Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Free up with Facebook

Social Networking across the Enterprise - Part 2

There is absolutely no reason why the introduction of social networking tools would not enthuse clock-watchers.
We unclutter mental space once shades of ‘self’ filter through the ‘business casual’ workplace demeanor.
The shared libraries of sundry information, virtual bookshelves et al, make it easy to grab that nugget of information without ever leaving the comfort of your swivel chair.

Business-Booster or Time Waster?
To unleash the power of social networking technologies across the enterprise it is necessary to create and communicate the value proposition that social networks can be ‘profitable’ to the enterprise, and not just a caffeinated comfort zone to which the individual can occasionally slip away and alleviate the stress of the work day.

If the concept can be constructed as a business model and an infrastructure plan, if it can be backed by rules of governance, and applied with sensitivity to the tastes and temperament of employees and the requirements of management across a company’s network, the scope of social networks will be easy to extend to an entire organization and provide tangible benefits to the business as a whole.
Collaboration in the Enterprise 2.0 represents subversion of boundaries and hierarchies that many people consider a plague in productivity. Still, it will need governance and development of metrics to see progress of social networks as factors in success and failure of projects. How?

  • By leveraging available web tools and apps (there are many though some are indirect).
  • It is not unrealistic to project that once social networking technologies become de facto B2B tools, employees will demand and receive user profile maps (an online interests and groups genetic code) that could potentially contain targeted content (objects and data) framed by qualifiers/conditions to protect privacy.

Corporate casualties

Needless to say, it is over-exposure of the personal lives of corporate users on social networks that is a looming concern for executive management and the potential nightmare of any legal division. The employee who engages in heartfelt outpourings or candid discussions of personal matters on discussion boards, will clearly be a casualty of social networking within a corporate cloud.

The frivolity of facebooking on-the-clock is another stigma to overcome for undisciplined employees of the socially networked enterprise.

Yet, the shared libraries of sundry information, exposed virtual bookshelves et al, make it so easy to grab that nugget of information without ever leaving the comfort of your swivel chair.

More for Sony than Goldman Sachs

Like individuals, some industries will be more receptive than others. Gaming developers – who sketch designs in blog fashion and idea box type conversations that follow a stream of consciousness are more likely to adopt the productivity enhancing aspects of social networking than your financial analyst on wall street whose contributions are conditioned by security and encryption, blocked in by SEC regulations, and whose business value is enhanced by exclusivity.

It’s a Small World after all
The real capitalization of the undeniable reach and free wheeling forums of social networks will be seen when a design engineer in Bangalore, India and a business developer in Austin, TX, collaborating on microprocessor design can share the affinity of EE technical groups, professional affiliations, (semiconductor consortiums, technical literature) – relevant to the deadline driven, highly code-named project at hand.

Already they share design documents that both employees of the global corporation collaborate on within the confines of the company portal. Once the social network extends to the workspace – beyond the home-office of nocturnal creatures such as these, the ongoing and incessant conversations assume an energy of their own.

In the midst of a top secret, high priority design cycle for a much-awaited chip design, useful items of interest on Discussion boards, Notes, Tags can attract the attention of Eric in Austin in the middle of his workday, as Rakesh sleeps, in his Far Eastern Time Zone - Hyderabad.

The constant availability of a shared and targeted body of relevant information, and the ability to convey and execute on that data, is the core value of social networks across the enterprise. If this concept can be proved on the company balance sheet, it will be possible to extend the reach and scope of social networks for an entire organization and provide benefit to the business as a whole.

This is precisely the sort of message that makes enterprises, struggling with the user-centeredness of Web 2.0 software, sit up and pay attention since it offers the promise of aggregating returns on investment back to the bottom line.

Looking through the glass, darkly……

If IM is here to stay in the office, can Facebook be far behind? One can’t ignore the persistent rumble of this particular approaching train. Social networking is already infiltrating the enterprise in fits and starts. It is when vendors integrate this component into their platforms, or when service providers, consultant craft, communicate and implement social networking technologies consistently and with compliance, that the true value-add of these networks to the enterprise will be realized in dollars and cents.

Wanted, a Social Networking Steward, a Custodian of Compliance

This must be driven by not only strategists and thought leaders, but by the middle-level manager, the true steward who viscerally ‘gets’ the value of the social web in business. (look for more on this in my next post)

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