Many organizations today are seeking opportunities to be more responsive and effective. Typical goals are to improve sales efficiency, accelerate innovation and increase responsiveness to customers. As companies have leveraged the benefits of external communication using social networking, leading organizations have recognized the potential for similar impact through full transformation into a social business.

Collaboration in Demand 

IBM's 2012 CEO Study identified that collaboration is the number-one trait CEOs are seeking in their employees, with 75 percent of CEOs calling it critical. A new, unprecedented era of internal knowledge sharing, catalyzed by “digital natives” entering the workforce, brings expectations of connectedness and contributing to the overall organization. Becoming a social business drives both the cultural change as well as technology adoption required to meet the expectations of employees as well as customers, partners, and suppliers.

The largest potential for improved collaboration is insertion of social into business processes. Inside the organization, this can lead to measurable improvements in the responsiveness and close rate of salespeople, faster delivery of new products and shorter cycle time in providing customer service. There are efficiency benefits as well, as organizations turn from sending information in private channels such as email to sharing information through social file repositories, wikis, blogs or profiles.

Putting Social to Work at IBM

At IBM, we have proven the value of social business tools in several ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Our inside sales organization has increased its successful conversion rate for leads and opportunities, based on utilization of internal social tools. Salespeople now have direct access to product expertise and information, which they can then utilize to address customer requirements and objections more quickly. We have measured a several percentage point improvement in results which can be directly correlated to the use of internal social networking.
  • Project teams at IBM increasingly are comprised of talent clouds, where the best subject-matter experts and skilled leaders are assembled for a particular activity. To help identify and leverage expertise, employees create and maintain their own organizational profiles, including much richer data than the typical corporate directory. IBMers document their technical skills, spoken languages, customer affiliations, interests and previous employers, all of which feeds into an expertise location system.
  • Unstructured activity tracking has replaced formal project management for group-oriented task management. The activity-centric model provides significant improvements versus email oriented approaches, which tend to focus on individual to-dos and keep most of the knowledge hidden in individual user mailboxes. 
    Shared activities store everything from meeting minutes to presentation material to document templates, all in a outline-oriented shared repository. Activity contributors typically can be added by anyone already involved, ensuring that new contributors are enabled organically.

In my own experience, the motivations for participating in internal collaboration through social business tools are clear. My daily email volume has decreased over the last three years, despite greater responsibilities. The constant inbox assault of requests for current presentations, attempts to locate me or determine the status of current projects or activities has all disappeared.

By providing all of that information through our use of social business tools, those IBMers who I normally interact with or influence can find useful information on their own, by utilizing tags, search tools or notifications. This has resulted in a transformation of email into a social mail experience, where only relevant content arrives in my inbox with a faster path to action.

'Social on the Inside' is More than Setting up Facebook & Twitter Accounts

One of the key catalysts and best practices in IBM's transformation to a social business was the creation of a set of Social Computing Guidelines, initially authored in 2005. These guidelines encouraged a culture of participation, versus typical corporate policy documents which are designed to restrict activities. As a result, today the vast majority of IBMers collaborate through our internal tools: publishing their profiles, microblogging and sharing files.

At IBM, we believe social business represents the fifth wave of computing, not just some fad that will be over in an Internet minute. A social business demonstrates three core attributes: engaged, transparent and agile. These principles apply even more to internal collaboration today, driving communication and sharing at all levels of the organization. The result is faster innovation, improved customer satisfaction and increased sales. 

Editor's Note: Interested in reading more from this month's focus on enterprise collaboration