No Silver Bullet

CIOs are setting aside ROI as they boldly rush into the enterprise social media fray.

No Silver Bullet

You'd be forgiven for thinking your company is late to the "Enterprise 2.0" party, but as it turns out, there is some evidence that the other guy is no further along than you are. A February study of 65 business and IT personnel conducted by IT research and consulting firm Burton Group found that such perceptions are unfounded. "While companies are taking a more strategic approach by thinking about platforms rather than tools, many organizations have not made an enterprisewide decision on social networking technology," says Mike Gotta, a principal analyst for Burton Group and author of the report. For those companies that have made inroads in the social media space, Gotta explains, most projects are still in the proof-of-concept or early stages of deployment.

And those projects--even extensive ones within large organizations---tend to lack a tidy business case. "ROI is hard to forecast and is often caught in the rearview mirror," Gotta says, meaning that ROI becomes clearer once the system is in place and being used. Moreover, Gotta says pretending that the return on these technologies isn't soft is just plain "silly."

Building an enterprise platform without a financial rationale may seem like folly, but it's still very common and will likely remain so, particularly in the area of social media. "Lots of organizations are putting their toe in the water but not understanding the financial impact," says Walton Smith, a senior associate at consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. "There is no silver bullet."

Smith would know, having helped dozens of clients in the public and private sectors develop and deploy interactive information-sharing tools and social media platforms. Smith also spearheaded his firm's own social networking Website called, cheerily, Hello.

Typically, consultants locate subject experts by e-mailing colleagues to ask if they have (or someone they know has) a certain professional specialty. That catch-as-catch-can technique is inefficient, says Smith, and doesn't allow others to learn from the exchange. By contrast, Hello's interface centers on employee profiles, and its search capacity extends to multiple directories, blogs, wikis and threaded discussions, making it easier to extract previously unconnected information.

Hunting down those unimpeachable nuggets amidst a riot of data is the holy grail of corporate social networks--and some dare to say they have found it.

Rebecca Jacoby, CIO at Cisco, has ushered in a slew of collaborative technologies that she says have transformed Cisco's operations. "This is beyond basic automation and productivity equations," Jacoby says. "We're using the technology to enable our growth strategy."

Cisco has built a Facebook-like application for finding subject-matter experts, a video wiki, an internal Wikipedia-like application and a mashup that quickly locates technical support staff. "We think collaboration technologies are the next group of technologies that allow you to really change business models," says Jacoby.

This article was originally published on 07-13-2009
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