In the run up to the Facebook IPO a number of commentators on social networking have made the point that the pre-eminent social networking site is actually not good at mobility. The consumer rush towards mobile devices left Facebook ill prepared with effective mobile ad inventory. That made me think of our “universal connectors” concept.
Universal connectors needs to be seen as the dominant trend in business, forcing behavior and strategy change onto companies.
One example: one of Asia’s largest power utilities runs an innovation platform at its headquarters and branch offices. Nothing unusual there you might say. The platform allows people to input ideas on how the company can improve its products and services. But there is – or was – a glaring problem and it is summed up in that sentence above. The problem is that its most important activities, the ones that keep supply going in a business where supply interruption is the kiss of death, do not take place in offices. They take place on the road and in the air – on the power lines themselves.
So this particular power utility was running an innovation program that was fine, if you thought the business began and ended with those of its employees who worked indoors, maybe on customer service programs or in accounting. But the critical productivity issues resided up a ladder or in a power plant. When they issued field engineers with robust smartphones to allow field engineers to take and tag photographs of their issues and reconfigured their platform to receive images via mobile, then they had a real innovation platform.
The power of the universal connector concept is that it is both descriptive and prescriptive. On the descriptive side it shows how RSS and APIs have been powerful creators of change, reducing business frictions towards zero where they have been applied; and on the prescriptive side, like all five dynamics, the concept is a to do list. In any activity inside a business right now, you have to orient strategy towards maximum connectivity. The power utility in question assumed that its innovation program had only to include people who participate in the desktop paradigm of business. It was a big mistake.
Similarly Facebook was trapped by the desktop paradigm. Here is a company at the forefront of change. It has driven social networking and made it an everyday activity for 900 million members. Facebook’s impact is incalculable, in terms of how we function and relate to people. But universal connectivity was not in its game plan. It seems inconceivable but it is true. When we talk about universal connectors, it can seem like a negligible component of elasticity. What is it in the end, it’s just being connected. But it is so much more. It is the reduction of business friction towards zero. We need to get friction reduction back into the lexicon of business leaders – in the age of socially connected businesses it is the key to scale at low cost and low complexity.