Social tech in biz more than collaboration

Using social tools for internal communications can facilitate sharing of knowledge and ideas in an organization, say market players. But one observer notes that social businesses go beyond just collaboration.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Social tools in enterprises can boost employee communication as well as facilitate sharing of knowledge and ideas, said market players who also touched on how to include such technologies in the organization.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Benjamin Gauthey, Microsoft's digital marketing lead for the Asia-Pacific region, said integrating social computing tools into an organization's internal communication processes can help address core business challenges.

With such tools, leaders will have more ways to connect, while employees can become advocates as well as locate knowledge and expertise, he explained.

Christopher Blake, Lotus collaboration executive at IBM Asean, noted in an e-mail that the terms social business and social media are sometimes used in the same context. However, they are two different concepts to Big Blue, he said.

Social business, according to him, is "a business that embraces networks of people to create business value", while social media is the use of consumer-based social technologies and social networking sites to communicate and engage with consumers, he explained.

Microsoft's Gauthey concurred, noting that social computing for the enterprise extends beyond social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, to include internal resources such as Microsoft SharePoint, blogs, RSS, and wikis.

He added that social computing is a natural evolution of collaboration--a shift from focus on content to people. "It is simply how organizations derive business value from the experiences and ideas produced through the use of collaboration technologies that are modeled after natural social behavior," he said.

According to Steve McWhirter, Salesforce.com's senior vice president of enterprise sales for the Asia-Pacific region, the popularity of consumer social networks such as Facebook has taught enterprises new ways to connect and share.

"Companies continue to struggle to understand everything that is going on within their organization and are constantly missing out on critical information," he said.

When the company developed its social collaboration application, Salesforce Chatter, the question it found itself asking was "What if you could follow people, conversations, objects, data, dashboards in the safety of the enterprise in the same way you can follow people in public social networks?", McWhirter noted in his e-mail.

Collaboration at work should happen in real time just as business, market shifts and data changes happen in real time, he added.

Citing a study by McKinsey & Company, McWhirter said companies that use social technologies to collaborate internally and externally reported revenue growth by 24 percent on average, and experienced other benefits such as greater productivity and market share.

While social tools can facilitate collaboration, IBM's Blake noted that social business is more than that. "It is about applying social technologies to business processes in order to radically improve the way the organization operates," he explained.

"A social business is one that embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organization, both internally and externally," he said.

According to IBM, a social business has three distinct characteristics: it is engages deeply by connecting people--including customers, employees, and partners--to be involved in productive, efficient ways; it is transparent by removing boundaries to information, experts and assets, helping people align every action to drive business results; and it is nimble through speeding up business with information and insight to anticipate and address evolving opportunities.

Integrating social communication in enterprise
McWhirter of Salesforce.com recommended companies looking to transform their internal collaboration to consider "enterprise-ready social collaboration applications such as Chatter".

The application, he said, boasts social features popularized by consumer social networking sites such as profiles, status updates and real-time feed but at the same time is built on a private, secure and trusted platform.

Microsoft's Gauthey said there is no one-size-fits-all approach to social communication in the enterprise, as it will depend on factors including the organizational structure, company size and existing technologies.

According to him, there are social networking products in the market that offer innovative, best-of-breed capabilities for specific usage scenarios; however, each new system and new set of practices can add cost and complexity to IT and user adoption.

With that, Redmond is pushing for social computing that will enable the "spontaneous, collaborative conversations around ideas, data, documents and projects, while maintaining the necessary framework of business management and IT governance", he said.

Pointing to Microsoft TownHall, Gauthey said the feature allows end users to operate in a familiar environment of SharePoint workspaces, Microsoft Office applications and desktop gadgets.

For IT departments, this means what's needed are the same administration tools and IT skills for Microsoft products such as Windows Server, SharePoint Server and Microsoft Lync Server--which most organizations already own, he added.

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