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“Business Applications and Collaboration Platforms Should Be Linked”

May 27, 2010

That phrase stood out like a beacon for me in the Social Media: Cultivate Collaboration and Innovation whitepaper posted yesterday by the Cisco Services Group that referenced the results from a study conducted between April and September 2009 with 97 businesses across 20 countries to understand how organizations use social networking and Web 2.0 tools to collaborate outside traditional organizational boundaries, and along with changes in culture and process, can drive business model innovation. To support that statement, I quote:

Many interviewees attested to the need for social media tools and platforms to integrate seamlessly with an organization’s existing business applications and infrastructure. Currently, certain business applications are automated, so that individual employees can connect to a central system and transmit transactional data back-and-forth. However, this automation is limited because the business applications they routinely navigate are separate from the communication tools they use. For example, an employee relates, “If I’m a sales order entry person or if I’m a support rep or I’m a field engineer you know, I get my job statuses, I get my firm transactional data sent to me and I complete it and I send it back. But how I collaborate with everybody else doing that…is still pretty manual. These are cell phones, emails, instant messaging, SharePoint sites….But it’s not cohesive….We’re looking to create a collaborative platform integrated into our business processes…because you can’t have the two decoupled.

The whitepaper continues:

Business and IT Need to Meet in the Middle

Across the board, respondents recognized that social networking is here to stay. Moreover, the tools and complexity will continue to evolve and influence the way business is conducted. By ignoring this reality, organizations invite potentially harmful consequences.

However, instead of falling vulnerable to such breaches and disruptions, organizations can actually empower themselves to new levels of innovation by integrating these tools into the enterprise. The researchers’ conversations with study participants illuminated the following trends:

  • Increased integration of various collaboration tools is shaping the evolution of delivery channels.
  • Organizations are becoming more transparent.
  • More meaningful connections are being cultivated with key audiences outside the enterprise.

But as the business-minded rush to chart new opportunities, mounting evidence suggests that they need IT on their side. To unleash maximum potential, business and IT must work together to refine social networks, so that they are secure, integrate into corporate information systems, and support work processes to deliver business results. It’s not just business and technology though. Management needs to view collaborative social networking differently. They must oversee the adoption process and change culture to achieve positive results.

And concludes with:

Balance Is Paramount

Research indicates that savvy companies will recognize the role of technology as they finesse their social media strategies. The goal is to design a collaborative IT architecture which mitigates the risks inherent to social networking, while also enabling people-centric environments where technologies accelerate real-time interactions, not impede them. In the end, organizations need to understand the relationship between business, process, culture, and technology, and how each area can catalyze collaboration to drive optimal performance and business success.

While the whitepaper uses the term “social networking” to connote what I tend to think of as “community,” I found the following value map to be quite affirming for the high level business value that that I believe can result from the use of such tools.

Perceived Value of Social Networking Tools Along the Value Chain

Business Function Social Networking Applications
Customer relationship
management (CRM)
• Listen to customer concerns
• Support/solve problems
• Education/spread best practices
• Transfer support tasks to community
Human resources (HR) • Promote company among potential employees
• Identify/gather information on job candidates
• Train employees
• Tap into pool of “passive” job seekers via professional social networks (e.g., LinkedIn, Xing, and Viadeo)
Supply relationship
management (SRM)
• Add social layer to supply chain management
• Build purchasing coalitions
• Hire “virtual” contractors
Product development/innovation • Solicit ideas, opinions, and feedback to incorporate them into existing and/or new products and services
Service delivery • Enhance collaboration on projects and service engagements
• Co-create/share knowledge
• Collaborate on documentation

However, I had to laugh at #8 in the list of suggestions quoted below though I wholeheartedly agree with the rest. You should call it collaboration not because it’s less risk, but because it’s the broader and more strategic goal that your organization should strive to achieve. I’ll need to ping my colleagues in the Cisco Services Group to make sure that they read and agree with my Collaboration 2.0: New Old Thing, Next Big Thing – Prelude post! 🙂

10 Ways IT Can Promote Collaboration

  1. Open up the firewall to Facebook and LinkedIn.
  2. Add photos to directories—seeing a face helps people remember.
  3. Document use cases and distribute them to aid adoption.
  4. Build a solid strategy around it and guide people step by step.
  5. Don’t alienate different generations.
  6. Make clear what’s available, who should use which tools, and which audiences to target.
  7. Understand the behaviors of groups that are using social media. Understand the culture. Understand that it’s not technology-driven—it’s social.
  8. Don’t call it social media. Call it collaboration; it’s less risky.
  9. Educate ourselves. Ask kids.
  10. Don’t over-engineer. Let the organism grow.
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