Addressed in this conceptual contribution is the use of Social Networking Technologies in the context of support for development of sustainable business practices, specifically the use of these technologies in a radical way to create information flows within the business and from external bodies, that effectively call into question the purpose, values, products, technologies, et cetera of the enterprise. This radical application is needed as part of a process of developing agility. Agility will be required in the future when businesses need to make significant adaptations to the way that they operate. Such fundamental changes in operation will be driven by the complexities of the structural changes in the business environment directly linked with climate change and other problems (e.g. security of energy supplies). Some of the complexities of these structural changes are discussed, along with key issues relating to paradigms, the social shaping of technology, agility, and the proposed application.
Business applications of Social Networking Technologies have been hyped as (yet another) revolution that will fundamentally change the way business is undertaken, with enterprises being urged to embrace this new technology (Fraser & Dutta 2008). Reality may however, turn out to be more prosaic, with businesses using the technologies in very predictable ways, e.g. to advertise; to sell products and services; to engage with customers to harvest information for marketing purposes; to establish brand related communities; to share information among a network of personal contacts; etc. Although useful and valuable, such applications are hardly revolutionary. In fact it could be argued that what makes these Social Networking Technologies and applications of interest to enterprises is the fact that they are not revolutionary.
Social Networking Technologies are an example of what can be called (Kidd 2008a, 2009a) Socially Engendered ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). That is to say, they were largely developed away from the world of corporate ICT applications, for the benefit of ordinary people with a wide set of motivations (e.g. having fun, being happy, play, social contact and networking, creative activities, etc.). The utility of Social Networking Technologies, if indeed they have any utility, lies in emotional meaning. They could also be considered as Ludic Systems (Huizinga 1970), meaning that they are strongly linked to playfulness in a very wide sense, including activities such as learning, exploration, etc. The Ludic perspective does not just characterize people by thinking or achievements, but also by their ludic engagement with the world: their curiosity, their love of diversion, their explorations, inventions and wonder. Play is therefore not just perceived as mindless entertainment, but an essential way of engaging with and learning about the world and the people in it (see Gaver 2009, for an example).
Typically however the corporate world of ICT is focused on Business Engendered ICT (Kidd 2008a, 2009a). This means ICT that has a clear utility, which typically involves using ICT to do a task better, faster, or cheaper, or all three. For most businesses this is the only reason they will have any interest in deploying Social Networking Technologies. This reflects the prevailing mind set in business, where in reality innovation is mostly incremental. So, no matter how radical Social Networking Technologies may seem, and regardless of the rather impressive way that Social Networking Technologies have become established in society, business applications are always mostly going to lie within the bounds of taken for granted assumptions. To move beyond this approach is a major challenge, but one that must be addressed if the world of business is to make better use of Social Networking Technologies.
One way of tapping into the innovation potential of Social Networking Technologies is to develop more strategic applications that firmly link with the medium to longer term future of the business. Such applications would be directed towards senior strategic thinkers and planners within businesses. One such potential strategic application is related to sustainability in the face of challenges posed by climate change and other complex issues (e.g. those relating to diminishing natural resources).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Strategic Fit: Aligning strategy, technology, organization, and people with the needs of the business environment.
Paradigm: The core beliefs, assumptions, values, accepted procedures, etc. specific to an enterprise (sector, society, etc.), which are shared in common with others in that enterprise (sector, society, etc.).
Dynamic Alignment: The process of dynamically achieving strategic fit between an enterprise and its business environment and arranging resources internally, through adaptation, to support that alignment.
Agility: An organization’s ability to adapt to structural changes in the business environment and to manage the uncertainty and unpredictability often associated with structural change.
Morphostatic Change: Incremental changes where the established order is maintained by treating disturbances as external noise requiring minor adjustments.
Socially Engendered ICT: Information and Communications Technology, the development and use of which is driven and shaped by social interests.
Sustainable Production and Consumption: Economic growth of production and consumption, but without increased used of natural resources, damage to the environment, increased greenhouse gas emissions, etc. and taking into account the needs of future generations, including not creating environmental and resource availability problems for these future generations.
Social Shaping of Technology: The theory that technology is not neutral and is shaped by the dominant social, political and economic values of society. As a result therefore, changes in values lead to different technological outcomes, and as a result, social science considerations can be used to shape technologies.
Morphogenic Change: Non-linear change and discontinuities that produces a different order to that which existed previously. Hence disturbances are treated as information about the inappropriateness of established practices etc., and this leads to fundamental changes in methods and principles, etc.
Business Engendered ICT: Information and Communications Technology, the development and use of which is driven and shaped by the needs of business.
Ludic System: Ludic refers to the play element of culture. Ludic systems are based on a philosophy of understanding the world through play, of play being primary to and a necessary condition for the generation of culture. Such systems therefore do not necessarily fulfill any particular purpose in the sense that most technological systems usually exist to fulfill a need, or have some useful function, or are a utility.
Structural Change: Changes in the structure of the business environment such as competitive conditions, regulation, technologies, social values, etc.