The Social 7: Considerations for Investing in Social Technology

By Rich Blank posted 04-13-2011 01:11


Social technology is a trending priority among IT organizations who are beginning to test drive multiple tools both in the cloud and internally.  This is primarily driven by the hype of all things social on the public web and explosion of Facebook and Twitter.  Often times, business users have already gone outside the firewall and are using public social sites without IT’s knowledge or oversight of users or information.   So what do you need to consider when thinking about your investment in social technology?   When making an investment in social capabilities, there are 7 key points to consider when evaluating solutions:

1.  Define what "social" mean to your organization.   Social can have different meanings and use cases across the spectrum of industries, countries, lines of business or functional areas.   Each organization large and small, domestic and global,  has different requirements and different corporate cultures. At its core, “social” is about relationships, conversations, and activities…all the things we do live in-person except we’re trying to capture it in a digital platform.  In some cases, it's the aggregation of specific activities into a single stream of events or information.  In other cases it's the collection of ideas,  or the ability to capture and surface conversations and share knowledge, or communities of practice....  Social is a suite of capabilities that can be used for B2B (business to business), B2E (business to employees) just as much as we see it used in B2C and C2C.  So be specific and make sure your executives and organization understands exactly what it means when you starting talking about all things "social" and how it can be defined as a business tool.  

2. View "social" as transformative and strategic.  Find groups in the value chain of your organization that are willing to embrace new technology and experiment with a different way of communicating digitally and asynchronously -- other than good old email.   I say "experiment" because in many organizations change is difficult -- and often times a proof of concept is needed to show users what is possible.  Social is tool like anything's not that scary and there is REAL business value in having a suite of social long as you view it something that is strategic and transformative.

3. To what degree should your organization change?   This is an interesting question that comes up frequently.   It's not a matter of "why change" - but how much?  It seems the buzzword of collaboration has finally penetrated the C-suite.  There is some top-down recognition that people work across time, distance, and cultures and better tools are needed to collaborate and be more productive.    When it comes to social technology, many organizations need to crawl before they can walk...and jog before they can is an evolutionary state with different levels of maturity.  This is an important point to understand before you invest an social software solution just because the interface "looks cool"...

4. Assess the impact of social.   Everything has some cost and some associated risks.  If you view social technology as strategic then you definitely need consider this an investment in your organization's future workforce.   Cost and risk are always at the forefront of enterprise IT purchasing decisions.  However, more important considerations relate to people.  What's the impact to your people?  Change management is key and it relates back to my previous point about crawling before you can walk or run.  Technology is simply changing too fast for any organization large or small to fully embrace the impact of that change right away.  So invest in a platform that will bridge the gap between today's world and tomorrow....and will over time evolve and support your organization through its transformative social journey.

5. Define Success.   In #1 above, you defined what social is.  Here you need to define success.  Often times we get so excited by the coolness or newness of a product that we rush out and spend a few hundred dollars on a new piece of technology like a smartphone or tablet.  Of course there are many smart phones and tablets that provide the same utility and benefit.   Define the benefits and how specific sets of users perceive a successful deployment of social technology in your organization.  Begin to focus on the potential insights you can gain from information captured and aggregated within a social platform.

6.  Understand the information-side of "social".  What I mean here is that social can have very valuable information and insights.  It is also a "corporate" record and asset just like email, instant messages, a document, or any digital piece of content in your organization.  Are there legal or compliance concerns?   Security concerns?   Records management concerns of social information?  Can you do e-discovery in the cloud?  Are you adding yet another repository or creating another silo?   What about network and information access concerns (e.g. accessing social technology across continents via desktop or mobile device)?  Are there foreign privacy or legal concerns (e.g. Patriot Act) about having data stored physically in the US?   This last one is not always obvious when it comes to the cloud and SAAS offerings who tend to offer a centralized location for access and storage.  The cloud is a hot topic by itself…and you want to ensure your vendor of choice understands your information management needs.   So make sure you identify your IM requirements up front.   AIIM of course has a ton of IM related knowledge which can provide guidance around all information including "social”.

7. Consider the broader collaboration "ecosystem".  Social technology is simply one aspect of a broader collaboration ecosystem.  While there are many niche social software vendors, there are only a few who have a full suite of complimentary and fully integrated products for email, instant messaging, collaboration, unified communications, etc...   A best of breed approach may give you separate systems that don't talk to each other and require many customizations to do so.   Investing in a single ecosystem makes economic and technological sense.  It's easier for IT to support, administer, and develop solutions.  You can more effectively leverage resources, find knowledge, or partner with system integrators to assist or outsource to.  End users also don't have to familiarize themselves with yet another interface.  

Remember, at the end of the day, you're offering "collaboration" as a service to your end users and social is simply part of the suite of your collaborative capabilities.   True social collaboration is both synchronous and asynchronous.  It's much easier to provide that service if your focused, have the right support and invest in a collaborative ecosystem across the spectrum of the ways we communicate, collaborate, and socialize.  The productivity gains and cost savings are not only seen on the administrative side but for end users as well...who will be saving minutes of time for simple tasks that are more seamless in a unified platform ....which in aggregate can save money and time for individuals and the broader population of employees.  Wouldn't we all love to get back a few minutes or even a few hours each week?


#computing #SharePoint #social