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The road to social business transformation: 12 success factors

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7. Employees meaningfully use the technologies. Social business and collaboration is only valuable if it has a substantive, positive effect on the business bottom line. As such, employees must not simply use social business tools-they must apply them to business problems. That means business processes must be reshaped to integrate those tools. Symantec designed its social listening program so that specific types of social media communications were seamlessly routed to the appropriate employee. For example, if the listening tool uncovers an unauthorized entity selling Symantec software, the message is routed to the legal group.

8. We've provided guidance and incentives to ensure adoption. In addition to putting social business tools front and center in a business process, IT needs to work with business leaders to ensure that employees have a reason to continue using the technology. For example, SAS's executives embraced The Hub for their town hall meetings with employees. That provided workers a method of interacting with top management that was not available before. And once employees used the tools in that setting, it opened the door for other uses.

Technology: collaborative with the business, not dictated by IT

Finally, the CIO and staff must look at a technology vendor's offering with an eye toward one question: Can this vendor be our strategic partner for our social business transformation? For a vendor to qualify, the CIO and staff must be able to say:

9. The technology integrates into our business environment. Social business tools must integrate with legacy systems—such as an organization's existing business apps and PC desktop infrastructure. They must also fit in with how workers work (e.g., stationary vs. mobile), the language(s) they speak, when they work (e.g., Eastern Daylight Time vs. Central European Summer Time) and the various legal environments they inhabit. The State of Minnesota's Office 365 deployment allowed workers to continue using the familiar Outlook client while providing the e-mail-intensive organization a larger e-mail inbox.

10. We trust the vendor's social business vision and ability to deliver. What the vendor proposes in terms of technology and support must align with the social business IT and business leaders want to create. To that end, IT leaders must have a clear understanding of their requirements as they evaluate vendors. SAS decided to build its social collaboration tool on technology from Socialcast because it was easy to use and provided integrations into SAS's legacy systems through its integration toolkit, known as Reach.

11. The technology scales to meet our organization's needs. IT leaders must evaluate whether a vendor's technology can cover the company's employee footprint, as well as cover its geographic reach, while also being nimble enough to tackle a range of use cases for the business. The decision-makers at Symantec chose salesforce.com's Radian 6 technology because it could be used to address the concerns of a number of different groups in the company around the world. So, the social media listening tool assists product managers, marketers, sales personnel and lawyers to name a few groups.

12. The technology meets our security and compliance requirements. If IT leadership cannot ensure the security and compliance officers that social business technology will not get the company in trouble with regulators, it puts an end to the initiative. So, the CIO and staff should first understand the ins and outs of their regulatory environment by going to the source and then mapping that back to the technology's capabilities. For example, the State of Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology undertook an initiative to vet Microsoft's cloud collaboration offering that included performing its own review of applicable federal and state regulations on information security.

With these principles in place, your organization, workforce and technology have a good chance of learning from and adapting to each other on the road to social business transformation.  

Three principles for social business transformation

To execute social business transformation, keep these principles in mind as you put together the project road map:

1. Organization: adjusted as needed, not rigidly predetermined. All too often, technology and the organization are an irresistible force and immovable object respectively, destined to clash. In our case studies and other client projects, we have found that both the technology and the organization must adapt. So while CIOs can and should stress flexibility and adaptability in their road maps, IT leaders must also listen and adapt as they implement those strategies.

The organizational buy-in and adaptation are much easier if you identify a burning platform for change. If business teams don't yet have a compelling reason to use the social tools technology, then find one. It won't take much: A simple brainstorm on the business benefits of using the technology to improve business productivity and customer outcomes can go far. In one global bank, it's the Australian operation that has had the most success using social collaboration tools. Its burning platform? The need to improve service to high net-worth customers across all commercial product lines. Their social collaboration tool—IBM Connections—makes it easy to bring a diverse multiproduct team together to address a customer's immediate questions and find opportunities in each other's ideas and questions.

2. Workforce: people-oriented, not technology-constrained. IT professionals understand from experience that foisting new tools on people and hoping for the best does not spur adoption or meaningful use. We have found that successful social business transformations require listening carefully to what works and  what doesn't, and acting accordingly.

To learn what employees need from the technology, create an early adopter advisory council. This informal group of employees, leaders and IT staff meets periodically or after a deployment to debrief and find opportunities to improve the tool. You should buttress the work of that group with periodic surveys of the broader workforce to ensure that you're not tuning your social business strategy for only the most advanced users. One global life sciences company has taken this principle to the level of high art by rewarding field sales staff (using iPads and salesforce.com in this case) to identify problems, listen to their colleagues and suggest solutions. Their reward is recognition by sales executives as future leaders.

3. Technology: collaborative with the business, not dictated by IT. In today's software-as-a-service and consumerization world, businesspeople often have the clearest ideas for how technology can transform work processes or customer collaboration. We drilled into this idea of people-led technology solutions in our book Empowered. This same principle works with social business transformation projects.

To implement this technology execution principle, IT should work very hard to establish close ties with business leaders and ensure that the IT organization's technology infrastructure can support the business' needs. This is the foundational principle behind our business technology research: the idea that IT must strike the right balance between core systems and business services like sales apps or in-store technology. These business technology solutions are often a key part of business operations, often owned directly by the business.

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