You can’t say Gartner is inconsistent.
Another analyst from the venerable research company has written a report highlighting the value that social software, which ranges from simple e-mail to social networks, social bookmarks, blogs and wikis, can have for enterprises.
Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann isn’t just advocating the use of enterprise-tailored social software, such as IBM’s Lotus Connections, but specifically the popular consumer applications, such as Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter, to improve employee workflow.
First, business executives, from the CEO to the CIO, need to stop denying that these applications are being used in their ranks, Mann said. They need to accept the fact that workers are updating their colleagues through Facebook or Twitter, and not condemn them for it.
“Although 25 percent of companies (according to an informal survey of firewall and network hygiene vendors) block access to social networking sites, companies cannot simply continue to ban access to such sites from the corporate network,” Mann wrote in his report, “Bring Facebook, Wikipedia and Del.icio.us in-House: Why Consumer Social Software Is Better than for What You Are Paying,” which he will present at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando in October.
Mann said company leaders should allow staff to be responsible for their content, rather than relying on technical controls to solve management issues.
Mann also said the key is to stop denying that the use is occurring, and to embrace and extend that use. One way to do that is for company leaders to spell out policies for acceptable software use:
“At a minimum, organizations need to have some kind of policy or some kind of idea of what they can be doing with those consumer sites, and there are some things that they can do directly with them, for example, using them as a portal to project some of their information into the sites that employees or customers already use.“
Mann said such policies must be hammered out and enforced by company’s public relations, legal and human resources departments, and, of course, management. Often, the lead orchestrator of such policies could come from the business group that most desires to leverage social software in its department.
Facebook, Lotus Connections to Co-exist
When it’s all said and done, employees need to be accountable for how they use social software, as Mann noted: “If you wouldn’t talk about an unannounced product at a cocktail party, don’t talk about it on Wikipedia. That takes care of a large proportion of the problems.”
One positive exercise in adapting Facebook for the enterprise is Faceforce, a connector for Salesforce.com‘s AppExchange that pulls Facebook profile information into Salesforce account, lead and contact records in real time, providing users with photos and other personal details of participating customers, prospects and business associates.
When Avenue A/Razorfish needed a tool to combine the projects and knowledge of its employees in 19 offices worldwide, Mann said, it concocted a hybrid wiki-and-blog platform as a central repository for sharing ideas and content. The platform leverages e-mail threads, blogs and deliverables, making them part of a searchable database for employees.
As I think I’ve made clear, I’m all for responsible social software use in businesses. Why wouldn’t I be? Twitter is an invaluable tool, which my colleagues and I use to pitch our stories and blog posts to the public. In that regard, I find it infinitely more useful and less time-consuming than Facebook.
One thing nibbled at my brain. Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Delicious and Digg have millions of users. Most corporate-oriented social applications, such as Lotus Connections or products from Jive Software, Awareness and others, are unlikely to achieve the scale of the consumer apps.
With that nugget in mind, I asked Mann if these consumer apps might eclipse the apps tailored for enterprises, rendering them obsolete. But IBM, Jive and Awareness can rest easy. Mann said there is a place for both types of apps.
For example, banks, law firms and other corporations with highly sensitive or proprietary information will prefer to leverage social apps with guaranteed enterprise-grade security. Mann said:
“If you’re on an merger and acquisitions team, you don’t want to be tagging information about what companies you want to acquire on Del.icio.us. There is nothing inherently risky in the technology itself-archiving, audit trails, scalability and other enterprise software qualities apply here, too. Much of what goes on within an organization will need to be restricted, while other activities may not belong in a social software environment at all.“
Of course, not even iron-clad enterprise apps will prevent foolish employees from libeling, slandering or spilling trade secrets. But life is full of wild cards, and you can’t throw out every social application baby with the bathwater, so to speak.