Social Business: If You Build It, Will They Come?

By Susan Nunziata

Social Business: If You Build It, Will They Come?

Anyone who's been paying attention knows that social media, big data, cloud computing and mobility are colliding in the enterprise, transforming the way we live and work. Along the way, these factors are raising a host of challenges for the IT organization, as well as the governance and compliance departments.

The impact of these trends is being felt on two fronts: Externally, enterprise customers are making quick use of social media and mobility to influence brand image and make purchasing decisions. Internally, workers are using social media and mobility -- whether IT likes it or not -- and there's vast, untapped opportunity to harness these ways of working to foster collaboration and communication, change business processes and potentially influence the bottom line.

Software and solutions vendors are aiming to give enterprises the tools that would enable them to marry social, cloud and mobility -- internally and externally -- in a way that accommodates the trends while keeping the very real needs for data security, compliance and risk management in mind.

According to Forrester Research, the market opportunity for social enterprise apps is expected to grow from $600 million in year-end 2011 to $6.4 billion by year-end 2016, a 61 percent increase. The research firm also predicts that cloud computing will grow from a $41 billion business in 2011 to $241 billion by 2020. Meanwhile, the mobile workforce is projected by IDC to reach more than 1.19 billion people worldwide by 2013.

CIOs have the opportunity to drive the discussions about external- and internal-facing social business strategies, and a close look reveals that, in fact, the two are really inextricably entwined.

Externally, businesses need to be able to process and make sense of the vast volumes of data being generated on social media in order to make intelligent business decisions.

Inside the enterprise, the consumerization of IT is a much-discussed topic these days, and the consensus tends to be "give the people what they want."

These were the twin focal points at the IBM Lotusphere and IBM Connect conferences -- held simultaneously in Orlando, FL, Jan. 15-18. At the same time, it was refreshing to hear talk about the needs of the enterprise and, particularly, IT, placed front-and-center in the many discussions taking place around mobility and social media.

How tomorrow's "social business" will play out is less a discussion about specific technologies and solutions, and more about the challenges of change management. The real question to ask now is: Do "sanctioned" social media and mobility solutions handed down from within an organizational hierarchy stand any hope of being embraced productively and enthusiastically by an enterprise workforce?

It's early days to try and answer that question, but the use cases presented at IBM Connect offer a glimpse into what lies ahead.

Social Business: What Lies Ahead?

A number of enterprises, including BASF, Premier Healthcare Alliance and the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration - as well as IBM itself - have implemented IBM's suite of services known as IBM Connections, a platform that incorporates cloud, social networking and mobility solutions.

"This is one of things I think is really important about social business: It's not just about cool tools, it has to be about business outcomes," said Jeanette Horan, IBM VP/CIO, during a session at IBM Connect. "What is it that the business can get if you implement them into your business processes?"

Indeed, in conversation after conversation with CIOs and other IT leaders who are pursuing a "social business" strategy, it always boils down to how the tools can change business processes. Sometimes, IT has a hard time convincing users who have grown accustomed to viewing social media as a "fun" tool that it has real business potential.

Dr. CheeChin Liew, enterprise community manager at BASF, presented a case study at IBM Connect in which he described implementing IBM Connections in May 2010 as the platform behind the connect.BASF network. He said workers often ask him how they can join the company's Facebook. "It's good to have social media that is so well known but it's hard to for them to unlearn this," says Liew. "We have to tell them it's not a Facebook. It's not for fun, it's actually for work."

BASF has more than 109,000 workers worldwide and its goal with connect.BASF was to break down business silos and foster collaboration among a dispersed workforce. In the 18 months since connect.BASF launched, 28,500 employees have signed on and are using the network, forming 2,300 different communities, according to Liew. The efforts to raise awareness and entice users continue. "We didn't expect that we'd need so much coaching, that was a surprise for us," says Liew. "Training and coaching takes much of our time."

At the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration, Lead IT Architect Robert van den Breemen, said the organization's digital workspace initiative -- which includes the Connect People network built on the IBM Connections platform -- has changed the way his team talks about technology. Presenting his case study at IBM Connect, van den Breemen said, "The main change is that we started to no longer talk about the technology and products people use in their daily work. Instead, we started to talk about people. All our initiatives [now] are human centric."

The Dutch Tax and Customs Administration employs more than 32,000 staff members at 150 locations. In the three months since its Connect People network launched, 4,000 workers have joined and they've launched 615 communities, according to van den Breemen.

Getting Buy-In From the Board

Premier Healthcare Alliance is jointly owned by 200 hospitals and has affiliations with a total of 2,500 hospitals and 80,000 other healthcare operations. It handles group contracting for hospital products and services, shares clinical knowledge among its members and provides a forum in which members can share their experiences with insurance claims and risks.

In a case study presented at IBM Connect, CTO Denise Hatzidaki discussed how the organization is a year into its multifaceted community and analytics project, known as the Integrated Performance Platform, that will be built out over the next three to five years. The Integrated Performance Platform has three components: community; applications; and integrated data. The goals are to make sense of what Hatzidaki called the "plume of data" that surrounds clinicians and patients, and tease out relevant insight, information and intelligence for users.  "It's about how to make those insights available at the right time at the right place for the right individuals," she said.

"You talk to some folks who say 'I don't want to give my [employees] Twitter, how will they get any work done?' This change isn't an IT thing," said Hatzidaki. "It's for us to work with business on how to ... solve the business problems we 're trying to fix today."

She added: "The problem is not technology, it's culture. How do we enable people to think differently about how we solve [business] problems?"

Hatzidaki had to get buy-in on the Integrated Performance Platform from the organization's board. Winning over the medical establishment's leaders required "going very methodically over every proof point. We were very careful to set milestones and goals. [You have to] talk to the business in the business's language: 'We're going to enable performance improvement by making this available to the members.' You want to show incremental improvements. Nothing speaks better than incremental data points."

Working jointly with IBM and technology consulting firm Perficient, Premier has begun building the community components of its Integrated Performance Platform. "Our goal is to take this platform and build an ecosystem for healthcare" that makes it easy for users to communicate, collaborate, share and analyze data in order to improve outcomes and solve pressing medical problems, explained Hatzidaki.

IT leaders interviewed by CIO Insight during IBM Connect agree, though, that the danger in building any social business platform lies in the "Field of Dreams" belief that "if you build it they will come."

IBM has some 425,000 employees in 170 countries, along with another 100,000 or so subcontractors. Horan said her team supports a total of about 550,000 endpoints. Some 90,000 IBM employees are actively using IBM Connections, according to Carol Sormilic, VP of global workforce and web Processes. "Our goal is to get all 425,000 to join," she said.

Raising awareness, providing education and training, sharing success stories and finding ways to reward users are just some of the tactics organizations are using to increase the use of their social business solutions.

"Right now, IT is leading the social business revolution," said IBM's Horan. "The business users have to understand what's possible. In some ways it's very similar to early days of web. If you went to business users back in 1993 and asked them 'How would you use a web browser and website?' they'd look at you as if you were stupid."

If social business indeed proves to be as instrumental in our daily lives as the Web has become, then any CIO willing to bet on pushing the enterprise into this emerging ecosystem could end up being amply rewarded.

This article was originally published on 01-17-2012