The term Social Business has been badly abused by technology vendors, end user associations and even well-meaning employees seeking to align specific technologies with business improvements. Based on public-facing information, one could think that this term is a form of social networking, the next generation of unified communications, a data-driven middleware solution, or simply the day-to-day interactions that we already pursue with our fellow co-workers.
However, Aberdeen seeks to provide some clarity to this debate by providing a common-sense definition of Social Business and then pursuing the logical analysis to determine Best-in-Class business results.
Social Business Defined
From our perspective, Social Business is simply a process where teams work together to achieve business-driven goals. This process does not necessarily require technologies from a very basic perspective, but as companies become increasingly dispersed, technology plays an important role in helping the process of collaboration.
Ideally, Social Business should not simply be an aggregation of people. Anyone who has endured the pain of a large conference call where everyone speaks and nobody gets anything done can understand the need for focused collaboration with specific goals in mind. Social Business should be a strategic initiative to connect appropriate employees, partners, suppliers and customers with core business needs.
Drivers for Adoption
In our 2011 research of 270 companies, Aberdeen found that current business pressures for Social Business centered around five different themes, each of which were identified by at least 75 organizations as a key driver for adopting Social Business and was associated with its own set of strategies and technologies:
- Effective partner/supplier collaboration (37% of respondents)
- Need to increase innovation (33% of respondents)
- Identifying new market opportunities (33% of respondents)
- Increasing employee cohesiveness on a global/enterprise-wide scale (29% of respondents)
- Fear of losing proprietary and institutional knowledge (29% of respondents)
At a high level, what was the starting point for Social Business in organizations with these pressures? Aberdeen found that both the adoption and ubiquity of certain Social Business interfaces and technologies were significantly different and provided insight into why these organizations were challenged.
Partner and Supplier Collaboration
Companies seeking to improve partner and supplier collaboration tended to be very similar to the respondent base as a whole, indicating that there was no particular company size or industry focus. In addition, there were no gaping technology gaps that separated these companies from the rest of the market.
However, this need was identified by executive respondents to a greater extent than all others and underrepresented by IT-based respondents, which indicates that there may be a disconnect between those asking for better Social Business and those that are tasked to implement these solutions.
Organizations seeking to increase innovation were the most likely to take the leap to social business software with 64% of these organizations already having a solution in place compared to only 47% of all respondents. However, these same organizations did not have greater adoption of social software compared to all other organizations and struggled with modeling the Return on Investment associated with their collaborative technologies to a much greater extent. Although these companies were more ambitious than their peers, their lack of focus led to implementation struggles.
Identify New Market Opportunities
Identifying new market opportunities, on the other hand, was the approach that led to the greatest successes from a preparation perspective.
These companies had the most to gain from executing on their social business strategies because success was directly aligned to increased revenues and improved business opportunities. These companies tended to be more focused on external social media, less focused on creating portals, and were more likely to be executive-driven than other social business deployments.
Increase Employee Cohesiveness
To increase employee cohesiveness, on the other hand, companies focused strongly on having one version of the truth. These companies were 20% more likely to have employee web portals in place and also placed a focus on enterprise content management.
In addition, organizations focused on employee engagement were more likely to seek solutions that were overlays or compatible with current infrastructure, since a primary goal of internal collaboration is to engage employees where they already work rather than to drive adoption of an additional system.
Protection of Proprietary Knowledge
The final key driver, fear of losing proprietary knowledge, was not differentiated from all other organizations from a technology investment perspective. However, these companies had a paradoxical conflict within their organizations.
Strategically, their two top goals were to improve employee engagement and to make tacit information available throughout their organization. Although they were more focused than typical organizations to change their culture, less than half of these Social efforts were driven by executives who were Director level or above, making it less likely that these cultural changes would succeed.
Based on this research, it is evident that Social Business has to begin with identifying business goals and objectives that must be met and that each key strategic goal tends to be accompanied by multiple challenges. To successfully implement Social Business, companies must first think about their key goals and make sure that the technology, processes and culture are aligned towards these key objectives.
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