|Topic:||The social enterprise – truth or fiction?|
|Organisation:||Verizon Business India|
John Samuel is President, India for Verizon Business. Samuel’s previous roles have included Country Manager, India at BT Infonet India; Country Manager, India for Gemplex; and General Manager for GEIL Projects and Services India. John Samuel did his Master of Management Studies from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies at the University of Mumbai. He was a Member of the Placement Committee for the Institute. Mr Samuel has also taken courses in advertising and PR from the Loyola School of Communications.
The social media phenomenon has impacted on the way that individuals interact in business as well as social environments. But integrating social media applications into the enterprise raises challenging issues concerning trust, business practice, compliance and regulatory requirements. Businesses that are able to embrace social media by using IP-enabled tools to adapt and integrate new communications approaches into business objectives can expect to see positive impacts on revenue, competitiveness and efficiency.
Perhaps the most far-reaching change in technology over recent years has been the rise of ‘social media’. Online communities such as Facebook and YouTube are completely transforming the ways in which individuals access information and engage with others – when, where and how they want. This is impacting not only on our ‘social’ lives, but also on our business lives. We are now used to being able to access information on demand – and to getting myriad points of view from a simple online (?) search. We can choose who our influencers are and who we want to hear from, and can build our own communities to inform and enhance our business social life. But this creates a critical challenge for the corporation. What is the role of social media in the enterprise space? Collaboration drives performance Business already knows the importance of collaboration, and the role that technology plays in driving its effectiveness. Indeed, a recent study conducted by Frost & Sullivan1, and commissioned by Verizon and Cisco, showed that not only is collaboration a key driver of business performance, but also that companies can realise a significant return by using advanced, IP-enabled collaboration tools to boost performance. Collaborative technologies are often placed under the umbrella category of Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C). Functions within UC&C include Voice over IP (VoIP), presence-enabled applications, converged fixed-mobile communications, online white boarding, team workspaces, and increasingly ‘social media’ tools such as blogs, podcasts and wikis. To a large extent, enterprise social communication is the logical destination of today’s evolving UC&C solutions. This is particularly interesting in the context of the study’s other key finding – namely that business performance increases as companies utilise more IP-enabled collaboration tools; and the highest performing companies, who deploy these tools, also have a higher return on their collaboration investment – on average, a multiple of four. So, with this in mind, moving towards social media in the enterprise would seem to be a given. The social enterprise conundrum The first consideration for organisations looking to integrate social media activities into their business operations is how to handle the private/corporate issue. Should access to Facebook/YouTube/Twitter be enabled over the corporate Internet environment? If so, should it be policed? The key here is really corporate culture – does the company trust its employees to use their time responsibly? And of course, there are also vulnerabilities that are endemic – or widely reported at least – attached to social media sites. However, increasingly employees may also need access to this type of tool to do their job. In addition, users (employees, customers, partners, suppliers) engage with social media applications as they want, and saying what they want. But many organisations already struggle with the issue of information availability and control within the constraints of business practice, compliance and regulatory requirements. Business does not like to relinquish control. However social media has grown thanks to the concept of the devolution of control to the many. Establishing a fabric of trust in which the corporation’s future social operations can evolve is therefore vital. The rise of the borderless enterprise The corporate infrastructure has changed dramatically over recent years. The rise of the ‘extended enterprise’ has required corporate data to be made available to customers, employees, partners and suppliers on an unprecedented scale. It’s about optimising operations to engender excellence in customer service, streamlined supply chains, and transparent communications. But the corporate infrastructure remains largely a controlled and closed environment. Secure, scalable bandwidth supports the delivery of business-critical data to those who need it, wherever they are around the globe. Data packets are prioritised and bandwidth optimised to best fit the needs of the business. Security policies are established and enforced to protect customer information, financial information and business information. And all of this is governed by corporate, national and global policies and regulations designed to protect the interests of customers, employees and other stakeholders. The potential of social media takes the concept of the extended enterprise into a new realm, that of the borderless enterprise. This is an environment where boundaries between the private and the public become blurred, but its exploitation is critical if organisations are to survive and thrive. The public social space enables its users to exploit an explosion of rich multimedia with transparency and high visibility. The expectations of the social infrastructure are therefore those of an open environment, with universal access and boundless capacity. This is all well and good in the public Internet, where the risk is personal, freely entered into by the individual. However, businesses must ensure that they keep their customers’ data private and so must create protected corporate environments where security, reliability and a ‘plan b’ in the event of any issues are prerequisites of every activity. So the risk comparison between data loss for an individual (where data is freely given into the public domain) and the corporate user (who holds the trust and personal data of numerous clients) is absolutely incomparable. This is a fundamental contradiction, and one which has to be resolved if social media is to be embraced in the enterprise. Enterprise social media constructs therefore have, by necessity, to encompass fundamental reassessments of corporate responsibilities and functions. The embrace of social media within the corporate world also demands practical actions on behalf of infrastructure and business planning. The user-driven explosion of data demands additional bandwidth to deliver it around the organisation, and of course, storage and backup capabilities to enable self-reference, corporate governance and practical exploitation. But investments in UC&C tools have the potential to enable organisations to maximise the opportunities offered by the corporate knowledge base. For example, internal communications can be transformed by giving employees the tools to collaborate with each other at their own speed, in their own way. Creating communities of interest, and most importantly, of trust, whether via blogs, wikis or general online networking, gives the corporation the option of maximising the collective brainpower of its stakeholders in the service of the company. Likewise, customer communications can be transformed by embracing the immediacy of social networks. If organisations monitor what customers are saying about them on Twitter, blogs or discussion groups then they have the potential to respond, engage and impress. They can show customers that they are listening, and that they care – and have solutions. And outside the ‘problem zone’ they can also proactively share information in real time, use new communication channels to be open and transparent and as another channel for dialogue, creating (again) communities of interest. And this open dialogue can also be transferred into other stakeholder communications, whether with media, analysts or other interested parties. Collaboration demands moderation It’s obviously therefore a simple response – technology-enabled collaboration simply needs to become an absolutely integral element of daily business practice. But how can businesses balance the implementation of social media constructs against the social media ambitions of their employees or other stakeholders? Business is built around complex, but highly adaptive systems and needs to create an appropriate technology state in which the social ecosystem can thrive. It’s about balancing the need for control with the need to let go, and using technology to drive that balance into all areas of business life. New communications approaches need to be absolutely integrated into business objectives and driven into every area of business life. Business needs to be prepared to relinquish some control – but to also focus on where control can and should remain, and how operations can be (re)structured to support this. But perhaps the most important thing to remember when looking to embrace social media is the importance of the relationship. We are social with those with whom we want to establish a trusted relationship. And, in business, there are many ways, and many levels in which relationships are built and in which they succeed. Social media constructs need to run alongside ‘traditional’ communications to build relationships. One-to-one meetings play a vital role in business life, and increasingly technology is supporting the delivery of ‘personal’ communications even without physical presence – witness the rise in the importance of immersive video. Self-determination is key to success The most important consideration for businesses looking to embrace social media is to decide who and what they want to be. Social media platforms will only work for them if they keep business objectives right up front, and use social media to work around and support them. Eventually it’s all about relationships and the creation of trust. Business needs to be open to possibility and to be able to adapt, but always in the context of its customers’ needs and its business objectives. And so eventually it all comes down to business culture. Interestingly, the Meetings Around the World II study confirmed the importance of organisational culture and structure for collaboration as a determinant of collaboration quality and hence performance. Collaboration is most effective in organisations with a decentralised decision-making structure, and in which stakeholders are actively encouraged to use collaboration in support of business goals. That means establishing controlled environments and ecosystems in which wisdom and knowledge can survive and thrive. Collaborative tools will only have an impact in a working environment where collaboration is fully integrated into business structure. But where IP-enabled tools are deployed well, and an organisation truly integrates collaboration – including social media – into its infrastructure and being, it really can expect to see a positive, and measurably so, impact on revenue, competitiveness and efficiency. More productive and agile users will be able to create new business opportunities, enabling greater customer satisfaction.