Monday, July 18, 2011

Holy Crap, Batman! The Social Business Stack

I just read D. Hinchcliffe's () Social Business Stack at the Dachis Group and all I can say is [explicative deleted]. Dang! That's one impressive and imposing architectural diagram!

I'm not saying the diagram is architecturally incorrect. In fact, I suspect it is accurate from a corporate IT perspective. It looks like so many other all-inclusive architectures.

The trouble is no normal human being in their right mind could look at it and do anything but shake in their boots. This is the sort of diagram that justifies five years of intense IT investment. It also presupposes (or pre-justifies) failure since there are so many moving parts.

The stack is accurate in that it captures all of the possible interactions and interdependencies from a KM and IT perspective. (That is, the old people/processes/technology triumvirate.) But the fact is no one really cares about anything but the top layer. (The Social/People layer.)

So why is this so complex and social networking "in the wild" so simple? Well, it isn't that simple in real life. But:
  • On the public web people are more than willing to do things manually to "make it work", such as putting in links to blogs, etc by hand.
  • If it does become difficult, there's an app for that. People are happy to juggle 5, 10, even 20 separate apps such as, twitpic,, etc to achieve their goals. What's more, it is cumulative: people learn new tricks from watching their friends' posts.
  • Ultimately, the public internet is an almost limitless (since it is always growing) source of additional material, support, inspiration, or target for discussion.
 In other words, all the other layers of Dion's stack exist in the public instance but no one cares about them. Not that they aren't necessary. The next four layers (Data, Delivery, Aggregation, and Discovery) are just assumed to be there. And the critical vertical integration "glue" is heavily biased towards manual effort and simple HTTP links, rather than some complicated automation.

The last two layers (Security and Business Model) also exist. But people are amazingly carefree about security on the public web and the Business Model is the responsibility of the technology/service providers and people simply give a yea or nay vote on the instantiation by staying with the service or moving on.

So, what does this mean? I think the first meaning is that, as usual, corporations are taking something simple (or deeply complex but with a simple surface layer) and getting caught up in the morass that underlies it. Secondly, what the stack doesn't show is the often terribly anaemic state of the lower stacks behind corporate firewalls. The oft-repeated aphorism "If only we knew what we know" can usually be expanded to its various corellaries:
  • "If only we knew who knew what we know"
  • "If only we knew where we stored what we know"
  • "If only we could find what we know"
  • "If only I had permission to know what we know"
  • etc.
So, I think the social business stack as represented is correct. But I am terribly concerned about what such a diagram would be used for. Because, ultimately, it is people — not technology or processes — that are the deciding factor. And people have astonishing resilience and patience for "making things work" when they have an interest in the outcome.


Dennis said...

The main reason the situations described in your final list of bullet points exist in corporations is that resolving such issues requires someone in the corporation spend time and money resolving them.

Andrew Gent said...

Hi Dennis, thanks for the comment. I wish it were as simple as time and money. However, I suspect many other things play into the dilemma, including distributed authority, conflicting goals/rewards, etc. Many symptoms of the business principles that are seen as essential for managing large, diverse corporations.

Dennis said...

Agreed -- and you need to spend time and money to address those issues.