Systems of Engagement 101

The emerging trend of Systems of Engagement is growing increasingly popular in the field of consumer and business applications and has been a frequently occurring topic of conversation for me recently with clients. There is an expanding body of materials on the subject, not least this excellent presentation from its originator Geoffrey Moore, but I wanted to capture my own quick snapshot in the form of a simple primer on the subject.

What are Systems of Engagement?

Systems of Engagement refer to a new generation of IT systems to support consumers and knowledge workers in the achievement of their objectives. Systems of Engagement optimise the effectiveness of the user by providing the required responsiveness and flexibility to deal with the fluidity of everyday life.

Haven’t we had these for a long time?

For many years, the types of applications organisations have invested in what are often referred to as Systems of Record, such as customer relationship management (CRM) tools and transactional consumer applications such as online banking applications. These tools clearly are beneficial, but at the same time have limitations since

  • they typically enable only a subset of the process to achieve real outcome desired, and
  • are constructed in terms of the provider’s world view, rather than the consumer’s.

For example online banking systems offer access to transactions and products, whereas the consumer’s overall objective might be something far more complex, such as moving house. Systems of Record support a model of interaction through sporadic, episodic transactions.

So why Systems of Engagement now?

Systems of Record are largely built out to the extent that they now offer a diminishing competitive advantage for organisations because most have now them. Cloud delivery models also mean that they are becoming increasingly commoditised, decreasing competitive return on investment even further. Systems of Record grew out of a time when differentiation was achieved through greater efficiency through IT systems. Consumer smartphones and social tools have created far higher expectations of what IT can deliver and this has shifted the emphasis for differentiation onto the systems that provide the greatest degree of effectiveness to the consumer. In contrast to Systems of Record, Systems of Engagement support a model of continuous interaction.

What are some attributes of Systems of Engagement?

Whilst opinions vary, the Harvard Business Review describes nine traits that define Systems of Engagement that I think serve as a good starting point:

  1. Design for sense and response.
  2. Address massive social scale.
  3. Foster conversation.
  4. Utilize a multitude of media styles for user experience.
  5. Deliver speed in real time.
  6. Reach to multi-channel networks.
  7. Factor in new types of information management.
  8. Apply a richer social orientation.
  9. Rely on smarter intelligence.

How are they constructed?

Clearly for systems such as that described above to be achievable, it follows that different technology is required to that of traditional Systems of Record. There are four major new technology trends that are key enablers for Systems of Engagement now and in the future:

  • Mobile devices that provide a ubiquitous entry point for the user wherever they are, and that can now provide richer context for the service provider (such as location) to offer better targeted services.
  • Social tools that provide “people integration” capabilities to glue together complex elements of the human workflow associated with achieving an outcome.
  • Analytics and Big Data to provide richer capabilities to engage with users with the benefit of a far broader supporting context, and proactively interact with the user with relevant beneficial services.
  • Cloud computing as a common delivery model for consuming services in a consistent way, wherever the user may be and from whichever device they choose. Cloud also enables organisations to move Systems of Record outside their premises and focus on differentiating Systems of Engagement.

Does this mean Systems of Record are obsolete?

Not by any means. Systems of Record have a key role to play since their efficiency and robust qualities of service will continue to underpin business processes. A bank will still need to reliably process transactions, and a retail store will still need to maintain inventory levels. The real power of this new trend will be the interactivity of Systems of Engagement and efficiency of Systems of Record harnessed together.

This sounds like a lot of work?

Certainly to re-engineer every existing touchpoint with every user would be many, many years of development and investment for any organisation. However, if Systems of Engagement will be the source of differentiation for organisations then doing nothing is also unlikely to be a sustainable option. The key will be identifying and understanding the most critical moments of engagement and looking to improve them in a prioritised and pragmatic fashion.

Who will benefit from Systems of Engagement?

Potentially all parties could benefit. There is certainly an upside for Systems of Engagement for the consumers of their services and the organisations they serve, be that enterprise users or consumers. Systems of Engagement focus competitive differentiation on effectiveness of the people using them, rather than purely on the organisation providing the service as is the most often the case with Systems of Record, so it is an indication of the increasing empowerment of the end user. In addition, in adopting a Systems of Engagement approach organisations are in a position to steal further competitive advantage over and above what they achieve through their Systems of Record.


3 responses to “Systems of Engagement 101

  1. Martin, this is a very good summary.. One critical aspect of these systems is to be able to really personalise the interaction between businesses and an individual. Whilst previous attempts have made progress in personalisation, the increased information from Social media and mobile systems allows a step change here.

    There are also challenges that need to be overcome, such as ethical use of data and intrusion of personal privacy etc.. These aspects need careful consideration in any of these systems and the brand ramification could be severe.

  2. Pingback: Systems of Engagement: So What ? | MarkBrockbank

  3. One insight from the early days of BPM was that systems which used to be internal (ie. data processing or those for internal use) had suddenly become those which were customer facing. The web turned the old paradigm on its head and so the interaction became prime, but nevertheless an organisation’s view of the world was still its own view of the world and not that of their clients looking inward. Changing this may require a deeper restructuring of our understanding of organisations vs the individual – the phrase “I work for …” may need to become passĂ©?

    I’d argue that corporations now need to appear as individuals to their clients – the world contracted to the personal. Rather than big brand names inculcating warmth and feelings of security, consumers now see the personal as reassuring and tractable. While this may be partly due to our present societal construction of placing greater value on individuals (‘the PM’) rather than institutions (‘the party’), it has certainly been a driver in online shopping.

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