Social Business, Social Business Held Back by Corporate Culture, Not Technology
Hardly 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.

Learning Opportunities

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.

These organizations are transforming into social businesses as every department, from HR to marketing to product development to customer service to sales, are using social networking the way they use any other tool and channel to do their job.

By using best practices in implementing social technologies in the cloud, companies can rapidly realize short-term benefits and ensure long-term success. These best practices include:

  • Involving IT, executive leadership and line-of-business managers in selection, implementation and evaluation process.
  • Implementing a social cloud solution that is user-friendly while meeting the needs of employees and the organization.
  • Providing employee education and technical training for both new and current employees on how the social cloud solution can be used to manage daily work processes.
  • Implementing an evaluation feature in order to gather employee feedback and make adjustments as necessary.
  • By using the proper tools and making them accessible via the cloud, employees become more engaged and productive. It also speeds up innovation, improves customer service, increases efficiency and raises employee satisfaction levels, said Ambler and Buisan.

The Future of Social Business

And the future? Social business combined with the power of analytics, mobility and cloud computing will shape the future, they say. The big winners in social business will be those who harness the ability to capture and analyze the knowledge their social network creates and share it throughout the business to accelerate innovation, out-market competitors and remove boundaries internally.

We’ve found that cloud-based social tools work well for businesses that need flexibility, business-grade security and scalability," she said.

As enterprises become increasingly mobile and the markets they are working change at an ever faster rate, the advantages of a cloud-based social business applications are becoming obvious.

However, before rushing in to deploy the first set of social business applications that come to hand, enterprises need to plan these deployments in the context of their overall IT infrastructure. Again, like all other areas of IT, planning is key to a successful strategy.

Title image courtesy of Helder Almeida (Shutterstock)