The road to social business transformation: 12 success factors

This article appears in the issue January 2013, [Vol 22, Issue 1]
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Information technology (IT) is used to planning projects with linear timelines, aligned work streams and key milestone dates. For social business programs, that's necessary, of course, but it's not sufficient. The project team must also expect and plan for barriers, delays and the need for new thinking. Here are four cases where that's exactly what happened:

  • The State of Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology rolled out Microsoft Office 365 to 60,000 government workers, enabling state agencies to easily work with one another through a common collaboration platform. It also freed the IT department to partner with the business to help business leaders creatively address problems, instead of simply rationing constrained IT resources.
  • SAS built a social collaboration tool called "The Hub" on Socialcast technology to provide employees with a secure place to have and capture business conversations. The Hub now boasts more than 900 employee-created groups that give workers access to information and connects them to people across the organization-including executives-to get things done.
  • Kindred Healthcare made mobile collaboration based on salesforce.com and iPads into a powerful sales tool. Before the iPad program, "clinical liaison" salespeople worked inconsistently with paper-based sales tools and manual processes, and sales executives had little data on what content and approaches worked best. Clinical liaisons now use video content to educate patients, share information immediately with patient families via e-mail, and prepare for meetings with maps and medical staff information.
  • Symantec created a customer listening command center around salesforce.com's Radian 6 technology. The system, manned five days a week by staff in 28 different time zones, funnels social media commentary to workers in nine different groups across Symantec based on a sophisticated classification scheme. That lets Symantec react more quickly to customer needs and work toward improving the customer experience.

In the interviews we conducted for our Social Business and Collaboration Playbook, program champions told us that they learned as they went. As they identified organizational, workforce and technology barriers, they relentlessly adjusted their goals, approaches and even tools.

So, in addition to the linear timeline, prepare to meet as a cross-functional steering committee to identify barriers and opportunities in order to make adjustments as you progress. From four detailed case studies and our work with hundreds of Forrester clients, we have identified 12 success factors for building your roadmap for the organization, workforce and technology.

Organization: adjusted as needed, not rigidly predetermined

Starting with the organizational challenges and requirement to adapt, the CIO and his or her project team must be able to say:

1. We have strong business sponsorship and participation. None of the cases we studied for this report would have succeeded without managers and executives opening doors for the key players. In the case of Symantec's social listening program, the CTO gave his digital strategy manager the freedom to independently build the program and also provided the pilot's funding. Executives are also essential in demonstrating the value of the technology. At SAS, the CEO got the ball rolling on the company's social collaboration tool, The Hub, by incorporating it into his quarterly company meeting to solicit feedback and questions from employees.

2. Our organizational culture will accept any work style changes required. The technologists in the IT department can roll out beautifully designed social business tools, but it won't matter if the business has cultural barriers to collaboration. So, it's essential that executives lay the groundwork for collaboration. For example, SAS's executives have created a corporate culture that focuses on keeping employees connected and engaged. That inherent quality of the business led to IT and corporate communication managers working together to create The Hub to facilitate conversations in the business.

3. We have agreement and active participation of all IT stakeholders. Since the IT department will ultimately be the shepherd of social business technology, the entire IT staff must be bought in. In particular, this means that the workers cannot feel that the technology threatens or changes their job in a warrantless manner. When the State of Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology implemented Office 365, IT leaders had to convince collaboration technology administrators that the shift didn't threaten their jobs, rather freed them to do other, more business-relevant tasks.

4. We have worked with leaders across the business to get their input and buy-in. Even if the senior executives in the organization are invested in the technology, a social business initiative cannot succeed if middle managers do not feel this way of working will help them and their teams hit their goals. So, it behooves the CIO and staff to ensure they know and address the needs of the business. At SAS, the IT leadership brought together a group of approximately 30 business stakeholders to develop a list of requirements for its collaboration tool. The group came up with 100 criteria that were then used to select technology from activity stream provider Socialcast.

Workforce:people-oriented, not technology-constrained

The CIO and staff must next turn their attention to the workforce. If employees cannot be convinced to embrace social business, then all of the technology implementation efforts will be for naught. Those in the IT department can only really address employee needs if they know the answer to the following question: Are we aligning the social business strategy with the issues employees face? Answering "yes" means the IT department can say:

5. We understand workers' needs and deploy technologies accordingly. Our data consistently shows that employees embrace social business technologies that they say help them do their jobs. So it is imperative that the CIO and staff map their technology choices to employee need. For example, AKQA's executive director of IT, Robert Burns, replaced an online project management tool with cloud-based teaming tool Huddle, which allowed project staffers to easily share information with clients and access content when outside the corporate firewall.

6. Employees understand how to apply the technologies. The social business transformation begins with getting employees engaged and comfortable with the technology. That means the IT group must work with executives and groups like corporate communication to create training and marketing programs. SAS's rollout of its social collaboration tool, The Hub, coincided with a week of training and marketing events geared toward teaching employees how to use the technology and boosting awareness.

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