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November 26, 2012

Social enterprise collaboration: Is your company social yet?

While some CIOs are still wondering, perhaps mistakenly, if social media is just another passing trend, there are companies out there that are increasingly implementing social enterprise tools to raise employee productivity and keep an edge over competitors.

By Tineka Smith

Not only has social media changed the way people communicate with family and friends, it has also impacted the workplace by affecting how employees interact with each other.

Email threads and more traditional ways of holding group discussions are increasingly viewed as ineffective, with industry leaders saying social collaboration tools offer an innovative way to share insight and information easily across a business.

Employees are now able to crowd-source ideas anywhere and anytime, massively increasing their productivity potential.

"Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have hundreds of millions of users – consumers are used to social technologies in their personal lives and extend its usage to the workplace," says Elynor Chiu, senior marketing manager at Formicary Collaboration Group, a provider of real-time team collaboration solutions.

"To ignore this fact will put CIOs further out of touch with the realities of a changing workforce and potentially erode their leadership within organisations."

But becoming socially-oriented takes more than just deploying social collaboration tools. Businesses must also ensure they create a long-term strategy to help the culture within their organisation transition smoothly. This will ensure CIOs can easily prove the benefits of investing in social collaboration tools and have a better chance of seeing a positive ROI.

Internal and external
Industry leaders say that companies are quick to implement social media tools aimed at customers, but it is important to make them available internally too. That’s because they can help bosses understand the issues their employees are discussing, something they otherwise would not know, and highlight pockets of positive conversations and ideas.

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"The emergence of social collaboration tools has filled a gaping hole in equipping employers to understand how their company gets work done, and employee behaviours and interaction," says Martin Blackmore, EMEA director of application sales at VMware.

"In many cases it’s fair to say that companies know more about their customers than their own employees."

Research by McKinsey & Company revealed that 70% of employees spend their working week collaborating because it yields practical business results. The research also found that companies can unlock up to $1.3tn in productivity gains through social collaboration, two-thirds of which would come from improving internal collaboration.

Businesses that have gone ahead with implementation have said that employee productivity has increased because the social enterprise tools have resulted in quicker issue resolutions, quicker product release times through better internal product testing, shorter sales cycles due to increased sharing between teams, and quicker access to marketing collateral.

According to the IBM study ‘The Social Business: Advent of a New Age’, 57% of CIOs whose companies invest in social media tools outperform their peers. Many reported seeing a 25% increase in business or a 20% drop in the time it takes to manage projects.

The study revealed that 55% of companies reported enterprise social networking had a strategic significance in their company’s growth, and suggests that social media is not a passing phase.

Businesses that ignore it risk losing out on the benefits it has to offer, along with potential market share to competitors that are more active in this area. On the flip side, CIOs who embrace social media tools for internal use have a better chance of leading initiatives that can have an impact on the bottom line.

"Social is going to be as important as email, the mobile phone and the telephone," says Blackmore. "Early adopters are already using it to drive their businesses. Anyone waiting for social to pass will quickly find themselves at a competitive disadvantage."

One early adopter is Royal Philips Electronics. It implemented social collaboration tools and within two months had 7,000 employees actively participating, a number that would eventually rise to 40,000. The company’s teams began operating with increased efficiency, while being able to solve problems and address issues quickly.

"We were keen to utilise the collective resources of our 120,000 employees and regain the feel of a small, nimble team of interdependent workers driven by shared goals," says Dennis Augusi, global internal communications officer at the company.

Managers were also able to use the platform to easily find experts to address certain questions. "We saw big increases in time-saving," adds Augusi. "Philips became more of an online community, no longer limited by geography or time zones."

Analysts at Ovum say the enterprise collaboration market is about to experience a major uplift as employees increasingly form enterprise social networks. As a result, CIOs who avoid the subject risk becoming excluded from the decision to introduce social tools.

"Many enterprise social networks are being established by employees trying to find a better way to get the job done," says Richard Edwards, principal analyst at Ovum. "CIOs that have ignored this phenomenon, or have not engaged with the workforce, may find themselves ‘locked-out’ of the influencing circle as empowered users and business managers drive the initiative forward."

Some experts say that if you’re a CIO, your employees are probably using a social network to talk about work anyway, so staying ahead of the change and providing support will help ensure that conversations, files and data stay on a monitored and sanctioned platform.

The end of email?
Some industry watchers have even predicted that social collaboration tools will eventually replace email, leading analysts to suggest that organisations must move away from this form of communication. However, analysts also say the social market is still quite new and that CIOs do not yet fully understand it.

"The differing approaches to enterprise social networking require strategic consideration as each has its pros and cons," says Edwards. "With no strategic direction set, organisations are susceptible to ‘social sprawl’ – the real concern from a CIO’s perspective."

Despite analysts’ concerns, a study by IDC revealed that 67% of companies purchased enterprise social software in the past 12 months. However, technologies that start in the consumer area usually encounter initial resistance in the enterprise.

"A lot of CIOs are still wary because they’re unsure of the benefits that these technologies can provide to their business users," says Chiu of the Formicary Collaboration Group.

"While there are a few of examples of enterprises successfully implementing social collaboration tools, there are more stories of these initiatives failing or not getting universal adoption. In a world of shrinking budgets, CIOs struggle to justify the investment in these tools if they can’t quantify the results," she says.

Justifying the move can be tricky as the ROI is difficult to quantify. Benefits are often indirect in nature and shown mostly through increased productivity, knowledge-sharing and efficiency.

"Social shouldn’t be looked to for a hard ROI number – rather, think of how much more productive email and mobile devices made employees. Social fits in this category," says VMware’s Blackmore.

Ovum’s Richards agrees: "The initial success of enterprise social software is likely to be determined by its value and utility to the employee and not necessarily to the business."

Analysts, however, also point to case studies where a ‘freemium’ software model was used to more effectively prove ROI before any financial commitments or investments.

Importance of HR
Involving HR will help ensure that social collaboration tools are more easily adopted within the company. Staff from that department will want to play a part in any roll-out, especially when it alters traditional working practices. Furthermore, by involving HR early on it means that policies and guidelines will be addressed before issues arise.

"HR is vital to the adoption of social collaboration tools," says Ofer Guetta, social collaboration solutions leader at IBM Connections. "HR is also one of the best cases for using social tools to improve business process – from on-boarding to identifying and developing talent across the organisation. HR has become pivotal in driving social collaboration into a business."

Social enterprise tools offer the option of exploring more efficient and innovative ways to collaborate at a time where email streams and lacklustre intranets are being left behind. However, when investing, companies need to make sure it’s a solution that is impossible to ignore.

"It has to be as simple and ubiquitous as email," concludes Felicity Wohltman, VP of solutions at collaborative tools provider Mindjet. "It will only gain adoption if it’s ingrained in the workflow and instantly gratifying."

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