More of us have social media accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter which we use to share experiences or opinions and maintain relationships with friends, family and colleagues.
While social media is fast becoming part of the everyday fabric of our personal lives, it remains relatively untouched in the workplace – but that's starting to change. Social business technologies are a new breed of collaboration tools that control how people interact and communicate in their work environment.
Examples are corporate social networks (CSN), which allow users to create professional profiles, post status updates or blogs and follow other colleagues, or social collaboration tools which allow teams and groups to share information and discuss ideas and issues through secure online forums.
Most communication within an organisation currently happens over email. This can be frustrating and distracting as inboxes are flooded with irrelevant, disjointed or outdated message chains. Social collaboration tools can be an excellent remedy for some of these frustrations.
The goal of social business is simple – to make it easier to find subject matter experts and communicate with colleagues in working towards collective business objectives. By pooling the knowledge of the right people at the right time, highly efficient teams are better placed to collaborate on new ideas, develop strategic plans and rapidly solve problems than those who rely on ploughing through emails to garner information.
For any sceptics, the McKinsey Global Institute report estimates that social technologies have the potential to raise the productivity of large organisations by 20 and 25 per cent. For example, for businesses whose strategy relies heavily on bringing new products or services to market, introducing a social collaboration tool that harnesses the collective power of the entire workforce can reap tremendous awards, such as , making ideas sharing more productive or ensuring that all parties are fully informed on production timescales.
Likewise, for professional services organisations employing mostly knowledge based workers, CSNs provide a more efficient means of communication and collaboration on projects and documents than lengthy, disjointed email chains.
For businesses whose success depends on bringing together a diverse group of people both internally and externally, then the networking aspects of CSN can greatly improve that process. CSNs enable users to search and connect with appropriate personnel either within the organisation or as part of the wider network of partners, suppliers and customers.
For every success story, however, there are numerous examples of failed social initiatives, with CSNs becoming a glorified internal newsletter or even completely redundant. Most failed initiatives have three things in common.
First, the social tools are implemented without a clear understanding of the benefits or alignment with business or team objectives. Second, these tools tend to be separate applications, unrelated to the existing tools and processes that users already have, thus becoming 'yet another thing to do'. Finally, the tools are generally introduced to the community through a simple invitation email, not through a managed change control process. As a result, users are reluctant to learn and use a new piece of technology, especially one that doesn't explicitly answer the question of 'what's in it for me?'
Successful implementations, on the other hand, explicitly specify the benefits that individuals, teams and the entire organisation can achieve. Before jumping in and embrace the socially connected enterprise, sufficient consideration still needs to be given to the security implications.
Social collaboration tools are in theory more secure than email as there is less risk from spam or virus attacks. Likewise, any messages posted can only be seen by the selected members of the group and not accidentally emailed to the entire company or beyond. Of course there's a risk that messages can be posted to the wrong forum, but it is possible to take appropriate action to address these.
However, as social adoption increases and group membership grows organically, often without the involvement of a firm's IT security teams, it brings with it additional risk.
Without sufficient checks in place, members may still be able to access their social groups after they have left an organisation or after their job role has changed. This is particularly important in the financial sector where corporate or legal reasons prevent certain employees communicating with each other – known as Chinese or ethical walls.
In fact, in many instances, security and compliance are inherently linked which may pose a barrier to adoption of corporate social networks and see many firms missing out on the benefits brought by the technology.
However, with the right processes in place, social collaboration can be just as compliant as email and can transform how organisations operate by extracting the most valuable asset of all – knowledge. By sharing it with the entire organisation, projects can be driven forward and productivity increased.
Daanish Khan is head of strategy at the Formicary Collaboration Group