“The corporation as we know it, which is 120 years old is unlikely to survive the next 25 years. Legally and financially yes, but not structurally and not economically” Peter Drucker
Drucker died in 2005 and since then some of the world’s most iconic brands didn’t make it. Kodak failed to react to the digital revolution even though it had many years to adapt to the iceberg heading towards its core business. Nokia has all but disappeared from the mobile industry after dominating it for ten years and Blackberry is still on life support. WhatsApp took just six years to acquire 900m users has displaced the SMS revenues of every mobile operator in the world which took them twenty years to create.
CraigsList, a basic, crude, internet forum set up to connect buyers and sellers of everything from heavy machinery to personal services is credited with completely destroying the local newspaper industry throughout the United States and Western Europe. Blockbuster Video (RIP) turned down offers to buy Netflix. Twice.
The reality is competition that kills isn’t pre-announced; it catches unsuspecting incumbents by surprise. These stories are quite rightly, creating a nagging sense of insecurity felt by executives in boardrooms around the world and the most visionary amongst them have realised that if they don’t invest in a systemic digital transformation of their business, they have exactly two chances of survival, and slim has just left town.
Inside the enterprise digital transformation initiatives are making a huge difference to the employee experience by introducing apps that look and feel more like the ones we use outside work. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) are the new normal and internal apps are finally being designed with modern user interfaces and optimised for mobile devices.
However, read the detail of how Apple and Google design, develop and bring their products to market, and almost every article, analysis, research paper and news commentary is a story about collaboration. One of the key discoveries of the twenty first century is that co-operative processes in general are far more likely to survive than isolated, rampantly selfish entities. The Darwinian principle of natural selection with its emphasis on individual survival has moved on to a more holistic, symbiotic view of adaptability, wherein survival is a group or team effort. In fact, with hindsight our social history is almost embarrassingly about collective effort, rather than individual triumph.
Executives are sceptical of the value of social collaboration in the enterprise, and wait for it to go away. This is a mistake. They forget that many of the world’s biggest brands couldn’t exist without the open source movement that created free software allowing Facebook to process one trillion page views every month. Amazon, Google, Twitter, YouTube, and just about every software start up in the world build their applications on top of open source software. Ask the founder of WhatsApp which web software vendor he used to serve 900m active users in 2015, and he’ll tell you it was Linux not Windows. The open source community is working on over 100,000 software projects involving over 2m software developers. All the time. In contrast, Microsoft took seven years to release a new version of Windows to replace Windows XP, using a few hundred developers to bring it to market. And it failed (Windows Vista).
So what’s the difference? The first thing is that open source developers don’t use email to collaborate. It’s a bit last century. More importantly, the rules of open source models of collaboration are deliberately designed to create value by any means necessary that aren’t constrained by organisational relations and boundaries. At is core, is the idea that respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority. Call it policy, call it culture, whatever you call it, it just works.
Crucially, the low level of adoption of enterprise collaboration apps compared to the high level of adoption of collaboration apps used by customers, suppliers and partners in the marketplace makes it almost impossible for organisations to continuously adapt, innovate and reduce the time taken to get new products and services to market. Unfortunately, most IT directors don’t care about adoption and see it as an unnecessary cost providing little value to the business.
As ridiculous as it sounds, the value of, and the reason for board rooms around the world taking the adoption of collaboration technologies seriously is that their company gets to exist in five years’ time.