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Social Business Held Back by Corporate Culture, Not Technology

Social Business, Social Business Held Back by Corporate Culture, Not TechnologyHardly a day goes by without talk of how social business and social technologies are transforming the workplace. Like all areas of business there are obstacles to achieving social business goals and some of them are not that obvious. Recently, we asked one of IBM’s social business heavy-hitters what she thought the major obstacles were, and how to overcome them.

The biggest problem according to Heidi Ambler, Director, IBM Social Business, is not technology, but culture. In this case, the culture they are talking about is the business and corporate culture that exists in the enterprise.

What Social Technology Is Best?

Before looking at this in more detail, let’s just clarify what we are discussing. For Ambler, connecting disparate workers is one of the biggest challenges facing enterprises at the moment.

The explosion in social technologies raises the question as to what specific technologies will meet enterprise needs. Enterprises now have the choice of email and instant messaging, as well as video communications and wikis, social networks and enterprise blogs.

Even with ongoing improvements in social networks, email is still the most widely used application for internal and external communication within the enterprises. For 1-to-1 communication when employees want to share concise data, notes and ideas with one another email is still dominant.

However, there are scenarios where different forms of communication can be beneficial: for example, conducting real-time, back-and-forth conversation is best for instant messaging, as multiple emails in a row can quickly overload inboxes.

Additionally, communities within enterprise social networks work best for project management and group collaboration, as email chains can quickly get confusing and lead to lost information, or miscommunication.

Corporate Obstacles To Social Business

While deciding what kind of collaboration application will work best for a given workforce can be difficult, this should be part of overall enterprise technology planning and should, as such, be already well defined.

Generally speaking, Ambler says, the most common obstacle to social business success is culture. Organizations, they say, need to ask themselves whether they can develop and encourage a culture that is open and transparent, and ready to listen to and collaborate with employees, partners and customers.

It is absolutely critical that organizations foster a culture of sharing in order for their social business transformation to be a success. The practice of social business is meant to break down organizational silos, connect employees across departments and hierarchies, and allow for true collaboration and innovation across the ecosystem.

This is not the first time we have seen this, but how do you overcome cultural challenges? Ambler says that you must start at the top. Senior leadership needs to be at the forefront, adopting and encouraging the use of social applications:

…at IBM, where social is ingrained into our daily business processes, senior leadership takes an active role in engaging our ecosystem of employees, partners and customers using social tools whether its video blogs, communities, micro-blogging and more. We've also launched interactive, educational and social programs,” she said.

On the back of this she advises enterprises to look at existing infrastructure, management support and organizational culture, and identify what channels fit best into those structures to meet employee needs.

Social Business In The Cloud

They also suggested a cloud-based solution to the problem of social collaboration. A cloud collaboration suite integrates social and collaborative features in a single view, enabling users to seamlessly switch from application to application in the same screen and access their information everywhere, Buisan says.

Over the past few years cloud computing has matured to a point where it’s considered a mainstream technology service and will be worth US$ 214 billion by 2020, according to IBM estimates.

Similarly, social networking for business has exploded over the past several years with businesses now adopting social networks to better connect their employees, partners and clients and to transform the way they do business globally.


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