By Alan Hamilton
Social networking is described everywhere these days. It is seen by many as something you do in your spare time and certainly not when you are sitting at your desk supposed to be working. Yet social networking is something we all do all the time, whether it’s on the phone to customers or colleagues, at the water-cooler, at the lunch cafeteria or over a coffee when working on a project. If this is the case, then why do some organizations consider social networking the antithesis of work?
Many organizations still see instant messaging at work as a way for staff to goof-off. Do they think the same of email or telephone? If they don’t, have they not considered that their (obviously highly-valued) staff might sit and chat to each other on the phone or send all sorts of daft emails back and forth? The less-progressive organization might think that it is fairly obvious if someone is wasting time on the phone and – hang on – aren’t all emails logged, so we’d know, right?
To me this approach is upside down and any organization who really wants to move from a 1990s culture into one which embraces the fact that social networking, instant messaging and all the other communications tools at their staff’s disposal doesn’t encourage them to waste time, it encourages them to work.
If productivity is a key consideration would you not as a manager want to give your employees every possible tool to help them do what they need to do? Would you deliberately not give a joiner a hammer, saw, nails and so on? What if you want him to be great at what he does? Would you give him a different type of saw to use from time to time to achieve a particular result? Of course you would. Social networking in business is no different.
No one person in your organization knows everything. The more ways you can give your staff to share what they know and discover what they don’t, the more chance they have of making the right decision, excelling in what they are doing, delighting a customer or hitting that target. Deliberately holding back tools does not make a good joiner and the same is true for your staff.
Some organizations are doing away with providing a company-owned computer and some even with a company-owned phone. Why? Because often staff have better equipment at home that they would prefer to use. Standardizing staff onto one platform for the sake of IT’s ability to manage holds staff back from their creativity and productivity. Using social business tools is no different. If your staff would rather use a Mac at work and an iPhone and seek to establish a large number of business connections on sites like LinkedIn, won’t they be happy staff, well-connected and able to perform for you?
Chances are that your organization will be like most others. It will have a variety of information management systems which have been implemented over the last ten or so years, all of which were designed to perform a specific task. It might have been an intranet solution to give everyone somewhere to put their stuff or find information. It might have been a file server which was set up to provide a central place to store files, or a line of business solution which performs a specific procedure, such as a CRM or helpdesk solution.
Chances are that these systems don’t talk to each other and are incapable (at moderate expense) of being made to talk to each other. Your staff essentially became the point of integration of these systems. They copy and paste information between the systems and generally work around their processes. These systems also act primarily as repositories of information – so called Systems of Record. They hold the definitive copy of the Staff Handbook, the Purchase Orders received, or the letter or fax sent to a client. They don’t offer any opportunity to interact with each other, to solicit feedback, improve the results or generally do what we humans do all the time – collaborate.
So it is therefore that the growth of social systems has come to business. A social business is one which aims to increase the transparency of its decision making, it engages staff, customers and suppliers in its processes and reacts quickly to new information. The benefits of this are straight onto the bottom line. More intangible benefits of becoming social include better staff retention and better collective intelligence in the organization for decision-making.
You might think that turning your organization around to become social is too big a task. You might consider that the investment required to obtain the necessary services, hardware, software and training would preclude the benefit, or at least the risk of success. You might also think that because you have always worked a particular way and, for greater or lesser, it has worked you don’t see any need to change.
With an open mind and some discussion you would probably find that engaging with your customers in product or service development would reveal interesting insights into what they wish you could provide. By interacting more and being open to feedback you would probably find all sorts of ways of improving your business from the people who actually run it – your staff. How, though, in these risk-averse times do you make the leap to becoming social without enormous risk and cost?
Implementing a social business strategy using cloud computing is one such solution. A cloud solution provides you with all the necessary infrastructure and interconnections in one system. Normally it is pre-built, just ready for you to move in. A system such as IBM SmartCloud for Social Business gives your business the opportunity to rent over a short period of time or much longer all the capabilities of an on-premises solution but without the headache of support and providing the operating environment for the system.
Using a cloud-based solution also makes it very easy to enable your staff wherever they are to get the benefits of a collaborative solution. Using their smartphone or tablet they can stay connected, find out what’s going on and generally remain part of the solution while they are away from their computer.