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Social Business Forum 2011: interview with Bertrand Duperrin

Here we are with another interview in preparation for the Social Business Forum 2011 which will be held in Milan, next June 8th. Waiting to meet him at the Enterprise 2.0 Panel, where I will be with Mario Gastaldi e Gino Tocchetti, I reached Bertrand Duperrin.

A few words to introduce Bertrand. As an Enterprise 2.0 Consultant at Next Modernity, he carries out consultancy missions in the field of management, information, and communication technologies. His career began in a HR and management consultancy where he mainly focused on collaboration issues.

He joined blueKiwi Software in 2006, in the first days of the company’s operations. At blueKiwi, Bertrand structured the consulting/services activity in the field of enterprise social networks. He was a pioneer in the French market; one of the first to lead such projects for large businesses. He joined Next Modernity, a french expert consulting leading firm in the field of new management, collaboration and value creation practices in January 2010.

Bertrand led the premier enterprise 2.0 project in a major French company, at Dassault Systemes, in the beginning of 2006. From there, he has led strategic projects for customers like BNP Paribas, Groupe La Poste (French postal services), and many of the largest french companies.

His goals: to make social networks serve organizational performance and value creation in such domains as innovation, sales performance, or collective efficiency He’s shares his thoughts on the above issues on his blog and is a member of the AIIM expert bloggers community.

Roberto: Hi Bertrand. Thank you very much for your courtesy and availability. I was very impressed by your last post “Yers and corporate IT : the expected divorce is far from happening“. We thought and told that young people was the most important driver for change of intranets, collaboration tools and so on. So it means that a “change” is far from happening? Should we wait for Millennials?

Bertrand: Change is happening, slowly but it’s happening. As I often say, “it takes a long time for things to happen quickly”. In this post the point was more the impact of new generations on change rather than knowing if change was happening. It’s obvious that Yers are “different” in the way they work, interact, network, get things done and learn and, as such, they can be change drivers in the workplace. But is it peculiar to them? What I mean is that each generation brought a kind of change in the workplace and there’s nothing new with Yers. Xers were also supposed to bring some kind of change and disturbance in the workplace… and they did. But it looked rather like a smooth evolution than a revolution. I think the same is happening with Yers.

New generations always come to the workplace with their pecularities, dreams, expectations and behaviors. But their lack of experience makes it hard for them to put it all at work in the workplace. Moreover, they slowly learn about business constraints, they become pragmatic and temper their expectations and enthusiasm. The same story is repeating again and again through ages. Things always seem to go too slow for external observers but change is happening.

The conclusion is that we should stop focusing on a given generation (Yers, then milenials then…) and try to make any new generation a change driver instead. Any new generation has a lack of business experience even if they embody change. Older generations understand the constraints of business quite well but are not aware of how to deal with them in a new way. Leveraging the power of new generation to make change happen does not mean to rely on the younger to make the elder change but to make them work together and understand one another. It’s all about reverse mentoring. In my experience I never saw Yers as a sufficient lever to drive change. On the other hand, every time boomers and yers managed to work together, to teach things one another, things went fine… and fast.

In one word: forget generation specific approaches to build cross-generation ones.

Roberto: Young people accept old technology because they finish to accept organizational constraints, do you agree?

Bertrand: Partly. They also accept old technologies because it makes sense according to the way they’re asked to work. Does a social network or any social/2.0 make sense in a pyramidal, vertical and command/control driven organization? Surely not. You choose the tools that fit the way you work. Emails and workflows are irrelevant to organize your life in a networked world… and social tools are irrelevant in a non-networking workplace.

In fact what you and me are calling constraints are only the logical consequences of a whole system that promotes individual work, internal competition, and knowledge hoarding through irrelevant measurement, rewarding etc… So they aren’t seen as constraints by people who have to deal with this system.

In the end it’s all about sense and alignment… and the need for a systemic approach that makes new work practices make sense in the workplace. Then, the need for new tools will be relevant.

Roberto: Organization and Technology are strictly linked. Which one of them pushes the change?

Bertrand: Both. It’s a co-construction approach. Changing the organization will only work to some extent: at a given point, technology will be needed to make things work. Changing the technology without the organization seldom works. What works is to make one step on the organization path, then one step on the technology path and so on. But where to start? With organization and people. Never forget than people will never do online what they would do in real life if gathered in the same room.

Roberto: Please, have a look to this infographic, “Dare to Share” from SocialCast. In the bottom, on the left there are three reasons for wasting time in collaboration. They do not involve technology but processes and methods. In your experience, are there any other reasons?

Bertrand: One more evidence that tools are the consequence of the system, they are only the “ball that allows us to play the game”. What matters is the rules of the game… that are mentioned on bottom right side (let’s say the disease…). What’s on the left part is the symptoms. There are always a few root causes that cause lots of dys. Once again, to be synthetic I’d say it’s all about sense and alignment.

Roberto: One of the last posts from Luis Suarez is about activity stream (you also wrote something about it). Do you think it will be the next dramatic change as email was for personal and corporate life many years ago?

Bertrand: Activity streams are only a part of the answer. To be honest, maybe only a few percent of users would be comfortable enough with AS to handle all their communication/information flows. AS are about what things will look like but we need to rethink the mechanisms behing the tool. How will be consume information? How to make anything actionable from the stream? How to priorize what matters and make it surface. There’s a lot of work to be done about (social) analytics, handling Big Data… and educating people.

Today the common approach to AS is more about aggregating more and more flows than making them usable and actionable and I’m afraid it will lead to more confusion than it will solve problems. Something more is needed.

I’m quite sure Luis was thinking about the very promising “Project Vulcan” IBM will be delivering soon. But streams are only the visible part of the iceberg: data intelligence and integration will be about 80% of the success of such tools.

Activity streams will be key in the future… but need to be a part of something wider and more ambitious.

Roberto: Thank you for your time. See you in Milan, next June at the Social Business Forum.

Bertrand: My pleasure. Thanks very much. In Milan next June.


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