Not too long ago, while working on a freelance piece for a vendor that sells some pretty cool technology targeted to the financial services industry, I heard several interesting examples of automated transactions at bank branches while interviewing one of the vendor's clients. Yet none of those examples made it past the editing process and into my article. Why? The client simply didn't want to share them. In fact, the VP I interviewed told me more than once, "Our internal communications team will probably cut this."
Large chunks of my time are devoted to trying to wring specific details of client successes from vendors. And I know that the vendors are often as frustrated as I am -- if not more so -- by their reticent customers.
So while I agree with Mark Koenig, a vice president at Saugatuck Technology whom I interviewed about enterprise social computing technology earlier this year, that vendors should share customer stories that help illustrate the value of these technologies, I know it isn't as simple as it sounds. Said Koenig:
... I think it's on the vendor to find a way to make their solutions something customers want and will use. The customers won't do it for them. They've got a business to run, or a town to govern or whatever the case might be. The technical challenges, the vendors have absolutely got to find ways to solve. The more cultural and organizational issues have to be addressed as well, and the vendors need to take a leadership role there as well. At least at this early stage, where companies might create these playgrounds and understand it might be the third use of a solution that will be the one that makes money, the vendors need to identify those use cases that do create value. They need to create road maps for the rest of those customers, or those customers won't see the point of jumping on. They've got to get through that inflection point.
ZDNet's Michael Krigsman makes a similar point in a post published on TechRepublic. The recent Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston was dominated by vendors and consultants, rather than customers, he writes, and the customers in attendance were hungry for enterprise use cases of 2.0 technology. Though several of his peers disagree, Krigsman says he wonders if successful use cases are still relatively rare. If true, that's a problem. He writes:
Enterprise 2.0 cannot credibly show market maturity unless adherents move beyond good feelings to demonstrate how the new methods of work and leadership create clear business value.
Exactly. When talking to folks about 2.0 technologies, you hear plenty of warm fuzzies and vague platitudes, but not many specific ideas of how to employ such technologies to solve business problems or create new business opportunities. Though companies may never be able to apply traditional ROI models to social technologies, they need to see more evidence of actual value.
Vendors need to shake the trees and hope they find some customers willing to talk about their successes. And companies need to be more willing to share, with the idea that transparency will benefit all. (Sheesh. Even I sound warm and fuzzy when talking about 2.0!) I know companies worry about giving up competitive advantage, but the flexible nature of social technologies makes exact duplication of business strategies pretty unlikely.