As VP of Products at NewsGator Technologies, I have come across more instances than I can count of companies wanting the productivity, innovation and collaboration benefits of social computing, but fearing risk (most unfounded) regarding such a solution. There are numerous excuses which I’ve heard decision-makers at organizations concoct to try to rationalize why they should not implement social computing. Here are eight rather typical ones I’ve come across – and why I strongly believe they’re not justified.
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8 Reasons Why You and Your Organization Should (NOT!) Be Afraid of Social Computing
1 -- Social computing tools are not enterprise ready.
While there are several new entrants in the enterprise social computing field, with little experience in the marketplace, there are also several vendors that have products that are already 2 to 3 years old. As a point of reference, NewsGator Social Sites launched in mid 2007 and is now in build 3.1, and is in use by over 2 million users, and is deployed at some organizations with up to 300,000 employees.
2 -- It won’t deliver any ROI.
A properly deployed enterprise social computing solution will, indeed, produce ROI. We have seen our customers benefit from reduced premium content costs, lower printing budgets, reduced email volume and support costs and decreased enterprise application integration costs. In addition to hard cost take outs, there are also soft cost benefits such as improved productivity or time savings. For example, CME Federal Credit Union, documented a 30 minute daily time savings per employee after they implemented a social computing platform.
3 -- People are just going to waste time with this.
This is, of course, the same argument that was made against all those other crazy technologies like instant messaging, email, and telephones. If you have employees that you don’t let use email or telephones, you probably shouldn’t give them a social computing solution either. For the rest of your employees, social computing tools just extend and enhance these existing communication and collaboration capabilities. The same mechanisms your company has today to ensure people are productive apply just as well when social computing is added. Remember, in a good enterprise social computing solution, no action is anonymous. Time wasted on social computing is actually more visible than time wasted at the water cooler.
4 -- It will be a nightmare to support.
This point speaks to the importance of IT’s involvement in the selection of an enterprise social computing product. If IT selects a technology that integrates into their existing infrastructure, support issues should be greatly mitigated. Also, selecting a solution that is all-inclusive, rather than having to support specific, individual solutions for every type of social computing (blogs, wikis, microblogging, etc.), can actually significantly reduce support issues and IT upkeep – by consolidating and simplifying the overall social computing experience.
5 -- No one will use it.
We all know that management and IT hate to spend time and resources to implement something business users asked for only to find out that those very users never end up using the solution to its full potential. But a solution that is integrated into employees’ daily workflow and your organization’s existing infrastructure will greatly increase the likelihood of success. In addition, the right enterprise social computing platform will be easy to use, viral in nature, and self-sustaining.
6 -- People will say foolish or offensive things.
When I hear statements like this, I am often tempted to ask what they think would happen if a whiteboard and markers were suddenly placed in a hallway. Would the employees start writing foolish and offensive things? In consumer solutions, a “report abuse” feature often shows up. But that feature exists because anyone can create an account, and the worst repercussions are typically being banned from the system. In enterprise social computing systems, it is important that users be able to understand just how visible their actions will be and it is important for users to be able to delete or edit mistakes. But the idea that giving users a new kind of whiteboard and markers will make them all lose their minds in a fit of electronic profanity is really misplaced.
7 -- Users will compromise company information.
It’s tough to be an IT security professional. Every new system looks like a new attack vector. If users don’t realize the scope of their statements, it is possible that they will reveal something to someone that they should not. This is a fair concern for a security professional. Similarly, if users have to make lots of security decisions, it is a fair signal of possible issues. But consider the alternative of not having an enterprise system. For most organizations with whom we’ve spoken, this means that some of the conversations will happen in public systems like Facebook or Twitter. While it may be possible to block all these avenues, in general, it seems much better to give users a secure system behind the firewall for this kind of communication.
8 -- My manager(s) will hate it.
For any, or all of the reasons above, you may worry that you won’t be able to get buy-in from your management. We have seen the market transition over the last year from ‘should we do social computing?’ to ‘we are doing social computing; how do we get it right?’ If your company doesn’t make the leap to social computing, it risks being left behind. Implementing a social computing solution could even impress your boss. One of our customers, a top 3 aerospace and defense company, had a team take a risk on social computing; less than one year later, they were honored with an award from the CIO. So while there are risks and hard work involved with implementing a social computing project, it may we be one of the most productive and far-reaching impacts you can have on your business.
Where does that leave us? Nearly every company wants improved collaboration. Some companies spend most of their time and energy thinking about the risk. They try to dream up excuses for not implementing social computing solutions. But, in reality, the companies that have done the most with social computing typically find very few problems – and we have plenty of data and evidence to support this.
If you are considering a social computing project, you definitely should get your legal, privacy and security people involved early. But you don’t need to be overly fearful or concoct reasons to keep your organization from making the leap to social computing. The real world results of enterprise social computing show that the underlying fears have no real world justification.
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