There's a pretty good argument that a big part of the social business transformation is simply using new and more effective ways to communicate. In fact that's really one of the fundamental advances that accompanied the adoption of the Internet. Internet connectivity offers multiple channels for tying people together. It provides businesses and individuals with billboards (relatively static information sharing one to many), multiple multi-media broadcast channels (infinitely changeable in real or near real time, one to many), and multiple peer to peer communication channels all in real time, all the time and accessible from a device you can carry in your pocket.
There was a time when peer to peer communication in real time meant finding a fixed site hard wired connected device (phone), assuming of course that the other party was also located near a similar site. Mobile communication, that was pulling your car up to a payphone. A revolutionary advance was attaching a tape recorder to a phone to create an answering machine, which replaced human message taking. With the introduction of fax technology we moved asynchronous communication from the letter or memo (and significant delay time requirements) to near instant although still in fixed locations. Broadcast was no different, it involved pushing radio or TV signals out to a receiving device, originally fixed but eventually portable / mobile (portable radio, TV, auto radio, etc.). Want to communicate a static message, you had billboards, signs, and print ads and articles (I suppose I could add stone tablets here but you get the picture).
But the Internet changed all of that...well, with the important addition of mobile connected devices. Communication today spans two modes, synchronous and asynchronous and an ever growing number of tools. The missing link though is an integrated way to manage all of these tools...more on that later. First let's look at the tools in the context of general use cases.
Communication is a part of good collaboration of course, but collaboration involves processes and tools for getting work done collectively so moves beyond just communication. The actual process though, would always include some sort of communication so my separation above might feel a bit uncomfortable for some.
Both communication and collaboration today tend to exist outside of the work context. This is an interesting issue, the process is somewhat removed from the other tools a person uses to accomplish day to day work activities. This is particularly true of communication which tends to exist as a distinct layer. This is somewhat true of collaboration tools also, but at least some of these tools exist to facilitate the work process so aren't separated, like work execution software or joint authoring tools. Embedding in work context is an important next step for social communication tools and some have already started to address this issue by providing a method for connecting the tool to the enterprise software that employees use for daily work activities. Both SocialCast and SocialText have the capability to be embedded inside another software product, a feature that I believe is essential for broad enterprise adoption. Some of the larger enterprise vendors are also exploring this concept, Oracle for example has some basic activity stream capabilities embedded in the new Fusion Applications Suite.
"One inbox to rule them all, one inbox to find them"...oh, sorry was channeling a little Tolkien. Consolidation for integrated management is still only a dream. I personally struggle with this a lot just with multiple email accounts and the sheer volume of email in general. I have found that there are a few decent ways to address email but beyond email is no-mans land today. Facebook recently has made some statements about becoming the "one" inbox but it has a long way to go to get there and a difficult task of convincing enterprise IT that it should be used as a business tool (if it should). The blurring of the lines between business and personal though, could help with adoption. I'm personally not convinced that Facebook is the answer to my communication woes though. The mobile device might offer the best vehicle to drive an integrated comm/collab approach, it's already making it easier to use many of the tools and of course in real time, all the time and in my pocket. I guess I'm just dreaming of a uber aggregator that could pull in all of the different streams and communications methods into one manageable "inbox"...
What do you think about communication and collaboration in a social business? What tools are you using?