Designing the Social Enterprise in the Facebook Era

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2012-01-16

Designing the Social Enterprise in the Facebook Era

When a company needs to add a new technology platform that will improve business processes for employees and customers, the tendency is to tap the CIO to do the work. After all, he or she is the person responsible for the company's tech infrastructure.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this is also true for businesses that need to implement a social networking platform. But it's not the case, according to Gartner analyst Anthony Bradley. The CEO is the one who needs to pick the most appropriate platform.


The answer is simple: Social networking is a people-driven technology first and an information technology second.

"The CIO cannot make a business social," Bradley said. "Only the CEO or senior business leadership can make the business social."  

Bradley co-authored a book on the social media for businesses, titled, "The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees."

Unfortunately, that's not the way a lot of large businesses are going about crafting their social enterprise. On the contrary, many companies practice "provide and pray." That is, the IT organization rolls out social media software and hundreds or thousands of employees run wild with it.

A classic fail case is when a company replaces their corporate directory with a social network. They hope that something good comes of it and that users participate.

Unfortunately, this approach fails 99 percent of the time, Bradley said.

Success with social media is a nut that has to be cracked by business leadership, not technology, he said. It's only when management figures out what it wants to do with social technologies that it can go ahead and work with the CIO and the IT department on choosing and implementing the right social tools.

This is a big shift for IT since IT has long been used to just setting up a platform for email and instant messaging and making sure it's properly upgraded.

And that's the next huge challenge: figuring out what tools are needed. Does a company simply require blogs for individual messaging, discussion groups for customers or both, with a heavy dose of Facebook-style social media, such as user profiles with the ability to share photos, videos, status updates, events and documents? 

Forrester Research is so confident in this market that it believes such tools will replace classic unified communications and collaboration suites in a few years. This emerging market for social enterprise software will grow at a compound annual rate of 61 percent through 2016, topping out at $6.4 billion, according to a Nov. 30 report.

Vendors such as Jive, IBM, Microsoft, and a cornucopia of others stand at the ready to provide such tools. Fortune 500 companies such as Ford Motor Co., General Electric and AT&T are experimenting with, or have selected, such software tools for their employees and possibly even customers.

Ford typifies the classic large enterprise that is dabbling in social networking software, and Bradley acknowledged the motor vehicle company as an enterprise that has enjoyed repeated success in social media.

Ford has between 40,000 and 50,000 knowledge workers using Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software suite, which includes shared workspaces and Microsoft Communicator for unified communications.

Ford, Allscripts Use Different Social Software

SharePoint is actually one of the leading social software suites despite being conceived as an old-school collaboration tool. When looking under the hood, SharePoint is actually a legacy collaboration product that has bolted on social tools from NewsGator and Telligent, giving it Facebook-like user profiles, status updates and other perks.

Scott Monty, director of social media for Ford, acknowledged the irony of relying on SharePoint in its attempt at being progressive in social media. However, he said the company isn't standing still. He has about 10,000 co-workers using the increasingly popular Yammer social platform, which began life as a sort of Twitter for enterprises, letting users within a business network post simple status updates.

Monty said he saw Yammer at TechCrunch50 in 2008 and began using it with his colleagues before it expanded from its "grassroots experience" to more users at Ford.

"It gives us a better view of what people are working on," Monty said, adding that the Yammer dashboard has replaced the Microsoft Outlook email inbox for many users. The Yammer dashboard asks the ultimate collaboration question: "What are you working on?"

Monty said he will continue to evaluate social networking tools at Ford to see what solutions might best help employees communicate and collaborate. However, the company is still by and large using SharePoint as its main platform for social collaboration.

For larger companies such as Ford, the evolution toward a social-networked enterprise is a gradual process.

Social networking also evolves in companies that use the technology to connect with customers, clients and partners. Allscripts, which develops health information software that is used by more than 180,000 physicians and 1,500 hospitals, is a great example of such a business.

Allscripts uses Jive Software's Social Business Suite to power its external-facing Client Connect social network, which lets 28,000 Allscripts customer-service workers connect with clients and for those clients to connect with each other. That platform evolved from two separate platforms-one from Allscripts and the other from Eclipsys, the clinical performance management software company Allscripts acquired in 2010. Allscripts was using Lithium's social software suite, while Eclipsys was using Jive.

"What we needed to do was bring those two communities together to cover our entire client base," said Laurie McGraw, chief client officer for Allscripts. "We determined that Jive would best meet the needs for both our growth expectations for the social community as well as the way that we interact with them." 

After a careful evaluation, Allscripts picked Jive.

Through Client Connect, Allscripts hosts discussion forums spanning various health care information products. There are also advisory forums where Allscripts chats with clients. Clients can vote on Allscripts product enhancements and provide suggestions for product enhancements. Client Connect is growing its membership by 1,500 users each month.

While the examples of Ford and Allscripts may portend great things for social media in businesses, those companies are at the vanguard of social software deployment. The truth is the use of such software in businesses is still very much in its infancy.

Forrester-the same research firm that projects social media software in enterprises to top $6.4 billion by 2016-found that only 28 percent of nearly 5,000 U.S. information workers surveyed this year said they use social software monthly.

"The employees currently using the technology are early adopters of technology-individuals with high incomes and positive attitudes about technology-who are mostly testing the waters at this point," Forrester analyst T.J. Keitt wrote in an Oct. 31 report.

To that end, collaboration professionals need to understand how social tools are currently being used before they design their own social enterprise.

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