Challenges to being an Enterprise Social Business

This is a guest blog by Kenny Lowe, Head of Emerging Technology at brightsolid, who will be representing MangoApps at the Social Workplace Conference on 24 May 2012 in London.

Over the past few years, the evolution of social collaboration tools has been very swift. Email’s failed to adapt to changing communication needs over its four decade lifespan, and now with the proliferation of public social networking, people are becoming increasingly adept and tech-savvy in using more collaborative tools. With the increasing numbers of “Generation Y” entering the workplace and an organisation’s constant desire for improved levels of productivity, it’s unsurprising that many CIO’s are considering deploying enterprise-level social networks.

In a study by IDG research, which surveyed more than 260 large-enterprise IT managers, 86% of knowledge workers placed a very high level of importance on collaborating with internal coworkers and external stakeholders, and having access to the most up-to-date corporate information. In all walks of life it’s human nature to want to be involved, and enterprise-level social networks are driving employee engagement and creating more competitive, connected and collaborative companies.

In my personal life, I rarely use email – it exists for filing order confirmations and the occasional mailshot from companies I’m interested in. For my day to day communication needs I have far more productive channels open to me. Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google+, Flipboard… the underlying ethos is the same for them all; sharing of knowledge and information with diverse crowds with as little effort as possible.

The real paradigm shift when examining these technologies vs email is in the way information is disseminated. In email, a piece of information is sent to a select few people and then sits there, hidden from the world amidst an ever-growing sea of irrelevancy. In all of the communication channels I use in my personal life, information is flung open to a wide audience in a way that I define as useful to me, ever-flowing and always relevant.

Why then are enterprise versions of such tools not commonly found in the workplace? Only recently, just mentioning the word ‘social’ at a board level would have been heavily frowned upon, but today global companies such as Atos, a 70,000 employee IT services firm based in France, has committed to eliminating all internal email by 2014 in favour of social technologies. Their CEO claims that only 15 percent of their internal email was useful and the rest contributed to lost time.

A change such as this is not one that can be taken lightly, so it’s definitely useful to share four key considerations for your organisation when thinking about becoming a Social Enterprise.

Will it actually increase productivity? – Really this is a subjective consideration for many organisations, it depends on what productivity means to your business. Is it more productive to post an article, link or comment to an open forum and share knowledge with your colleagues, or to send an email directly to a colleague and make a decision quickly, without lots of endless input and discussion from others? Certainly companies with a culture of openness and knowledge sharing can benefit enormously from the improved communication channels social collaboration tools can bring.

Security and Privacy – As ever, security remains among the most critical considerations for an organisation. CIOs need to consider who has access to information, the potential for rogue employees to cause damage, and where their company data will be hosted. Gen Y is entering the workplace with expectations that they will be able to access the same or equivalent tools that they use in their personal lives, and regulating their ability to access these will more than likely force users to look for work elsewhere, or find ways to circumvent restrictions. Therefore, the obvious solution is to implement a company vetted solution in a controlled environment.

Is your workforce best suited to this means of collaboration – Well worth considering, and key to how extensive uptake is likely to be, is how tech savvy your workforce is. Not every industry or workforce may be suited to this method of collaboration, and companies need to have a strong understanding of their internal culture before jumping in. CIOs also need to consider the training costs involved and work closely with HR to ensure everyone is comfortable using such tools before making them available company-wide.

Costs – The page most people naturally jump to first when viewing any proposal, cost is of critical importance to any business, and is often the key driver in any decision making process. In most cases, a social enterprise network will be an additional expenditure over and above email, so it’s well worth evaluating the cost to benefit ratio, as well as any places existing communication expenditure can be pared down where it’s not working effectively.

To find out more about MangoApps, a Gartner Cool Vendor for Social Software and Collaboration, come along and have a chat with me at the #SWCONF in London.