Being social, at least from a business point of view, is now synonymous with collaboration. This is thanks not only to the rise of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Yammer, wikis and location-based services like Foursquare, but also to increased use of mobile devices that allow employees to connect to these services anywhere and at any time.
So, what does this mean for your business? The answer is a lot. If you can integrate technology-enabled collaboration into the processes that your business relies on to function, chances are you'll get better results. The key is being selecting the right processes, says Michael Krigsman, CEO of consulting and research firm Asuret.
"Some people get caught up in this concept of social and collaboration like it's this magic bullet," says Krigsman. "It's not a magic bullet for anything. Simply bolting on a feature is a nice thing to do, but it does not mean anyone is going to use that feature nor does it mean that the organization is going to be somehow transformed into becoming a 'social business' or a 'social enterprise'."
You can enable collaboration with technology, of course, but it has to be a technology people either want to use or, as in the case of Echo Entertainment, an Australian casino operator with over 10,000 employees, a technology they are already using.
Don't Reinvent Social Wheel
At the company's Star casino in Sydney, they have over 1,600 dealers. Scheduling is complex because the casino is open 24 hours a day and hosts a lot of events, says Rob James, Echo's CTO. Shift-swapping once was done via bulletin board, but recently some enterprising employees set up a Facebook page where dealers can go to see who had shifts available for swapping.
While staffers still have to call a floor manager to perform an actual swap, word of this group has spread and a lot of employees now use the page to change shifts.
"Although this is a great example of the users taking control of their needs using platforms available to them, as a business this was seen as a screaming need for a solution," says James.
Instead of shutting the page down because it went outside of established processes, James and his team sat down with employees and found the Facebook approach to be "a simple and tidy way of handling shift swaps."
He adds, "We looked at putting in staff portals and other tools, but they all came across too complex for what was essentially a simple requirement. So rather than fight the movement to Facebook, we are deciding to embrace it."
The Mobile Social Opportunity
This is just one example of where enabling collaboration via a social medium, in this case Facebook, helped streamline a process, rewarded and empowered employees and, ultimately, made for a better work-life experience for all involved.
Mobile is another area with great potential to "socialize" existing processes to make them better. Imagine sending out real-time alerts that the customer a salesperson is about to visit has just filed a complaint with the service department. The salesperson knows this because the departments are linked via a social commenting system that allows the salesperson to interact directly with a customer service representative and the technician assigned to the call.
Now he can triangulate a response in a matter of minutes instead of days. When the salesperson arrives, he can be proactive and give the customer an update on the status of the complaint and information on how and when it will be resolved.
This is the power of "social" when applied to the right process in the right amount, at the right time. But before you go down this path, check off this list of things to consider. Provided your processes are working today, you don't want to just bolt on social because it sounds cool. If no one benefits from it or, worse, it makes a process harder to follow, that's a waste of time and effort.
Matt Green, vice president of Product Management for BPM provider SoftwareAG, advises companies to consider these two points:
- Go after low-hanging fruit by embracing social media for internal use first. "The collaboration interaction pattern is much more efficient than email and chat," he says.
- Don't force your employees to use social media. Make it available, and early adopters will navigate to it naturally. These adopters are often the most productive in terms of content, and the content will draw the rest of the company.
Echo Entertainment's James provides these five tips:
- Think about the data that will be exposed to public social networks. Often a company's default position is to protect all data, and therefore immediately frown on it moving into the public domain. In some instances it could be acceptable, and in other instances actually more beneficial in the public domain.
- Don't fight the tide. If employees find it more natural to work in these environments, try and find ways to empower them. The only questions you need to ask are around the details of security and integrity.
- Leverage the ability to build apps on Facebook for lightweight requirements where collaboration is the key need. Facebook and many of the other social networks have extremely robust and mature APIs. By leveraging these APIs, you are able to build reasonably complex applications that can either be solely deployed into these social networks or even as hybrids into your own infrastructure.
- The power of the social networks is enabling how users share and collaborate. Play to that strength. You can still protect IP and data by using a hybrid approach. In fact, this all can be best described in a cloud strategy for your organization.
- Finally, focus on the people. If you are serious about embracing social as a real platform for your organization, leverage staff already using social to see what is actually going on out there and how as an organization you can harness that.
Now a freelance writer, in a former, not-too-distant life Allen Bernard was the managing editor of CIOUpdate.com and other websites aimed at helping technology pros understand an industry that has, perhaps more than any other in history, changed almost every aspect of business and life. Allen has written, assigned and edited thousands of articles that focus on the management of IT and its relationship with the business. Follow him on Twitter @allen_bernard1, on Google+ or on Linked In.