10 Ways To Transform Into A Social Enterprise

Here's expert advice from IBM's Connect 2012 conference on how to take social networking from a fringe activity to a business core competency.

Eric Lundquist

January 18, 2012

6 Min Read
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Three recent events emphasize the need to put social enterprise transformation at the top of your business to-do list for 2012. The first was the recent Consumer Electronics Show featuring gadgets galore, from companies that may or may not be in business a year from now. The second was the hack of Zappos' customer database, which appears to have exposed 24 million customer passwords. The third was the recent IBM Connect 2012 event (held in conjunction with the annual Lotusphere gathering) in Orlando (See What Enterprise Social Success Stories Have In Common.)

These three events, not as unrelated as they first seem, provide a strong reason to take your company's social networking activity from the fringe, where marketing and individuals do their own things, to the realm of core competency, where you embrace a business vision of the social enterprise. The core competency that you want to build is tightly knit (even if geographically dispersed) employee teams that tune into customer needs in order to create products and services that delight customers and bury your competition.

Unlike the case in the social consumer space, the social enterprise must have all the security and privacy features that a business requires. You also need a strong business foundation of measurable value and you must retain control of the social network attributes, rather than handing over control to the big, sprawling consumer networks.

Before I get into the 10 ways to transform your company, I'll highlight the reasons why those three recent events should be a call to social action.

While CES is a fun show to attend and the gadgets are great to see, it is difficult to see how those gadgets will transform your company. The companies used the social networks to try and build marketing buzz, but I've attended enough of these shows to know that once the buzz dies, so do many of the vendors. Following the CES model of buzz for buzz's sake does not a sustainable company make. The social enterprise will become core to your company's business and technology strategy; it shouldn't be just an event add-on.

The Zappos hack illustrates why your customer information has to be the top priority. While no database is absolutely secure, the tools are now in place to alert technology administrators to unusual activity, place infrequently accessed data into secure, encrypted storage, and disperse information across a range of systems rather than provide one target. One breach can wipe out customer trust (though Zappos is getting good marks from security experts for its handling of the breach, so far.)

The social enterprise was in full view at the Connect2012 event. IBM is one of many vendors chasing the social enterprise model, but it has moved further than most of its peers in providing the underpinnings of social networks combined with traditional enterprise privacy, security, and compliance features. IBM may have been forced into the social enterprise model by its own size and dispersed nature. As Jeanette Horan, IBM CIO, noted, IBM has 425,000 employees (plus 100,000 contractors) operating in 175 countries, and half of those employees work at home or at client sites. So mobility, social networks, and dispersed team creation are necessities.

"The use of social media is becoming critical to IBM," said Horan.Here are the 10 steps to consider for social transformation:

1. Think of the social enterprise as a core competency, not an add-on. As Wendy Arnott, VP of social media at TD Bank said during a presentation at Connect2012, "You have to align with the core values of the company." Treating social as something that takes place in human resources or marketing will doom the project to inactivity.

2. Think way beyond technology. Creating the social enterprise uses technology, but it is not a technology project. Tying together dispersed groups into development teams utilizes technology, but must come from a top-down leadership commitment.

3. Acknowledge risks. The idea of a transparent, open enterprise is a difficult concept to champion in many companies--particularly in heavily regulated operations. As Arnott outlined, you should face the risks head on, build a team that includes legal, security, and other departments, and work through the list, until you get to the risks that cannot be discounted and must be part of the social enterprise plan

4. Think mobile from the outset. Mobility has to be an integral part of the social enterprise. Your employees are mobile, your customers are mobile, and tablet and smartphone use will only increase.

5. Start small. Model your use of social tools for collaboration and communication starting with small groups from across your company. Work out the bugs with those groups, then roll out the social capabilities in stages. This is not unlike traditional enterprise software deployment strategy, but you'll need to operate at a faster pace and be ready for comparisons with consumer social networking tools.

6. Think single sign-on. That's a key social enterprise element, along with a single content management system and an employee skills and capabilities database. Multiple systems requiring multiple sign-ons only lead to confusion and lack of use

7. Don't bet on immediate ROI. The biggest return on investment may not be immediately apparent. Michael Chui, a senior fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute, told Connect2012 attendees that faster product development, faster speed of access to internal experts, and faster time to market capabilities have all surfaced in McKinsey's research into the social business. But those benefits are often not immediately quantifiable from a project's outset.

8. Apply analytics to the social network. This may be one of the biggest differences if you compare creating a social business to merely doing social activities. You need to use the business intelligence techniques that you have applied to the internal workings of your company to the external operations, including brand and customer sentiment.

9. Bring customers into the company-wide social network. Restricting customer interaction to customer service centers and help desks is a prescription for failure. Customers are obviously the best source of information about how your company is perceived and performing. Those customer interactions need to be visible throughout your organization.

10. Question your speed. "Are you as an organization learning as fast as the world is changing?" That was the big question posed by William Taylor, founding editor of Fast Company. Taylor, the author of Practically Radical, told the Connect2012 audience that it's the transformation to a fast learning company that will distinguish winners from losers in the socially networked economy.

As I stated earlier, IBM is not alone in offering up a social business agenda. Salesforce.com, Microsoft, and many other vendors in the enterprise space have their own products and services, of course. My advice is not to get too caught up in the product feature-by-feature comparisons. Use these 10 steps to build a broad social strategy, then use it to judge vendor offerings.

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About the Author(s)

Eric Lundquist

VP & Editorial Analyst for InformationWeek Business Technology Network

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