Avanade: Social media for B2B not big yet

Use of social media for business-to-business communications is not a big trend yet but companies are using existing tools to connect intra- and inter-company, says Avanade CEO.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

The use of social media among companies for business-to-business (B2B) communication is not a "big trend" yet, said Avanade CEO Adam Warby, but notes that existing collaboration technology has made it easy to bring together customers, suppliers, partners.



In an interview with ZDNet Asia, the IT veteran said technology has made it increasingly flexible for companies that are looking to bring together multidisciplinary teams with different backgrounds and skill sets.

The CEO used his own company as an example; he is based in the U.K. but the headquarters is in Seattle, United States.

He said that while most staff and customers were based in the U.S., being in London helped him to better manage the company globally across different time zones between East and West. Technology has helped him to "blend" the workflow of his management team, he said.

Warby took over as CEO of Avanade in 2008, after being one of the founding members of the company when it was created in 2000--a result of a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture.

During his trip to Singapore, he shared how the technology landscape changed since the founding of the company, how Avanade has grown, and his first hand experience with how social media can be a double edged sword for companies.

When Avanade was founded, did it take a lot to convince you to switch from Microsoft, where you were a general manager for software sales and support?
It was a big decision for us because we had to leave our existing careers. I was nearly 10 years with Microsoft, which I joined in 1991. I could remember very well thinking hard about it. I think it was a unique opportunity for such two successful companies to come together and create a new business like this. I thought this was just not going to happen again.

Besides that, it was the clarity of what Microsoft and Accenture wanted to create that convinced me. The companies wanted to bring the passion for technology from the Microsoft side and the focus on customer service and delivery on Accenture's side. Twelve years on, it's still the heart of the company.

Since the inception of Avanade until now, how has the technology scene evolved?
There's two aspects to this. From the Microsoft aspect, its reputation was still in the desktop operating system during the formation of Avanade. The launch of Windows 2000 and the .Net framework were very important milestones for Microsoft as it was the launch pad for it to become a true enterprise provider.

E-commerce was the buzz at that time. People were saying dot-com this and dot-com that but we were a bit counterculture in some ways. We were saying, "Yes, that's really important stuff but you also have to build scalable infrastructure and develop systems that are flexible for the future."

Since then, Microsoft has gotten into the business solutions business with their Dynamics suit, for example Dynamics CRM and ERP.

From Avanade's aspect, we've developed long term relationships with our customers. They want us to work more closely with them to understand their businesses. So we're drawn into new types of work such as managed services as well as projects.

I think [the partnership between Microsoft and Accenture] is successful based on the growth of Avanade. We've grown at a compound annual growth rate of more than 20 percent over our history. We're now an over US$1.3 billion business with 15,000 employees in over 20 countries around the world. It's a big business now but we think there are still lots of opportunities.

One of the tech trends these days is cloud computing. How do you see yourselves in the age of cloud with competitors such as Salesforce?
Salesforce is a provider of software-as-a-service based CRM, so is Microsoft and so are we. For us, we can provide different levels and quality of technology. Some customers don't want to have their data in the public cloud or offshore and we can provide not just the public cloud but the private and managed cloud technology.

Our role is to take the technology platform--Microsoft in our case--and really provide a product to fit their business needs, different levels of security and support.

The software-as-a-service has two parts: the software and the "as-a-service" part. The "as-a-service" part is where we can really make a difference.

Does this also mean that customers don't need services from Avanade since they can get the service themselves?
We have no concerns about that. It's just the way technology goes, we have to adjust to time. SaaS means less help on installation and implementation but more time and opportunity to focus on customization, configuration and user experience. That should be good for the customer and good for us.

Moving on to another trend--social media. I read on your blog that one of the CIOs from a Fortune 500 company contacted you through LinkedIn and you clinched the deal in the end. Are you seeing many C-level executives being active on social media like you or are they more hesitant?
It's an evolving story and a generational thing as well. Depending on what industry you are in, social media becomes more natural for the executive. Industries that have a large consumer base and know that reaching customers is part of the game tend to be big users of social media.

In our industry, social media is a big thing so I use it. I think over time, different industries will evolve. We are only at the beginning of this revolution.

The types of social media we have today will be different ones tomorrow. One of the things we encourage our customers to think about is to not assume that the social media models that work today, such as the Facebook model, the blogging model, are the only ones. People will have many different ways of interacting.

Would you recommend other C-level executives from non-consumer facing companies to start social media?
I would look at two things: your employees and your customers. I think if you've got things to say as a leader, whether you're a CEO or CXO, using social media is a great way to reach customers and employee.

I would also recommend doing it in small bites and different media. I do a little video blogs, microblogs internally.I think people are interested in what's going on and that level of connectivity is important.

Do you see companies using social media or Web 2.0 tools to connect with one another? Or are they still very traditional?
It's not something I've seen as a big trend at the moment. Again, you have to look at the industries that will be leaders and adopters in that area.

What I see is that the way people bring a team together is increasingly flexible. We host our own Sharepoint collaboration environment and we make that available to our customers. We give permission to other communities--contractors, providers--to join in that community.

If you think of that as a foundation. There's no reason why you can't have communication tools or social media sitting on top of it. I think that global and multidisciplinary team communications is the heart of what people want.

I heard that you received a complaint over social media. How did that turn out?
It was a way of the customer raising a customer satisfaction issue with me. I was actually traveling then. I got on my phone and I was able to contact the country manager involved. He was aware of the issue and we had a follow up call with the CIO. We worked it through in the end.

I think it was the person's way of testing if we were connected and if we were serious about them. We were doing a collaboration project with them. We resolved the issue and he turned out to be a satisfied customer.

Sometimes it's easy to tell a positive story about somebody contacting me and we got this wonderful piece of business, but you know, it works both ways.

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