Building the Enterprise Network

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 10-08-2007 Print Email
Turning employees loose on a social network requires a cultural shift that challenges the traditional hierarchies of many organizations.

J.P. Rangaswami, CIO at BT Services (the former British Telecom), is a pioneer of Web 2.0 technologies in the enterprise. An early advocate of blogs and wikis while at investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, he philosophizes frequently about the business uses of new Web tools at his blog, Confused of Calcutta. His approach to social networking at work is characteristic: He is letting BT employees help figure things out.

"We are not trying to push social networking as a top-down solution," he says. "The firm is interested enough in it to allow people to use it from the bottom up." BT has no formal policy against using Facebook, which workers started doing of their own volition, and in Rangaswami's view that translates as a policy in support. "My attitude is to make the environment safe for people to use it, and they will come up with things you never dreamed of," he says. "At some point you have to jump in and take the best of it, because you need standardization, but only the control freaks are afraid of giving up control."

Not every CIO will be as sanguine as Rangaswami, but every organization will have to face some cultural challenges as it adapts to social networking. "The enterprise wants to be a fortress, but workers want digital work to be part of their digital life," says Burton Group analyst Mike Gotta. Senior management, he says, should resist the temptation to "over-control and over-influence" the use of social nets. "A lot of this is hands-off stuff, not meant to be managed. If you look at it too closely, you might distort it." Eric Miller, president of knowledge management firm Zepheira, says social networks can be "pretty disruptive" in terms of social and organizational structures (see "Informal Organizations," page 29). "The experts on a topic aren't always senior management, the go-to people may not be in your department. That dynamic is challenging to deal with, and most organizations don't react kindly to it." CIOs will have to "nurture not just the technology, but the social and organizational parts," he says, "or you will get frustrated senior managers."

At Wachovia, change management is recognized as a primary issue in the rollout of a companywide social network. Questions of time management and responsibility are similar to those associated with Internet access, popular diversions such as fantasy football, even personal calls. The company trusts managers to deal with such concerns reasonably as they arise. Still, says project point-man Pete Fields, "I still don't think we fully appreciate the complexity of it, the generational elements, the organizational aspects. But we have said that if you are entirely comfortable, you're not doing it right."

At the same time, Fields sees cultural advantages to the network, including a more closely knit community within the sprawling bank. "We are interested in building that internal community, [especially now that] we have large groups across the country," he says. What's next? Rangaswami, as usual, wants to push the envelope. Networking behind the firewall is so 2007. His vision extends outside the company to customers and suppliers. "Why keep it in an enterprise that only talks to itself," he muses. "If you make the walls porous, the amount of information available to you is much greater." —Edward Cone



 

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