The impact of social media on IT

The impact of social media on IT

Yesterday I explored in detail on ZDNet some of the issues that businesses are encountering as social media moves into the enterprise space in a truly strategic way this year. Not only is there a proliferation of new applications for external and internal social media, but traditional business applications are often getting social media capabilities incorporated into them. I cited Salesforce, Saba, Oracle, and SAP as just a few of the many examples I’m aware of as enterprise vendors add social media functionality to their existing products.

This is posing a growing challenge for organizations that are trying to assemble a mature set of social media capabilities across their business. It hasn’t helped that social business initiatives have — up until recently — consisted of very separate efforts focused primarily on social media marketing and internal collaboration (aka Enterprise 2.0) often with side bets on crowdsourcing and Social CRM. This has often meant the acquisition of very different social media products and services both on-premises as well as SaaS, each with their own social architecture, social identity, search functionality, etc. Now that the social business discussion is moving up to the CIO level in many of the large organizations I’m talking with, this has led to a growing desire to reconcile and make sense of social media platform investment and application portfolios across the enterprise.

Social Business & Social Media Service Delivery Issues for IT Departments

To put in plainly, there’s a lot of work to do here, both on the IT side and the social media vendor side. It’s currently too difficult to integrate today’s social media products into a set of coherent and consistent social business capabilities with unified security, identity, discovery, analytics, management and governance. Some of the issues are technical and some of them are organizational but fortunately it turns out that gaining intellectual control of enterprise social media is certainly possible today. Frameworks and approaches of above 1.0 maturity for this now exist, such as Social Business Design (disclaimer: This is the process we use ourselves.)

So businesses have some choices to make today if they want to organize better around social media. The first choice is the set of platforms, technologies, and standards they would like to have. The second is the processes, organizational structures, and cultural/behavioral changes they’d like to see realized. And finally, the third set is the level of resources, prioritization, and funding that will be provided. IT departments will be affected by all of these, but the first and last ones the most, and yet they must also understand that it’s likely that social media is going to become a function in the organization that is somewhat similar to theirs. I currently see a growing parallel between IT departments and social business units, in that they supply capabilities across the business and support new business initiatives so that they’re successful in using technology to create better outcomes. Whether social business units ultimately become part of IT (not likely in most organizations in my opinion), move into HR or corporate communications, or become an independent unit is a trend that is still unclear, but these are the most likely scenarios of who ends up in charge of enterprise social media.

What is clear, however, is that social media is having an immediate and sustained impact on IT decisions at the moment. Sometimes this is a disruptive impact because social media now deeply affects how IT delivers on intranets, portals, collaboration, unified communication, content/document management, workflow, and business intelligence (at the very least.) This means there are some hard choices to make. They also ones that once made will well situate the organization to much more naturally, gracefully, and effectively incorporate social media in the way it achieves top-line business objectives.

To reduce the undesirable aspect of social media impact and better capture the many upsides, IT departments should think carefully about several key issues related to 1) social media standards, 2) federated platform selection, and 3) on-the-ground consumer-style enablement of business uses of social media. In particular, this will help define a clear vision as social business service delivery is becoming increasingly blurry as organizations acquire a growing portfolio of internal and external social business platforms that also connect to existing IT systems that are in turn getting their own social media features. The list below will help focus on what’s important while enabling the business to meet its needs.

Preparing for Social Business as a Strategic IT Capability

I’ve covered the highest level management issues in getting a large enterprise strategically ready for social business before in Introducing The Social Business Unit and Organizing for Social Business: The Issues, so these are the concerns specific for preparing on the IT side of the house:

  1. Vigorously encourage social computing standards, but don’t be held back by their immaturity. Enterprises have not pushed hard for standards in social software like we’ve done in previous generations of IT. Consequently most of the social media standards that exist today are consumer-focused. We cannot forget standards enable choice, interoperability, ensure pools of talent, prevent lock-in, lower costs, and provide many other benefits. Portable social graphs, open activity streams, standardized social applications are the focus here but there are other standardization issues as well. Not every vendor will support the emerging standards for enterprise social media and choices are going to be limited at first. It is essential for IT to defend this position and provide the advantages to the business in regards to social media. Security and mobility should also not be an afterthought in this discussion either.
  2. Actively support business-centric social media platform selections. Unfortunately, I see IT departments encouraging the use of legacy platforms that aren’t what are sometimes called “born social”. There’s also more capability to acquire that just a base social network, social CMS, or social intranet platform. There is also social listening, analytics, management, compliance, and governance. Business users won’t necessarily know all the required moving parts for a mature and sophisticated social media capability but IT should and must. I’ll be exploring the social business stack soon to look at this in more detail, but the key is for IT to have a very open mind about building a set of strategic capabilities that makes sense for each of the various functions of the enterprise that will be heavily involved in social media. This is essential for genuine success since what IT either has on the shelf or wants to deliver as a one-size-fits-all to everyone is usually inadequate. Significantly poorer outcomes will also result when dealing with the platform capabilities of each part of the social business spectrum in isolation.
  3. Proactively enable independent social media action on the ground with strong IT support. Social media is about empowering people and specifically here we’re talking about empowering workers with social media. They need tools, help, and support for their particular social business activity, whether that is sales, marketing, product development, customer care, or what have you. They will be looking, perhaps just once, at IT for help for service delivery with this. IT must enable and support choice and the widest possible options for both internal and external social business. Not doing so means that business users will be driven to service providers that can meet their requirements and deadlines, which often puts social media outside the range of IT involvement and governance. Preparing ahead of time for the growing lists of requests that I’m already hearing from IT managers means planning ahead and following an emergent enterprise architecture approach. Take this to heart and support centrally, while empowering locally.


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