All too often, those of us who deal with information technology stick our noses into features, designs and technologies and soon lose sight of the purpose behind it all - why we are doing the things we are doing. What is the solution we are building for? What is the root cause of the problem we are trying to solve? Why do we need to solve it, why is it a problem in the first place?
When I need to remind myself of why I am doing what I am doing, I always try to revert to the same insight; it ultimately has to do with communication between human beings. I am trying to find out how information technologies can be used to make humans understand each other faster and better. Information technology usually comes into the picture when we as human beings are not able to communicate directly with each other in time or space. Still, it is easy to get carried away by the possibilities of information technology and forget that if we don’t connect the human beings in both ends of the communication process - the sender and the receiver -then the process is broken. No information will be exchanged, no decisions or actions will be taken, and no value will be created.
As IT professionals, we need to remind ourselves information technology is just a means to support and sometimes enable communication between humans over time and space. We do the plumbing so that the water can flow from the water purification plant to the all those who need to consume water. We make sure that there is water coming in to the water purification plant and that the water coming out of it not only reaches the consumers, but also conforms to a certain level of quality.
If you look at the use of information technology in this way, it is strange why many enterprise are still skeptic to social software and why they don’t consider social software as natural components in their information management strategies. Social software, or web-based applications that allow users to connect to each other to communicate and share information and content, are enabling an “on demand” infrastructure for active and passive communication between persons who see a value in communicating with each other. Persons who have connected to each other can choose to communicate actively via instant messaging, mail or other applications. Or they can choose to communicate passively - the social software can report to others in a person’s social network about what the person are doing (status) or have been doing ("I just noticed in my social network feed that my collegue has viewed a report on how to craft an EIM strategy - I must ask him to share it with me!").
Social software has the potential to become extremely powerful in an enterprise context, especially for large and distributed organizations where people in different locations or organizational units need to communicate and collaborate with each other. Why? Because they make it easy to establish and maintain communication processes between human beings. People can do the plumbing themselves, making sure that the information they need will reach them from persons they trust and share similar interests with. It is obvious that we haven’t more than scratched the surface of the potential of social software as tools for facilitating information (and thereby knowledge) management within enterprises.