“Social technology” is a term that gives business executives heartburn. Based on the increasing level of buzz, I’m betting Rolaids and Alka-Seltzer are enjoying bumper sales. But antacids are not the answer for company leaders skittish about social in the workplace. First off, basic sociological and demographic data clearly indicates they are fighting a battle they’re destined to lose. More importantly, by ignoring advances in social collaboration, these executives are missing a major opportunity to improve how their organization operates – from product and service quality to customer satisfaction, organizational responsiveness, employee retention and more.
The first step towards removing the fear and realizing the value is to change the terminology. The end-goal is not to let pure “social technology” run rampant within the organization; it is to unleash the latent intelligence held by a company’s knowledge workers through “social business collaboration.” This requires a different technology approach than is being espoused by the majority of software vendors hoping to jump on the social bandwagon.
I’ll examine a few of the reasons for enterprise reluctance to embrace social technology. Some are quite valid; some less-so. Then, I’ll describe how a social business technology approach obviates those concerns and delivers real business value. First, though, I have to start with a reality check about the inevitability of this new technology wave.
“Get Social or Get Left Behind”
Social collaboration technology has seeped so deeply into our personal lives that there is no turning back. Facebook attained more than 500 million users in late 2010, and people collectively spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on the site.
The generation now entering the workforce expects the same sort of “always on, always connected” experience in their professional lives, and that expectation will only increase over time. Social software, with its intuitive interfaces and functions, has already supplanted email as the communication and collaboration method of choice for the rising generation of corporate workers. According to a recent survey by global analysis firm IDC, 48% of respondents indicated they will use social software more than email in 2011.
Of course, it’s not just employee expectations that need to be considered. Analyst firm Gartner has stated that by 2015, internet-supported social processes will influence at least 80% of consumers’ discretionary spending. This has led the firm to conclude that “Either business gets social or it gets left behind.”
Objections to Social in the Enterprise
Executive push-back around introducing social technology to the workplace commonly falls into three camps:
1) it will decrease productivity,
2) it requires a radical change to how we operate, and
3) it’s all just hype. Let’s examine all three arguments:
1) Social technology is just a time-waster
We no longer toil in Dickensian-style sweatshops (well, most of us, anyway), but let’s face it: employees are paid to work. There is no business rationale for investing in a new technology that will simply provide a platform for employees to plan where to go to lunch, or to discuss the movie they saw last night. Further, social feeds are often cluttered, with a low ratio of signal-to-noise. Employees already suffer from information overload.
This is a perfectly valid argument. The last thing an organization needs is more undirected “chatter” distracting employees from their activities and the information they actually need to do their jobs more effectively.
2) Adapting to social will require a radical change
If you ask any business or IT executive about effecting change in their organization, you better be ready for a long tale of frustration. An entire industry of consultants, authors, academics and vendors has accumulated around the issue of Change Management. As a species, we don’t particularly like change, and we generally do our best to resist it.
While this is undeniable in a broad sense, it is a fallacy in regards to social collaboration. The reason social technology has taken off so rapidly in our personal lives is because it is truly an extension and facilitation of how we as humans want to operate. We like to discuss, and share ideas. We need others’ input to broaden our perspectives and to be effective problem solvers. And we are naturally voyeuristic. We like to see what other people are thinking, doing and talking about. Social technology is actually one of the best examples in history of technology that enables us to NOT change our behaviour, but rather to translate that behaviour into a new realm.
3) Social in the enterprise will not deliver on its promise
This is a valid point for discussion, as we’re still in the early stages of adoption and the ROI data has not been collected en masse. However, there is plenty of evidence suggestion strong value that as of yet is largely untapped. Social is a powerful vehicle for reaching and nurturing customers, as more than four in five U.S. online adults now participate socially.
In terms of social’s value within the enterprise, the analysts are unanimous in their support. Per Gartner, “Social software supports virtual environments where participants create, organize and share information; find, connect and interact with each other; and analyze the relationships among participants. Social software can improve collaboration, spur creativity and facilitate decision making.”
Forrester Research makes the case stating, “Among the new modes of working, greater collaboration between designers and other internal stakeholders — such as manufacturing, sales, and marketing — has enabled innovation leaders to harness contributions and feedback from more business perspectives, get the product right the first time, and generate repeatable returns on their new product development efforts.”
The Solution – “Social Business Collaboration”
Social in the enterprise is inevitable. It holds the potential for tremendous new value. It also presents some very real concerns. The solution is to focus on “social business collaboration” by utilizing the right purpose- built technology platform.
How do you do that? By grounding your enterprise social collaborations strictly within the context of business processes and business events. Bringing social collaboration into corporate processes in a controlled and actionable way is how you will yield new business opportunities.
An advanced Business Process Management (BPM) software platformwith intuitive social collaboration capabilities puts social in the required business context across the enterprise, through the supply chain, and out to customers. It gives employees of all levels a filtered, personalized view of the business events that matter to them. It also delivers the ability to take immediate business action directly from the social interface, whether that means a simple approval, a quick collaboration to resolve an issue, or the launching of a new case for further attention.
The platform must also easily integrate with external 3rd-party enterprise systems, such as Salesforce.com, and provide the ability to not only read data, but write data back to the system of record. To be truly effective in harnessing external information and ad hoc events outside of, but impacting, the enterprise, it must also incorporate pure social systems such as Twitter or LinkedIn directly into an employee’s event view. These external social channels represent a growing and untapped source of new insights into customer sentiment, sales opportunities, support issues and more.
An advanced BPM platform leverages the collective knowledge of an enterprise to gain efficiency and improve the quality of processes through a familiar social interface that spurs adoption and easy use. The hallmarks of such a platform include:
Key Event Monitoring to track events from people and systems in real-time, with auto- generated alerts on hazards that could impact the business and take immediate action from the feed or mobile interface
Personalised, Filtered Views that can be subscribed to across relevant application or process areas
Easy Collaboration for comments, questions and collaborations on business events through real-time message posts and ad-hoc updates to targeted groups within and outside of pre-planned business processes
The Ability to Take Action to complete tasks from directly inside the event feed (or with a truly advanced platform, from a mobile device, using optimized mobile forms to capture data and route tasks.
High Security making all information and data accessible through role-based permissions and securely transmitted using SSL to web (and mobile) interfaces
Forrester Research advises, “To thrive in an era of Social Computing, companies must abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their products and services, use employees and partners as marketers, and become part of a living fabric of brand loyalists.” This is what the transformation from “Social Technology” to “Social Business Collaboration” enables. It grounds social in the enterprise in a business context, increasing the manageability of social interactions, and achieving more meaningful, effective and valuable collaborations across the organization and outside the four walls.
So, for corporate executives wary of what all the social buzz means for their business, my advice is to investigate an advanced BPM Suite platform. Your employees will thank you, your customers will thank you, and you’ll have one less thing to give you indigestion.
Editor’s Note: Myloop is a cost-effective entry point for social business collaboration for any business above 1 person. It fulfills all of the 5 key hallmarks noted above, AND it is mobile, so you can work from wherever your are with your iPhone or iPad. Watch Myloop TV here, to see it at work.
About the Author
Ben Farrell is a Director at Appian, a BPM software innovation leader. Courtesy BPM.com