In last week’s Social Business blog, I wrote about building the culture for Social Business. For companies to successfully become social businesses, they must implement core processes and gain organizational buy-in dedicated to supporting knowledge transfer. However, culture is not enough in and of itself. To optimize Social Business, companies must also use the proper tools associated with high value collaboration.

To define both core and differentiated technologies associated with Social Business, Aberdeen surveyed 270 organizations on their Social Business practices. Top performers increased revenue and gained a greater positive Return on Investment (ROI) on Social Business compared to all others.

We identified the top 20% of all respondents (which we called Best-in-Class) and compared them to all other companies. By doing so, we compared 54 companies that averaged 28% revenue growth and a 108% ROI (meaning that they had fully paid back their costs) to 216 other companies that averaged 4% revenue and a 36% ROI (meaning that they had not received enough direct value to pay back their investment). How did these companies differ in their choices of technology?

The Basics

To no one’s surprise, technologies such as desk phones, cell phones, email and web conferencing were not associated with Best-in-Class performance. This doesn’t mean that these technologies aren’t important, but that these are table stakes at this point for any organization seeking to optimize their collaboration.

It was somewhat more surprising to find that Unified Communications (UC) suites were not associated with Best-in-Class performance either. Although only 49% of respondents overall are currently using an integrated UC suite, this was typically seen as a building block or a platform to build collaborative capabilities rather than an end-all and be-all of collaboration.

The Differentiators

The most valuable technologies from a Social Business perspective can be divided into three categories: infrastructure investments, portals and key features. In the investment category, both enterprise content management and content delivery networks appeared as key differentiators between Best-in-Class companies and all others.

Best-in-Class companies were 70% more likely to have content management solutions and over twice as likely to invest in a network that could cache and deliver large files in a timely manner. Collaboration increasingly requires both the ability to curate documents and to send them in a timely manner.

From a portal perspective, Social Business champions were more likely to aggregate key functionalities and applications into a single portal, whether it be a supplier portal, a partner portal or an enterprise-wise employee portal.

In all of these cases, Best-in-Class organizations were over 50% as likely to create these portals on behalf of their employees and key partners compared to all other organizations. No matter how much a company may invest in collaborative tools such as blogs, wikis, virtual meetings and online communities, it will not matter if key stakeholders cannot effectively find and use these technologies.

The Notables

Finally, there were five key features that distinguished themselves from all others through Best-in-Class adoption:

  • Group Chat solutions (adopted by 65% of Best-in-Class companies): By having a persistent area where employees could write real-time messages to each other, whether across a room or across the world, companies created a greater sense of community among remote teams and improved time-to-response when project risk or corporate risk events took place.
  • Survey polling (adopted by 54% of Best-in-Class companies): By collecting structured feedback from employees and customers in a streamlined fashion, these companies kept in touch with large communities and were more likely to capture trends and problems that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
  • Real-Time Collaborative Content Creation (adopted by 50% of Best-in-Class companies): Out of all technologies in the Best-in-Class category, this is the one that is most likely to elicit the response of “I just don’t get it.” No wonder, then, that only 20% of all other companies were using this technology. For those who are not accustomed to having multiple people work on a document at once, it may seem like learning a foreign language to create content in this fashion. However, when the goal is to create as many ideas as possible or to edit and proofread in parallel without having to go through multiple iterations, this feature can provide great value in saving time.
  • Idea creation and collection module (adopted by 41% of Best-in-Class companies): The capture of ideas and ability to mature these ideas into the corporate project and portfolio management office is one of the most valuable activities associated with Social Business. It is no coincidence that 59% of Best-in-Class companies define accelerated product development as one of their key Social Business value propositions compared to only 15% of all other companies. These top companies place special attention in gathering the best ideas throughout the company or even throughout the extended enterprise.
  • Activity Streams (adopted by 33% of Best-in-Class companies): As news feeds have evolved to include all individual activities conducted on a social network, advanced companies have been able to take advantage of these alerts to better understand the current status of key projects, productions, and other tasks. Over the past five years, these streams have become increasingly valuable for organizations that must keep track of the real-time status of various corporate activities.

In addition to these top differentiators, there were a number of other technologies that Best-in-Class companies found useful as well, such as managed wikis, the integration of business process automation with collaborative tools, virtual event platforms and mobile access to Social Business solutions.

Although all of these features were used more often by Aberdeen’s top performers, the overall adoption for these technologies indicates that these features have yet to reach the early majority status where they can truly drive value to the enterprise. As these features gain adoption in 2012, the hope is that they will drive additional productivity for the Social Business.

By adopting the appropriate tools to support Social Business, your organization will be more likely to effectively support the core business goals specified in Part I of this series and the cultural structure specified in Part II to optimize the value of Social Business.

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