Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend one of the 2011 SharePoint Conference sessions entitled “Creating Competitive Advantage Using Social Media and Collective Intelligence” given by Thomas Krofta, Sr. Director of Avanade. His agenda focused on three main areas:

  • Social media in the enterprise -- why is this important?
  • Steps to implement social computing -- What steps should enterprises take toward social computing today to ensure competitive advantage tomorrow?
  • Managing change -- How can organizations benefit from the change?

Trends in Collaboration

Mr. Kofta opened his presentation by identifying trends in collaboration, including the following:

  • Collaboration as a service
  • Focus on “in-process”
  • The need for auditability, compliance and governance
  • Workforce optimization
  • Consumer social media impacting corporate IT
  • The need to be “always on”
  • User experience
  • Multimedia
  • Information discovery

And all of these trends are impacted by the speed of change (economic/market changes), character of relevant knowledge (short term and situation driven), globalization (increased need for collaboration in virtual teams), and lastly workforce demographics (diversity and age groups).

A Case Study of Social Computing

Mr. Kofta then used a 20,000 user global financial organization as a case study to demonstrate the why, what and the how. The specific drivers for social computing in his case study were very similar to just about any large firm. They wanted better ways to communicate; receive the voices in the field; support for M&A and the need to restructure and create global centers of competence; and increase productivity and avoiding the reinventing the wheel syndrome.

The firm’s tactical goals were to share people’s expertise, skills and profiles, facilitate bottom-up idea generation without hierarchy constraints, open social communities on specific topics to allow cross-collaboration, and evaluate business model opportunities leveraging the social channel. In spite of top-down sponsorship at the C-Level, the organization still faced a challenge. How do they apply the necessary changes organizationally and culturally? How do they approach adoption and infrastructure? He then outlined an approach from the financial firm’s case study focusing on four key steps:

  1. Social Computing Workshops
  2. Pilot
  3. Beta
  4. Production

I’m not quite sure why this firm needed a pilot and a beta. However, every organization has a unique culture, and perhaps some redundant “prove it here” type effort was required in this particular case. And after 8 months, he showed results of the case study with almost 50% of the 20,000 users active with strong appreciation and belief in social vehicles of communication. With 60+ communities created and an average following of 300 people per community representing different countries around the globe, it seems the initial results of the production rollout was positive and on par with other benchmarks seen for a company of that size.

Lessons Learned

The most interesting part of the presentation was hearing the lessons learned. They included:

  • Have a strong commitment from the business line.
  • “Keep it simple”: Start with attractive features that will produce greater user adoption and collect feedback.
  • Plan gradual enhancements.
  • Suggest to the customer a “viral” approach: leverage on customer internal experts to promote and foster the social computing initiative.
  • Social computing can’t be a stand-alone solution. Analyze the social features and integration inside customer-working environments.
  • Plan to implement and monitor KPIs periodically to evolve and enhance the initiative.
  • Check HR and legal impacts.

These lessons learned are key things I’ve heard from similar organizations -- especially the point about social computing not being a stand-alone solution. The more social technology is integrated into the daily working environment of the organization, the higher chance of success and user adoption. Let’s also not forget about the importance of a pilot, the user experience, operational governance and measurement.

With regards to measurement, Mr. Kofta only touched on some broad concepts requiring a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to measure the effectiveness of the Social Computing Pilot before launching to an extended population. These included measuring the user experience (i.e., perceived usefulness), user participation (access, contributions, etc.), and virality (invitations, shares, connections).

Summary and Key Take-Aways

At the conclusion of the case study, Mr. Kofta then proceeded to demo Accenture, Avanade and a customer's social intranets -- all of which leveraged SharePoint with NewsGator for enhanced and engaging social capabilities. Here are some key take-aways and notable quotes from the presentation:

Social is neither a beginning nor the end.

Mr. Kofta did a great job of emphasizing the fact that social computing is simply part of a journey -- as we have already embraced the rise of basic collaboration enabled with email, documents, team workspaces alongside unified communications and web conferencing.

Change is not a technology problem as you need to have employee commitment.

Change is indeed one of the most important aspects of the journey. Strategically, you need to lead by example with knowledge sponsors and champions. You also need to define the right incentives and rollout approach that best fits the business strategy and existing organizational culture. The case study used in this Avanade SharePoint Conference presentation provided some great insights and lessons learned for any organizations planning or in the middle of their social journey. Commitment, legal, compliance, simplicity, measurement, and ensuring that social is not thought of as a stand-alone application -- a great recipe and approach for transforming into a social enterprise!

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