IBM on Social Technologies in 2012


IBM has released a new report, “The Business of Social Business: What Works and How It’s Done.” IBM surveyed 1,160 business and IT professionals.  It concludes that companies at forefront of the new connected enterprise movement, “are doing more than developing a presence on major social platforms. A social business embeds social technologies into core business processes, and then applies the technologies to drive customer-facing activities such as lead generation, sales and post-sales service.”

I could not agree more (see for example, Integrating the Interactions with the Transactions). For social business to truly be an enterprise operation, it needs to take in the old with the new. It should not replace what is currently in place to support transactions but complement it so that transactions and the interactions around them are connected. Application integration is a key to achieving this goal.

This integration of social capabilities has been a key component of IBM’s business strategy and I am very supportive of this effort (see for example, Talking About Social Business with IBM at SXSW). What’s key is you’ve got to get the systems of engagement, the social business, talking to the systems of record, the enterprise applications. And so you have to have that integration, and otherwise all you’re doing is recording water cooler chat.

I think that with social technologies you have to be aligned with a business problem. I never saw a knowledge management system that was not business process aligned succeed. And when the social tools came out, I thought, well maybe this is the thing like, okay, you throw out at a wiki see what people do, so, maybe this is the case. And I’ve completely reversed that thinking. You’ve got to be able to align the enterprise social business tools with a business process and business process tools. And all that works together. So you have to be able to solve a business problem. This is the tack that IBM has taken.

While progress has been made, there is still a lot of work to be done. IBM found that while 46% of the organizations increased their investments in social technologies in 2012, only 22% believed that managers are prepared to incorporate social tools and approaches into their daily practices. In addition, over 60% of respondents were not sure they sufficiently understood the impact that social technologies would have on their organizations over the next three years.

Kevin Curtis, Vice President and Global Leader Social Business and Mobility Services, IBM Global Business Services is quoted, ““Businesses are struggling to make sense of the vast amount of data generated from social networks. To transform a vision into a reality, executive leadership must guide middle management on the value of being a social business, and build company-wide support for the use of social practices across organizational functions.”

IBM offers a plan to overcome the concerns about engagement and return on investment they found. First, there must be an infrastructure for engagement including activity streams, forums, team-rooms and collaborative spaces. Once these capabilities are in place, social practices should be integrated into day-to-day work activities. This is key. Next, the organization must also create the capability to understand where and how data generation could benefit the enterprise. Finally, employees need to be taught how to collaborate effectively with individuals outside of the organization’s boundaries, using social business methods and tools. As McKinsey noted, higher operating margins than competitors correlated with a willingness to allow the formation of working teams comprising both in-house employees and individuals outside the organization.

IBM concludes that a properly executed social business plan can lead to significant benefits. Organizations will be able to integrate and analyze massive amounts of data generated from people, devices and sensors. Then they can more easily align these insights to business processes to make faster, more accurate business decisions. Finally, by “gaining deeper insights in customer and market trends and employees’ sentiment, businesses can uncover critical patterns to not only react swiftly to market shifts, but predict the effect of future actions.”

There is a big pay off here. This year McKinsey projected that effective use of social technologies in the coming years could potentially contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value just across the four sectors of consumer packaged goods, retail financial services, advanced manufacturing, and professional service. More value lies elsewhere. It is an exciting time to involved in social technologies. Making this potential happen is the challenge and the IBM study offers some very useful guidance.


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