Social Networking in Enterprises

 

Social networking in organisations

By Roopen Roy Nov 15 2011

Tags: Op-ed
 
Jack Welch had once famously said, “When the rate of change outs­i­de exceeds the rate of ch­ange inside, the end i­s in sight.” One of the changes outside that has assumed frenetic pace is the way we communicate, team and collabor­a­te. There is a proliferation of mobile devices and technologies. And we are accessing, disseminating and exchanging information in real time as we message on the run. We are u­s­ing Twitter, Skype, Facebook and myriad other means to co­m­municate with each other a­nd share “stuff”.

We chat, share ideas and exchange breaking news. Th­ere are completely new terms that are in vogue. Writing on the wall no longer me­ans the inevi­table. It means so­meone has wr­itten a message on yo­ur Fac­ebook wall. You no lo­nger dislike someone or so­mething — you “unlike”. You do not disclose stuff, you “unhi­de”. They are almost like the new terms coined by Orwell in 1984 such as “doublethink” and “new­speak”.

The pace of change outside your organisation in communications is probably faster than inside your organisation. Many organisations have tried to ban Facebook and Twitter. Young e­m­­ployees have found creative ways to bypass those restrictions. The question is: if you find a tool that has the features of Twitter and Facebook but is offered in a secure, enterprise environment, would you turn social networking to your advantage? Farsighted organisations do not just embrace change. They drive and shape the change. They are the ones who really see the writing on the wall. Robert Goizueta, the former CEO of Coca-Cola, had said, “It is extremely important that you show some insensitivity to your past in order to show proper respect for the future.” That is exactly what many of us are doing — changing our past ways of collaboration and driving Enterprise Social Networking (ESN).

ESN is not a flash in the pan. The revenues from ESN applications will exceed $769 million, according to Gartner, and the outlay of companies to implement ESN will run into billions of dollars. It is a serious wave that will transform the way we interact inside a business enterprise and the time has come to grasp the nettle.

There are several competing products in the market. Salesforce.com has launched Chatter. Chatter creates a private social network within an enterprise, and in the words of its creator, it helps people to collaborate across geographies, teams, and hierarchies. Chatter gives “every employee a voice and the tools they need to be productive and successful.” I went to the website of salesforce.com and found that it ma­kes pretty impressive claims about efficiency gains by Chatter adopters: 27 per cent fewer meetings, 30 per cent reduction in e-mail, 36 per cent improvement in customer resp­onse, 39 per cent improvement in collaboration, 52 per cent greater speed in finding information and 56 per cent impr­ovement in managing custom­er information. The results are apparently from a survey done by an independent third party “on over 6,000 customers rando­mly selected, representing o­r­ganisations across the globe, of all sizes and from a diverse set of industries”. Even if some of the claimed advantages accr­ued to your enterprise, it is wo­rth considering some form of enterprise social networking.

There are rumours that Go­ogle will soon launch an enterprise version of Google+ and whether Facebook will launch a closed enterprise social netwo­rk is anybody’s guess. The little David in this battle of Goliaths is a company called Yammer. It launched about three years ago. Yammer is used by over 10­0,­000 companies wor­ldwide and these customers include Ford, Thomson-Re­uters, LG and Deloitte. Yammer’s website cla­ims. “More than 80 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies are using Yammer.” Ya­m­mer desc­ribes its va­lue proposition thus: “Enterprise social ne­tworking empowers employees to be mo­re productive and successful by enabling them to collaborate easily, ma­ke sm­arter, faster decisions, a­n­d self-organise into teams to take on any business chall­e­n­ge. This new way of wo­rking d­r­ives business alignment and agility, reduces cycle times, increases employee engagement and improves relationships wi­th customers and partners.”

While the wave of enterpr­ise social networking is hitting the shores of business in every continent, there are “pl­ay sa­f­e” advocates. They remi­nd you of how Shashi Tharoor lost his job for tweeting (actually that was not the reason why he resi­gned). Already we waste massive amounts of time on e-ma­iling, they point out. They wa­rn that a colossal electronic Pa­r­k­inson’s law is about to be en­ac­t­ed. One would recall Pa­r­­­k­inso­n’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available fo­r its completion.”

In his delightful book which I read many years ago, Northcote Parkinso­n, a British naval historian, rec­orded a devastating anecdote about a German steel company during the Second World War. It had a multi-storied headqua­rters. All its steel mills had been bombed and there was no production. But the volume of pap­e­r­work at its headquarters th­at travelled from one floor to the other continued undiminished and unabated. Some of these apprehensions should be considered in designing the i­m­ple­me­n­ta­tion strategy of ES­N but sh­ould not be allowed to thwart its ea­rly adoption.

In today’s world of information from any device, anytime, anywhere, the balance must be found between hi-tech and hi-touch. Enterprise social networking looks like one such neat little bridge. It is not a silver bullet but is certainly an important building block.

(The writer is managing
director of Deloitte
Consulting, India. These
are his personal views)
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