While we might expect social within the enterprise to be easy as Facebook or Twitter, it’s not.  Deploying social technology within the enterprise is a journey filled with organizational hurdles that include compliance, security, culture change, executive sponsorship, budget and integration challenges to name just a few.  In some organizations, this social journey begins when the business wants to embrace social before corporate IT is ready.

Often times the business seems to ignore these hurdles and the result is yet another silo of information -- which, in actuality, becomes an unsanctioned content repository. The business, yes the business, seems to focus too much on technology, shiny new user interfaces, new smart phone applications or some marketing pitch about a “new way to work” and not enough on change management or the reality of a business world concerned about governance, risk, or compliance. Oh how “consumerization of IT” has turned the tables as it used to be the geeks in IT with the shiny new toys!

Enterprise social computing has quickly become a crowded and confusing market sector.

As the social technology space has evolved, it's become difficult for anyone evaluating vendors to untangle the marketing hype and buzzword overload. Some vendors offer standalone social “suites” with a unique and separate technology stack running outside of existing enterprise systems. In other cases, functional or departmental business applications like eLearning, CRM or applications originally designed for enterprise wikis are all jumping into the social game with more “suite-like” functionality.

It's important to ask the right questions and make an informed decision when it comes to social technology in the workplace. So what are the top considerations both business and IT should think about before jumping on the social bandwagon and making an enterprise technology purchase?

1. Don’t Ignore Organizational Hurdles.

The most successful deployments of social technology all have one thing in common: the social initiative across the organization focused less on technology and more on transforming culture and influencing employee behavior patterns.

Aside from culture change, today’s global business climate still has to deal with certain regulatory frameworks that include records management, e-discovery and governance policy. While social technology may be new and exciting, existing regulations around digital communications and content are the same and the risk of violations come with a cost. And governance, risk and compliance issues are too important to figure out later.

Be sure that you have the processes in place for records management and e-Discovery so you can manage the collection, preservation and retrieval of all social user-generated content. For example, when it comes to searching and extracting the relevant information in response to legal discovery requests, can you do that natively? Or must you use a third-party application or utility?

Organizations invest extensively in systems to carefully and comprehensively manage their retention and disposition of digital content and communications. How will your chosen social solution align with compliance related efforts if social exists in a separate infrastructure?

2. Focus on Integration with Existing IT Infrastructure & User Experience

Thoughtful integration will provide your workforce with a secure, collaborative environment and an integrated and more holistic user experience. Considering integration before making a decision will also ensure less headaches for IT when it comes to resources, administration and support.

How will the social platform integrate with the organization’s overall user experience including single sign-on, single profile, federated or integrated search, etc.? How will the social technology integrate with other unified communications tools you might already have in place? How will security trimming of content surfaced in a user's activity stream be handled across systems?

Will this new social technology create redundancy with existing systems and integration challenges when it comes to compliance, administration, profiles, security, and information and content management? Will the social vendor limit or prevent your ability to integrate and customize? Or will they simply make integration and customization cost-prohibitive?

3. Consider Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

TCO is critical and evaluators should fully weigh and analyze the true costs before choosing a social vendor. The cost of a standalone social platform itself will require a unique licensing and/or redundant infrastructure consisting of web, application and database servers with added costs.

While some social computing vendors are eager to claim integration with existing enterprise systems, will this integration require additional cost? If connection points with other systems are available, will the vendor require additional fees or costly custom development?

For example, “connector” products for identity management, search or Enterprise CMSs can require incremental annual-per-user fees for integration with other systems. When it comes to TCO, dig into the details and understand all the related costs and complexities -- whether they’re explicit or hidden costs.

Bottom Line: Do Your Homework

The success of any enterprise social computing initiative relies on meaningful interactions that create real business value. Social within the enterprise has to account for how work is performed, how we communicate and collaborate professionally, and more importantly, focus on costs and the productivity of workers.

While social technologies can represent a shift to worker-centric systems and introduce new work paradigms, the decision to deploy an enterprise social computing solution requires a thorough understanding of all related factors that impact governance, risk, compliance, culture, user experience, integration and costs.

In the end, you may realize that a social solution leveraging an existing technology infrastructure can offer significant value for your organization. For example, enterprise social computing software that seamlessly integrates into an existing platform such as SharePoint will enable your organization to amortize expenses and more efficiently leverage existing assets, expertise, skills, tools, policies and configurations.

Again, to summarize the top 3 considerations for deploying social within the enterprise:

  1. Don’t ignore organizational hurdles like culture, change, governance, risk and compliance.
  2. Focus on how the technology will integrate with and within your existing IT infrastructure and user experience.
  3. Consider Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading: