Social Enterprise and the Democratization of Tech

At Dreamforce this week in San Francisco, the presenters and attendees were far more eclectic than you might expect from the traditional geeky tech conferences: Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry, Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, General Colin Powell, and Jeff Immelt CEO of GE, a company founded about 100 years before Salesforce.com.

But I think there was more to this diversity than just coincidence. The social revolution driven by companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Salesforce combined with the usability revolution of new mobile technologies like Apple’s iPad represent something greater than just expanded conversation.

Three and a half decades after the advent of the personal computer, the verdict was finally clear to me at Dreamforce: techies no longer own tech. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that business users have relied on technology for years and the average person has used computers for everything from term papers to photo editing.

But a more significant shift has occurred. Previously it was as if business users and the general public were passengers in a vision being driven mostly by the tech experts. The public was grateful for (and occasionally frustrated with) those tools, but they still felt like outsiders in the world of technology.

With the social revolution, tech experts have gone from architects to really enablers of visions they could never have imagined. They build the engines, but they no longer blaze the trails, at least not in any exclusive sense of the concept.

Users by contrast now see technology as an extension of themselves, integral to friendships, hobbies, politics, lifestyle, goals and occupations. The social revolution made a leader out of anyone bold enough to stand up and declare a vision, whether a doctor serving a dispersed rural area or an oppressed populace burdened by a dictatorial government.

Which begs the question, where does that leave the engineers who pioneered the modern tech industry? It’s a little scary, in some ways, to turn over to the masses something techies cultivated so carefully and often conscientiously. Like early experiments with political democracy, the only outcome that is certain is unpredictability.

But despite there being no shortage of brilliance in this industry, there was always an inherent ceiling on what software engineers alone could achieve with technology. One image underscored these inherent limits: Marc Benioff in a suit with white high top basketball shoes interviewing the Angela Ahrendts CEO of Burberry, pitch perfect in style head to toe. Ahrendts working with Benioff could never have achieved what a whole style-minded community of professionals could accomplish collaborating with each other. Which is what the social revolution really delivers – a chance for industries, enterprises, communities, and friends to take the technology to places only they could truly understand.

So tech experts transition from stewards of technology to servants of people, realizing that any perceived ownership was really just a temporary guardianship until technology gained a maturity that would allow it to be turned over to its rightful owners- the public at large. And while that might not stoke the ego of some techies who saw their roles as visioneer in chief for an indefinite duration, it does achieve the real aims of any truly great industry – to bring about the greater good of the society, however that society decides to define the concept.

Ryan Madsen is Sr. Director of Marketing at Bodhtree, a technology services company that provides solutions to enterprise and government in Product Engineering, Analytics, Cloud, and Enterprise Applications. Bodhtree applies technology expertise, advanced infrastructure, and a global ‘right shore’ model to enable the mission and vision of leading organizations.

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