Forrester fields hundreds of client inquiries each year on the topic of social business and collaboration, and the trend doesn't appear to be slowing. Often the first question is, "How far behind are we?" Well here's the data. You judge for yourself. According to Forrester survey data from 1,332 executives and IT decision-makers, 49% will have investments in social networking solutions in 2012.

At the most basic level, just over half are still on the sidelines, and of the 49%, only 19% describe their investment as "implemented, not expanding." So, the early adopters are already active and have been for a while. The laggards are lagging (it's kind of what they do), and the rest represent those asking, "How far behind are we?"

The answer could well be, "Very far behind." While investment in social media is not yet pervasive, the goals we hear from clients are remarkably consistent and in the enterprise they tend to revolve around four major goals:

1. Breaking down geographic boundaries: There is a keen recognition that large global organizations do not capture information and identify expertise effectively. Finding content and experts in a large, geographically dispersed organization can be like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. If I have a question in London and the best answer is from someone in Singapore, can I really expect that connection to be made?

2. Breaking down organizational boundaries: Same dynamic as above, different barriers. If I'm in customer service and the information I need to help a customer is with a salesperson, can I make that connection?

3. Flattening organizational hierarchy: Of those investing in social networking solutions, many are driven from the top down. C-level executives are often turning to IT with the mandate to make the enterprise "more social." Why are these executives looking to drive such profound change? They recognize that their businesses are far too complex to be run effectively without meaningful input from the people that are actually running the business every day.

4. Driving collective action: The actions of many are more powerful than the actions of few, And organizations are acutely aware of this. In most of my client conversations, the topic of innovation is a top-level driver of enterprise social initiatives. Within innovation, the topic of new product development is top of mind. In other words, many organizations are looking to drive the lifeblood of success, the products they sell, collectively.

So, the stakes associated with social business and collaboration are high. The payoff could be competitive advantage in the market, and here's the kicker. It's really hard to do this right. If you're the CIO, you don't have the resources in your organization to drive success. So, when the CEO asks to figure out social business and collaboration, you need to respond, "That's not my job, that's our job. As in all of our jobs."

Let's start with executive support. If the executive team is not ready to support the disruptions that come with running a social business, find another area to invest in. This stuff drives change. If that's not what your executives are looking for, you're wasting precious time and resources.

Make no mistake, successful implementation of social business and collaboration solutions requires standard IT diligence and the usual roles to apply it. Driving success from a technical perspective requires:

  • Collaboration managers define the overall social business and collaboration portfolio.
  • Solutions architects focus on driving discrete business value.
  • Enterprise architects help define a sum of parts greater than the whole.
  • Network analysts help address performance/latency issues.
  • Security analysts pay attention to protecting assets and privacy.
  • Human factors/UI designers make custom-developed applications usable.

However, traditional IT approaches to implementation will only get you part of the way to success with social business and collaboration. The rest of the journey requires participation from a number of existing non-IT roles and some that are only now emerging:

  • Human resources (HR) professionals protect employee privacy.
  • Legal looks after security, compliance and intellectual capital.
  • Librarians and records managers provide guidance to avoid content chaos.
  • Community leaders put effort into managing the knowledge.

A key role that is often not funded and where skills are only now being defined is that of social business analysts who define and measure business value. Emerging systems of engagement and their ever-increasing integration with systems of record offer businesses the opportunity to re-think knowledge worker-centric processes. Once again, an "if you build it, they will come" approach is unlikely to drive optimal results. Forward-thinking organizations have established a dedicated role to act as a liaison between IT and the business to educate the business on driving business value and to take technical requirements from the business back to IT to drive social business and collaboration strategy and investments. This critical role is just emerging and often requires organizations to add net new headcount.

ROB KOPLOWITZ is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. His current research focuses on core elements of collaboration strategy, including collaboration platforms, workspaces and enterprise social strategy. In upcoming research and at our CIO Forum in Las Vegas on May 3-4, Forrester will delve into the topic of delivering on the social business imperative.


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