There have been many seismic shifts in the IT professional role over the years. From mainframes to client/server to cloud, and everything in between, IT pros have had their integration, security, management, and strategic work cut out for them. Then along came social.

Social networking in the enterprise is a particularly challenging technology nut for IT to crack because so much of it can and does exist outside of the IT department’s orbit. With that said, IT must demonstrate that it is the go-to department during the process of planning, implementing, maintaining, and extending organizations’ social collaboration platforms and presence. Following are just some of the questions IT pros should be prepared to answer–and pose–when the business comes knocking.

1. Do we really need a social networking policy? Yes. A social networking policy, like any acceptable use policy, protects the company in the case of technology misuse by end users. But a social collaboration policy should be as much about what users should do as what they shouldn’t do. All departments in an organization should provide feedback, but the IT department’s input is especially important in terms of guiding use within the context of security, privacy, and extensibility.

2. How can we integrate social collaboration functionality with our existing systems? This area is key, because social in a vacuum provides relatively little value for the business. The real payoff comes when social collaboration capabilities are integrated with applications such as customer relationship management and the data generated can be meaningfully analyzed.

3. What kinds of social collaboration functionality already exists in our systems? IT departments should be ready to update existing platforms with social collaboration functions being added to them, as well as to fully exploit those capabilities. Microsoft SharePoint 2010, for example, provides improved profiles and dynamic feed and tagging capabilities. As always, IT should be researching and evaluating the return on updates to existing systems, but close attention should be paid to social updates that could be leveraged to improve the organization’s effectiveness.

4. What are the biggest security concerns, and how do we overcome them? There is no denying that social networking surfaces new security risks. One of the biggest is phishing leading to the download of malware. This has been a problem for some time, of course, but the nature of social networking makes it easier for people with nefarious intentions to distribute the kind of information that would convince a person to click on something they shouldn’t. Will the IT department be providing training to end users? Are the appropriate levels of data loss prevention and antivirus software installed? Are end users’ mobile systems’ protected, as well?

5. Do we need to train our end users? Or can we assume that if you’ve friended someone on Facebook, you know everything you need to know? End users need to be trained in the proper security precautions to take when using social collaboration tools, but they may also need to be trained in the general do’s and don’ts of maintaining a social presence on behalf of the company. Will the IT department provide training in blogging tools? The etiquette of social networking? The intricacies of the different platforms the business is using? (For example, how Facebook is different from Twitter is different from LinkedIn?) All of this should not fall on the IT department alone, but IT should be prepared to be involved in the training, or at the very least know what the expectations and policies are.

6. What’s next? Are you up to date on Google’s relatively new Google+? Do you know how Google+’s Circles function compared with Facebook’s just-released “smart lists,” groups formed automatically based on profile information a user’s friends have in common? The IT department will have a good handle on the social collaboration tools deployed within the organization (a la Salesforce.com’s Chatter), but there are few organizations that can or should ignore public social networks, and IT needs to be up on those, too. Changes to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. come fast and furious, and the changes can have a huge impact on the business. It will be important that the IT department stay up to date and able to speak to how any change will affect the security and privacy of the company and its customers.

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