Social means business

Social computing is one of Forrester's top 15 enterprise technologies to watch.

Last week at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference we found more evidence of the changing nature of enterprise collaboration. Both customers and vendors provided evidence that social networking was quickly moving into the enterprise landscape and warrants the attention due a potential game changer. There are three trends that warrant attention:

  • Forward thinking organizations are developing broad collaboration strategies that embrace social networking while recognizing and managing associated risk. In fact, it is becoming clear that a well managed strategy with regard to social in the enterprise should lower risk associated privacy, security and compliance. Sounds counter-intuitive? Well, transparency is a beautiful thing.
  • The vendor landscape is vibrant. At many conferences these days, the standard refrain is "in this economy". Not here. Vendors are investing heavily in new capabilities and are being rewarded with robust business. 
  • Businesses are getting real value. The early stage pilots of the last couple of years have proven to be successful and many organizations are moving from concept to broad deployment with high hopes for more and more value. The early adopters are also interesting. Defense, health care, financial services all sharing success stories and proving that risk is manageable even in the most stringent environments.

What does success look like? In almost every case, there are two parts to the story. First, a known process is addressed and the results are positive. It's common to hear stories that begin with " We used to do this in email...". Freeing organizations from the inefficiencies of chasing emails can provide a string starting point to realizing value. (No, email does not go away, it just goes back to doing what it does well which is not content and project management.)

The second part of the story is where the light bulb goes on. Now in fairness, this is generally not a surprise as most organizations PLAN for the light bulb to go on. However, no two organizations see this happen in quite the same way. The moment comes when broad sharing of information leads to a result that could not have happened otherwise. People-centric collaboration leads to the connection of people to content and expertise that they otherwise would never have found. Communities are very good at driving action because they free information and create a context for collective action. Sound a bit too fluffy? The wins are anything but. That's why the most traditional and risk averse organizations got up at Enterprise 2.0 and outlined their successes and plans to move forward.

Forrester predicts that social computing is one of the Top 15 Technology Trends and that it warrants investment now so your organization can begin to understand these transformational benefits. Where do you begin:

  • Engage with a motivated business leader to create a pilot. Outline the criteria for success. Make it concrete but realize that it will be hard to measure exactly. "We expect to reduce the cost of proposal generation by 30%" is going to be difficult to prove. "We expect to have better access to information and expertise to get our jobs done" is too high level to be taken seriously. "We expect to be able to produce proposals more quickly and with higher quality" is just right. Why? Because your business sponsor can attest to that result and the result will be taken seriously.
  • Start small. There is ample opportunity to this at a very low cost and with a small, albeit motivated, number of resources. Prove the value before moving to larger roll outs. Keep in mind that even a small pilot will require cooperation from some parts of your organization that might be skeptical, like legal and HR. Get them on board from the beginning.
  • Plan for pervasive adoption. In the long run, the real wins will come from communities that self-identify how to determine value. Be prepared for huge serendipitous wins. The broader information is shared and the more widely networks connect, the more wins that will result.

And, you get to have fun.