Transforming collaboration demands an evolutionary approach.
By Bud Mathaisel
Social technology offers considerable promise, but CIOs and business units are struggling to figure out how to use it effectively. A key reason is that most social media outside the enterprise is just pure communication. Making the same use of these tools inside the enterprise only imposes more channels on already overwhelmed staff. What’s needed are alternatives woven into the existing IT fabric that help users sift through information and that augment existing business processes, making it possible to alleviate rather than add to communications overload. (See the article, “The collaboration paradox,” on page 06 for more information.)
Some popular social enterprise tools do meld communication and context for better collaboration, which is where the focus should be. But too many enterprises still assume that social tools can only mimic consumer use. That assumption is why it is hard for the CIO to make a strong case for enterprise adoption of social technologies, and why an evolutionary approach is warranted.
An evolutionary CIO must adopt a new style of governance and create a new approach to deploying social tools. Social activities are inherently human and unpredictable. The approach and style must synchronize to the realities of social technology and to the organization, both of which are evolving. This evolution determines how CIOs need to introduce social technologies compared to previous business initiatives. CIOs actually may find themselves leading or pulling businesspeople along in this area— the opposite of the usual “IT is behind the curve on what we want” complaint. Social technology efforts are likely to be different.
This fundamental difference means that the evolutionary CIO enables experimentation, with few clear a priori outcomes to aim for but many possibilities for gain. CIOs must prepare to try things, some of which will almost certainly fail—and that’s a reputational risk. The controlling CIO may dismiss the capability as not secure, not controllable, or not productive. The progressive CIO may let a thousand flowers bloom but not know when to harvest them or walk away, and the enterprise may consider too many trials as tools in search of a purpose.
An evolutionary CIO, as Figure 1 illustrates, stakes out a middle ground that has two principal attributes. First, the evolutionary CIO is liberal on the technology and process for experimentation, while conservative fiscally. Second, the evolutionary CIO employs new skills from social science, balancing the individual motives of staff with the business goals to be achieved. The evolutionary CIO achieves a balance between the extremes of closing the doors to any social technology and flinging the doors too wide open, without purpose, hoping that the enterprise will achieve something of value.
A framework for evolving social technology success
Trust derives from a clearly stated vision of what the enterprise could achieve with the use of the technology, as well as the means that are evident to achieve those goals.
At its best, social technology blends with workflow tools and provides information mining capabilities and organizational synergies. But, like baking a soufflé, the proportions are important. This section describes suggested combinations of social science and technical elements for the evolutionary approach.
Social technology warrants investigating a number of opportunities. The evolutionary CIO establishes strategy, goals, and objectives, as well as the resources and ground rules to deal with what is inherently not totally predictable. There are two important elements. First, how should CIOs address the social science and politics of social technology? Second, what are the practical technical considerations?
Planning for the experimental nature of social technology
There are many elements a CIO should consider adding to a framework for effective social technology trials.
The CIO and the investigation team must be able to experiment publicly, and any wins or failures should not negatively reflect on their professionalism. Earning the right to perform this experimentation is part of the CIO being a trusted advisor for emerging technology. Trust in this case derives from a clearly stated vision of what the enterprise could achieve with the use of the technology, as well as the means that are evident to achieve those goals.
The utility of social technology is a direct function of the level of adoption and the effectiveness of people using it. Its highest potential is in harnessing the “group brain”—the collective knowledge and capability of all employees and contributors—but without causing the communications overload created by legacy tools such as e-mail. (See Figure 2.)
There are many elements a CIO should consider adding to a framework for effective social technology trials. The following eight serve as a starter list:
Shared understanding of goal and purpose, down to what it means to the individuals and the organization. What are the business goals of the social technology investigation? Some possible goals are discussed later in this article. Goals may evolve with experience, but it might be useful to clearly express and reinforce the primary business goals throughout.
The good news is that much of social technology is independent of other technologies.
Sensitivity to the cultural identity of the enterprise, anticipating the behavior patterns and beliefs that will play out during the trial. An enterprise’s cultural identity would include the risk profile of the organization and the individuals who are participating in the trial. If the organization is extremely risk averse, by nature or regulation, the trials need to incorporate any existing communications governance policies and consider the need for new policies given the unique traits of social tools. A process owner should be assigned an ongoing role to assess behavioral alignment with risk management policies as part of the trial.
A well-thought-out rationale behind the authority granted to individuals, including what access is allowed to information inside and outside the enterprise, and what restrictions are placed on that access and repurposing that information, by type.
Best use protocol, such as what are the expectations of users to contribute or share. Are those who have access to the social tool encouraged to reply or contribute through performance assessment rewards, or is participation entirely voluntary? Are guidelines distributed that describe what makes a reliable and effective contributor? When and how are new communities formed, and what sunset provisions are made for previous communities?
Optimal ways to encourage participation, whether tangible, such as compensation, intangible, such as public recognition, or both. (See the article, “Turning handheld power into enterprise clout,” on page 06 of Technology Forecast 2011, Issue 1 for more information about how workforce motivation has changed in the 21st century.) Can a CIO say in advance what level of participation will constitute success? When success occurs, how are the results publicized?
Essential privacy and security rules, appropriate to the enterprise, understood, and reinforced. There are tradeoffs, because the more that people share relevant information, the greater the benefit. However, some information is confidential and privileged, and the boundaries need to be set in advance beyond which information cannot be shared. The many-to-many capabilities of social tools create some productive tension for information privacy and security. Social technology trials could be an opportunity to update the privacy rules and reconsider how the risk landscape is changing.
Initial and ongoing communications, both oral and written. Social technology is about exchange, so communications skills that foster dialogue are important, both for leaders and participants. And leadership participation, promoting by doing, is one key. But too much leadership participation can dissuade other employees from joining. A balance must be struck.
Clear leadership and ownership, including a sponsor for the initiative and an owner responsible for keeping it within the framework. This may not be the CIO or a member of the IT leadership team, but someone else who is part of the user group. At Egon Zehnder International, a user group was assigned to launch an intranet portal called Symphony and then expand it to other groups. (See the sidebar, “Microblogging in a new paradigm,” on page 09.)
Requirements of evolving collaboration methods
Most CIOs are skilled at the politics of initial deployments, ensuring that key influencers understand the scope, purpose, and goals of the initiative. They buy into the effort to the point of personal ownership, and they extend their enthusiasm to the user community. In addition to that commitment, social technology will demand continued skill to keep the capability relevant. After almost any new IT tool or service is introduced, some level of early adoption occurs because of its novelty. Dick Hirsch, senior consultant for Siemens IT Services and Solutions, notes that “How you keep them involved is much different from the normal enterprise project life cycle. You must be much more aware of people coming and going.” The ongoing relevance of a microblog, for example, depends on the freshness of ideas and continued motivation of the users.
Sustaining the initial rush is important. Many collaboration approaches of the past were initially hot, but soon devolved into maintenance headaches, data leak risks, and underutilized assets. The missing ingredient has been a way to scale collaboration enterprise-wide without creating communications overload. Tools that integrate rather than fragment the collaboration environment and that filter via social analytics are the solution, but every enterprise has social circumstances that are unique. Thus, the continued success of social tools applied in the enterprise will require sustained efforts at experimentation, especially in the area of social analytics.
How social technology initiatives will be different
Because the successful adoption of social technology is evolutionary, CIOs can adapt their own strategic framework to accommodate the investigation, the identification of business benefits, and the scale-up for broader use. Once CIOs are clear about how social technology is different and what that means to design, goals, and internal politics, they can look at the technology aspects—and only then. The good news is that much of social technology is independent of other technologies. Even those social technologies that integrate with existing workflows let CIOs take advantage of this technology independence to do greater experimentation.
Only for the experiments that stick should CIOs then perform the deeper technology analysis of systems and data integration for the long term. Given that the non-adoption rate is likely to be high, at least initially, this approach is the only sensible one. The following section suggests some changes to traditional strategic planning that CIOs should incorporate in a social technology adoption framework.
Business drivers of social technology
To gain enterprise acceptance, social technology needs to have business drivers, like any other enterprise software proposition. However, unlike many applications that support work process flows apparent to everyone, social software can be seen as a bit “squishy.” That’s because the “work process” of connecting people to make them smarter isn’t normally thought of as a business process. So some education of senior leadership and business stakeholders may be needed. In doing so, it is important to highlight a number of tangible contributors to employee performance made possible by social tools. These can include the following:
Pulling richer, more relevant context into human-computer interactions and moving away from siloed information— Third-generation social tools reach their full potential when they integrate social information with nonsocial business data. The richer metadata that such an approach relies upon can have a substantial impact on enterprise search, for example. Social identity becomes an additional means of navigation, relevant to both search software and end users. Conveying this capability to a range of stakeholders—including data, content, and knowledge management groups—as well as business units will be important.
Embedding the collaborative communication venue (usually called an “activity stream”) into existing applications or suites— Social technologies can be aligned to a workflow context, bringing collaborative potential to where employees are working. The more strategic and specific the workflow process, the more likely the endorsements will be universal from senior management and the key influencers within the enterprise.
Adding tacit knowledge to otherwise structured workflows— SAP’s StreamWork, for example, injects “unstructured collaboration into a structured process,” Hirsch says. It’s feasible to merge a stream of unstructured dialogue about subjective supplier qualifications into the formal enterprise resource planning (ERP) procurement process.
Previously, these conversations took place on phone calls, or not at all, as the effort seemed an interruption to the rigorous processes. Social technology enables this injection of new insights in real time and can help with results adoption. Tools such as StreamWork use an activity stream familiar to those who have used consumer social tools such as Facebook. Social technology could be the added part of an existing or planned solution that just puts it over the goal line and enhances some other functionality.
CIOs must be willing to experiment more. Most CIOs value their command of events and precision in all they do, so this new approach may be uncomfortable for many.
Tracing conversations—Social technologies can trace an online “conversation” in ways that e-mail often doesn’t, in essence replicating what formerly took place in physical meetings. Displacing a number of physical meetings with a more reproducible and traceable replacement both extends the value of “meetings” and is a more eco-friendly solution.
Enhancing governance, risk, and compliance—Many developments in markets or inside the enterprise can be quite ambiguous in meaning and the degree to which they create risk for the organization. Putting such developments in front of a broader, more diverse internal audience for consideration and discussion can enhance governance, risk, and compliance.
Regardless of the other technical considerations, the value in social technology will be in the effectiveness of information integration and pattern identification.
When formulating goals, it is important to establish the key metric or metrics for each goal, measure them, and make course corrections. Goal formulation can also draw on approaches learned from business process redesign. The mantra of business process redesign during the 1980s was to break old glass (procedures and approaches) through changes in behavior, process, and technology. It’s back to the future with social technology, as that is precisely the order that applies. The emphasis on politics and team constructs described earlier is part of the behavior focus. Process changes are what will bring results and warrant all the discipline CIOs have used in business process redesign for IT deployments.
Other process changes could be more formal, such as a change in the work breakdown structure that requires an explicit checkpoint in an activity stream before a process is complete. For example, a hiring process could mandate that social technology be used as the exchange mechanism, replacing a prior loose process of seeking inputs on a candidate before extending an offer.
Components of the technology strategy
Given the investigative nature of social technology trials, the evolutionary CIO needs a different planning framework. Some of the same elements of traditional IT strategic planning apply, although CIOs must be willing to experiment more. Most CIOs value their command of events and precision in all they do, so this new approach may be uncomfortable for many. In this experimental mode, the CIO will closely monitor and more flexibly change elements of information systems, infrastructure, and staff competencies. The following sections describe four major components to a social technology strategy that differ from traditional strategic planning for IT.
More complete information sources
Social technology will include structured and unstructured data. Structured data in the context of social technology could include the total number of postings and comments made by employees on a topic as an index of who the experts are in any given domain. Unstructured data could be subjective descriptions of knowledgeable people. In social contexts (inside or outside the enterprise), there is no substitute for a qualified source to influence those who seek information. Organizations sometimes want a pause button in the middle of a transaction that can be used to collaborate and confirm the transaction. Indexing this unstructured information, keeping channels open dynamically, and keeping all information as real time as possible are important.
The evolutionary CIO’s checklist of information sources should include an expansive consideration of data, with which thoughtful employees could use their innate pattern recognition capabilities to connect the dots. Regardless of the other technical considerations, the value in social technology will be in the effectiveness of information integration and pattern identification. As the adoption of social technology evolves, some of the most relevant sources may be outside the normal internal information systems, and CIOs must decide how to provision those sources while following important ground rules for governance, risk, and compliance.
Social technology has the potential to address several perennial goals for enhanced, more efficient collaboration and communication in a flexible and low-cost way.
Social technology tools with information integration and filtering capabilities
There will be new tools to consider, and they may be unfamiliar to most CIOs. (See the article, “Enterprise success with emerging social technology,” on page 26.) Moreover, organizations may need to try many tools before they find one that best fits the organization’s culture and processes. For CIOs who want to start by leveraging current investments in infrastructure, the major ERP vendors, such as Oracle and SAP, and customer relationship management (CRM) vendors, such as salesforce.com, provide social technology to work alongside existing suites. Startups such as Socialtext or Socialcast allow best-of-breed style integration. Tools such as Cisco Quad provide a unified communicationsoriented platform with data layer interconnection for filtering, pattern recognition, and search capabilities. TIBCO’s tibbr offers an approach that may take advantage of deep integration with the company’s existing middleware platform, which may integrate into the overall information fabric quickly. Other tools may be optional components of the existing database management system already in use.
Implications for infrastructure during the production phase
Some CIOs have decided to pilot social technology outside their enterprise on cloud services, either temporarily or until a pattern of use develops. This decision recognizes that an evolutionary approach must be careful not to invest too heavily in highly tailored tools during the early phases of deployment. Social technologies may lend themselves readily to cloud services. In this way, social technology is different from other IT investments in the past, when consideration of the long-term aspects of the investment were assumed. For IT, social technology is more organic and needs to be planned and managed accordingly.
New IT department competencies
The skills needed in an evolutionary approach are often different from or at least extensions of preexisting skills. This is true for the evolutionary CIO, as noted earlier in the flexible approach to planning, and for the staff that will perform the investigations. In researching this issue of the Technology Forecast, PwC found only a few IT organizations that had staff with competencies in social technology explicitly. According to CIO Rick Napolitano, ARINC uses summer interns as part of the IT investigation team, because they generally are younger people with personal experience in social technology outside the enterprise. The issue is not usually lack of interest but lack of investment. Mistakes can occur in how enterprises adopt social technology, especially in areas of privacy and security, so CIOs do need a plan for acquiring or developing staff competencies. Social technology is here to stay, in some form, so the investment will pay dividends and is a way to engage IT staff who want to apply their personal experiences to the enterprise.
Don’t just sit there— evolve something
By any indication—media attention, investor interests, initial public offerings (IPOs) and pending IPOs, personal use—social technology is hot. At the moment, the technology promises different capabilities for different kinds of enterprises, and the activity stream paradigm is already being blended into ERP, CRM, and supply chain management (SCM) applications from the major vendors. As with some other recent IT innovations, social technology gained momentum outside the enterprise first and then achieved sufficient critical mass to become relevant to enterprises.
Social technology has the potential to address several perennial goals for enhanced, more efficient collaboration and communication in a flexible and low-cost way. Although an initiative could start as skunkworks independently of IT, its requirements to link into the databases, infrastructure, and processes managed by IT will mandate that the CIO lead. CIOs must develop a framework and then adopt and support social technology in an exploratory, evolutionary way. Doing so will align use cases for social technologies to the culture and business strategies of the enterprise and ensure effective and meaningful adoption.