how they found success, which is rarely just with one vendor to get the job done.
Improving Conference Case Studies
Of the two limitations, corporate silence and vendor approval, the only one of these two that is malleable is vendor approval. This means of the companies that are willing to talk it takes conference organizers going beyond their usual circles of influence and sounding boards to find good stories to tell and bring in.
Many organizations are also not seeing the value of being a focus of a case study. The limited number of case studies out there has far far less to do with the number of organizations having success with social business and any of the more forward ways business work today than it does with organizations no longer finding value with being the focus of a case study. When I talk with other consultants, strategists, and advisors we have lists of 30 to 50 organizations who are great examples and we use generically as examples. When needing specific examples of niche use the list runs into the hundreds. This is far wider than the limited set case studies that are over used today.
Many of us who are on the outside of organizations and know there great examples and lessons learned, if not a full case study, often ask if it is possible for us to write-up and publicly share. This is often the best method for getting things out and shared, but most organizations come back after checking with legal, that they do not want to be the focus of a case study and often don’t want to be mentioned in one. But, occasionally we get a yes and this is the way forward and we get another example that can be shared.
Listening to the Audience
At KM World in early November the audience questions and insights were as good or not better than a lot of what was being stated from the panels or talks. KM World is a practitioner conference and the social business or working out loud model has spread quite broadly for most organizations who have practitioners attending. The attendance at KM World was over one thousand attendees and from audience participation in the social business related sessions there were more than 100 organizations that have been finding quite a bit of success with social and collaborative methods or working and are looking for tweaks to what they are doing so to get even more value. None of these companies speaking up in the sessions with success stories are case studies and none were seeking to be. In my workshop of just over 20 participants nearly all of them had rather successful social or collaborative platforms running and were looking for ways to get more out of them and to better support the diverse ways people are working and being productive today.
The feedback from some of the presentations where the limited case studies that are out there as the focus was brutal. Mostly, because not only are the case studies well known in a large segment of the KM World audience, but their own practices out pace the case studies and they are farther along than the case studies repeatedly pointed to.
It well could be we are not only at the edge of a post-document business world, but also at the cusp of a post-case study business world. Our model of having one shining example at the front of the room, has become thousands of shining lights in the room sharing at a smaller level, because they are not permitted to share officially from the front of the room.