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Enterprises are using social and mobile to improve customer engagement, but not using them to improve productivity. At least that is the conclusion of new research from UK-based Advanced Business Solutions (ABS).

The findings are somewhat surprising given that the uses of enterprise social networks are largely associated with internal collaboration. But that is a myth, at least in the mid-sized enterprises segment.

According to the research — Don’t Forget the Back Office — 85 percent of the organizations surveyed use social and mobile technologies to market themselves externally. But only 17 percent are using them to collaborate, share information sources and receive answers to queries internally.

A further 69 percent also use social technologies to respond to queries and comments from existing customers, potential prospects and suppliers who are using these communication channels.

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Said Who?

While the findings only reflect the opinions of representatives at 160 medium sized enterprises in the UK, there is no reason to believe the results would be much different in the US. On both sides of the Atlantic, the goal is the same: better productivity and better revenues and profits.

In fact, according to other recent research, in the UK, the midsize market is probably more productive than larger companies. Keep in mind, too, that this is a sector that generated $114 billion in 2013, an increase of 7.5 percent on the previous year and accounting for approximately 22 percent of total sector turnover.

Perhaps even more impressive is the finding that productivity, when measured as average turnover per employee, is 33 percent higher in the mid-market than in smaller companies and very slightly higher than in large ones.

The report is the first installment of a two part series on how social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies affects internal efficiency and productivity. This one focuses on social and mobile technologies. The second report, to be released by the end of the year, looks at analytics and cloud computing.

The bottom line from this first report is that less than one in five companies are using social and mobile technologies to improve internal productivity — although almost two-thirds of respondents believe that their organizations should be doing more with internal social networks to drive employee collaboration. A further 69 percent feel that using internal social networks can help to cut down on unnecessary email and improve efficiency.

Social, Mobile Technologies

Social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing (SMAC) technologies are changing the way enterprises do business and communicate with the outside world. They are also acting as change agents in the enterprise:

  • Social technologies: Enable the rapid transfer of knowledge across the enterprise as well as unlock the information and knowledge that each member of a network
  • Mobile technologies: The evolution of mobile is creating an “always on” work force that can connect and access information at any time and from any place
  • Analytics: Streamlines supply chains, facilitates closed-loop marketing and optimizes customer relations management processes by understanding relationship across the enterprise
  • Cloud technology: This is the linchpin of the entire SMAC stack as its economy and scalability is making it the foundation of disparate IT ecosystems

Things have changed rapidly since 2006, when just 8 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and 4 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds were using social networking sites. Now, according to the same source, 82 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and 65 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds are using social media.

Given the rapid increase in personal use of social networks across all age groups, it come as no surprise that 80 percent of respondents have seen an increase in the use of social media in their organization over the past two years.

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The survey found 86 percent of organizations currently use social media to market themselves externally and 75 percent use it to understand what is being said about them in the public domain. In addition, 69 percent use it to respond to queries and comments from customers, potential prospects and suppliers.

In contrast, just 17 percent of organizations surveyed regularly use social media tools such as enterprise social network systems and intranets to collaborate, share information sources and receive answers to queries internally. Another 28 percent using it occasionally for the same purpose. But a whopping 61 percent say it could be used more.

This supports research from Forrester on the impact of Yammer, written before it was bought my Microsoft, which pointed to the fact that social network providers typically see a 365 percent return on investment over three years. That ROI is based on:

  • Visible collaboration and communication leading to project cost savings resulting from the duplication of work and better process management
  • Better employee engagement.
  • Improved vertical communication between company leadership and employees

Steve Watmough, CEO at Mason Advisory, said that one of the real problems here is that enterprises are not identifying what they want to achieve with social media:

There’s a risk of internal social networks becoming a time sink for employees with potentially very little benefit to the business. To use them productively, firms need to have a clear purpose, for example, asking questions such as ‘What are the top 10 things we should be doing differently?"

Steve King, CEO at Black Swan Data, said firms have to be willing to allow employees to use social networks freely if they want them to be successful. “You will get comments you don’t like, and you need to be willing to take them on the chin — and to have the processes in place to respond,” he said.

The research revealed that only 13 per cent admitted that they use social media to engage with suppliers but 58 per cent stated their organization should be doing more to leverage mutually beneficial opportunities and gain greater visibility of potential supply chain issues.

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Mobile In The Enterprise

Nearly two thirds (62 percent) would like to do more work with smartphones or tablets, particularly around human resources or finance.

More than any other work-related task, people are using mobile for email, the research shows, with 92 percent of those working in IT saying they access their email through a smartphone or tablet, followed by 58 percent of finance respondents and 49 percent of those in HR.

IT also has the greatest proportion of high mobile respondents with 58 percent of IT respondents classified as high mobile users versus 39 percent of HR respondents and 30 percent of finance respondents. Just 4 percent of IT respondents are no mobile, compared to 26 percent of finance 31 percent of HR respondents.

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Bring your own device (BYOD) strategies also pop up here, with most employees preferring to use their own devices, 49 percent to 30 percent.

The research also shows that the more mobile users are, the more likely they are to want to use their own device. It also highlights the economies that can be made by companies that effectively manage BYOD.

Given that many employees want to use their own devices, it’s clearly a route worth considering for companies of any size. As Oliver Colling, a director at The North Highland Co., said: “There’s evidence that many users are happier using their own device rather than one chosen by their organization – people feel much more empowered.”

The message from this research is that both social and mobile can deliver significant benefits to mid-sized organizations.

However, it also shows that a top-down strategy is needed to enable the organized use of these technologies effectively.