Beyond Social Computing: Lessons For CIOs In The Empowered Era

Just when you were getting your mind around Social Computing, Forrester has concluded that Social Computing is a steppingstone along the path to the empowered era. At least that’s one of the findings you’ll discover in the new book Empowered, co-authored by Groundswell author Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, published today by Harvard Business Review Press.

It’s not that Social Computing has ceased to be relevant, far from it — it’s just that we are now evolving rapidly into a new era of commerce, the empowered era. A perfect storm of evolving technologies — smart mobile devices, pervasive video, cloud computing, and social technology — has kick-started this new era to empower customers and employees. Empowered is more than a claim to a new technology paradigm. In the empowered era, customers and employees are tapping into technology in new ways and learning how to deliver value (and demand service) with game-changing potential. Forrester identifies these innovative employees as HEROes: highly empowered and resourceful operatives.

 The empowered era

From an IT perspective, CIOs are firmly in the driver's seat at one of the three corners of what Forrester defines as the HERO compact. In this role CIOs must build an empowered IT strategy to pursue business opportunities and solve business and customer problems. CIOs and the IT team can find HEROes, help HEROes, and be HEROes.

Find a HERO

Determine who’s using technology to solve business problems and assess what technology they need. Forrester has introduced a HERO index to help measure your organization’s readiness for the empowered era.

Help a HERO

Create an environment of safety and pragmatic execution. Charter cross-organization councils to govern groundswell technologies and manage technology risk as a business decision.


Be a technology solutions advocate. Own the innovation and collaboration programs; be a groundswell technology advisor. Identify business-ready technology platforms.

But an empowered IT strategy must be developed in conjunction with the business strategy, not as a bolt-on after the fact. This requires the C-suite to rethink how the organization is going to compete in this new era. This is much more than rhetoric. Empowered is packed full of great examples of how companies are creating a HERO workforce, better able to react to and serve empowered customers. Examples like United Business Media, which quickly transformed a disparate collection of companies into a highly collaborative and empowered team of employees in part by leveraging social technologies supported by IT.

Empowered moves beyond Enterprise 2.0 because it doesn’t simply focus on new technology; it identifies how organizations, through the HERO compact (management, employees, and IT), must evolve at the intersection of employees and customers.

Are you feeling empowered? Share your stories in the comments below or through Twitter: @NigelFenwick or register for the upcoming CIO Forum to hear Empowered author, Ted Schadler, explain how to prepare your organization for the empowered era.

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Empowerment = Managing Human Interactions

Surely, empowerment means bringing the right kind of structure to interactions between suppliers, vendors and business partners – not abandoning structure altogether in the hope that connecting everyone up with social media will magically sort things out. Social media alone is as likely to create problems as to solve them.

Used without a Human Interaction Management System (HIMS), social media in the workplace results mainly in people frittering away time on unstructured activity, out of which you are not guaranteed any useful results. Sometimes, yes, value may arise, but it’s a complete lottery, in which I wouldn’t bet on there being any ROI. If I was a social media vendor, I would be anticipating the day when organizations start blocking access to my Web site, and planning for it by building a larger platform that includes a HIMS.

The “right kind of structure” means a modeling framework based on a comprehensive, realistic theory of human work – what work *is* and how to do it better. Human Interaction Management provides this framework, and applying corresponding technology ( typically brings four-fold productivity improvement from the very start.

Further, applying this technology often requires no IT support at all. It is true utility IT, available on tap to ordinary people, as demonstrated by this case study:

To realize the potential value of social media (as well as BPM, ACM, ECM and other enterprise tech), you need a HIMS at the top. Otherwise it’s empowerment without a means of negotiating (and continually re-negotiating) shared goals – in other words, anarchy, which may be fun but isn’t going to deliver step changes in productivity, lift the world out of a recession, and put an end to the depressingly poor performance we’ve come to expect from public bodies responsible for healthcare, law enforcement, education, social services, and so on.