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How IT Can Reclaim Social Relevance

Social technologies are spreading through the business in a decentralized way, not via IT leadership. How can organizations and IT leaders make the most of this trend?

It seems clear that the future of business is a primarily network-centric, digital one in which fundamentally new operating methods, business models, engagement channels, and technologies will reign. In particular, today's high-velocity technology crucible is one in which change ultimately cannot be centrally managed, only enabled and orchestrated on the edge. IT departments, organized as they are today, simply don't have the capacity--and often even the expertise--to handle the vast amounts of new technology that our organizations want to absorb. Social is a key facet of this.

How CxOs Can Better Organize for Social Business

What, then, can organizations do about the decentralized adoption of social business taking place in their organizations? How best can the CIO, the CMO, and other relevant stakeholders get out ahead and make the most of this trend? While the full answer to that has not yet been determined, there are some likely solutions:

-- Accept that social business isn't a core competency of IT, and address it head on. Focus on supporting and enabling those effectively leading it today, wherever they are in (or even outside) the organization. Learn from them and, in the meantime, build skills in social business in all its facets as well as train and/or hire staff for relevant skills including community management, analytics, platforms and tools, compliance, governance, and social business standards.

-- Help create an effective organizational structure for social business. While social business centers of excellence are the leading model for this today, it's still too central and usually not cross-functional or impactful enough. Find the best way to provide (only) essential central support while widely enabling social business adoption across the business through departmental and function-led efforts. This new organizational structure almost certainly doesn't belong in IT, but could be led by IT with a deft touch.

-- Close ranks with the CMO. As we enter the era of engagement, the CMO is likely to become the entity that drives this (though I believe it may ultimately be the chief community officer). Certainly the prediction has been made that the CMO's budget will be larger than CIO's within five years because of this trend. CIOs that don't provide effective support of the CMO as they roll out highly social (and fundamentally reinvented) ways of engaging with customers, business partners, and the marketplace will find that the CMO will create his or her own departmental CIO. CIOs must be prepared to fully support the shift in focus to systems of engagement.

-- Restructure for change and avoid having to be reactive. While much easier said than done, IT must be driving change or be reshaped by it. While change will often come from other parts of the organization, IT can tap into these wells of productivity, resources, and business knowledge to help them succeed. To make this work, however, will require a true collaborative approach where IT is much less able to call the shots, but instead able to help ensure success through virtue of deeper experience technology roll-out and management.

-- Create the conditions for successful decentralized social business adoption. While IT ultimately needs to lead the evolution of digital business for the organization to stay relevant, it should--in the shorter term anyway--use its vast experience in IT project management, security, governance, records management, and compliance to ensure those engaging in social business initiatives across the organization have infrastructure and process capabilities required to succeed with the support functions that aren't as well understood by business users.

It's now fairly obvious that IT is on the cusp of a generational challenge to its hegemony when it comes to technology leadership and adoption. While mobility and cloud computing are still places where IT could shine, social has the potential to cause the most disruption as it usurps the primary channels through which the organization engages with itself and the world. While broad outlines of the changes organizations will experience as they encounter bring-your-own-social-business (BYOSB) remain unclear, it's certain to result in major alterations of the IT landscape. Hopefully, it's one that we IT professionals will help make, by design.

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Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/1/2012 | 2:26:24 AM
re: How IT Can Reclaim Social Relevance
I think where the CIO and the IT department can and should continue to provide value is in the areas of integration and security. I've spoken with people who say BYOT is all great until nothing connects anymore. As you say, IT must be a central figure, ensuring that the organization benefits from all of the efficiencies and business intelligence that comes from effectively integrated systems. The other area in which the IT department and CIO need to play a key role no matter where the technology is coming from is security.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
Dion Hinchcliffe
Dion Hinchcliffe,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2012 | 3:32:28 PM
re: How IT Can Reclaim Social Relevance
Your last sentence captures it perfectly. IT will remain an overhead line item in an infrastructure focused delivery approach. In contrast, creating value in a business and innovation-oriented model provides much needed strategic leverage of technology by the organization. Getting there, however, will be hard for those mostly doing the former (and likely not much of the latter.) I'll explore the options on what to do soon.
Dion Hinchcliffe
Dion Hinchcliffe,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/29/2012 | 7:06:27 PM
re: How IT Can Reclaim Social Relevance
Solid points, though I would say the social apps are just the beginning of social business. We see clearly that organizations are transforming customer care (SAP, Intuit, Dell, Time Warner Cable), product development (too numerous to mention), supply chain management (Teva, Nike) , and workforce collaboration (BASF, News Corp, Alcatel-Lucent) by strategically applying social as a line-of-business activity, not just merely deploying social software in hopes something good happens.

As for BYOD, I only brought that up because it's a direct onramp for many viral social tools. It should really be called BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) but that idea is not as well known yet. Thanks for the insight though, I think your comments are largely on the mark.
User Rank: Strategist
5/29/2012 | 6:13:12 PM
re: How IT Can Reclaim Social Relevance
An interesting perspective on the CIO role. I agree with some of the major points but less on the reasoning that supports them. Social applications (FB, Twitter, PhotoSharing, DropBox,...) are little more than what the business world label collaboration software. The difference being they are far more user friendly than Sharepoint, company based Chat applications, ... and some contain or support things to entertain us. Among the companies recognizing this and now taking steps to reign it back in due to its inherent lack of security consideration is IBM. The part which will probably not endear me to some readers is my opinion on the CIO who must take responsibility for the criticisms the author of the article cited. Companies seem to hire CIOs based on one of two types the technician that came up through and understands IT or the MBA who knows business financing but struggles to even spell technology. Focusing too much on one of these over the other has produced the effects identified. Perhaps its a hiring process failure.

I disagree instead on the BYOD proposal which I believe has little to do with social IT. I believe it was born as much by business wanting to reduce costs (previously supplying minimal supplies) and the employee wanting to be productive to meet quotas and as such preferring to use their own materials generally of higher quality and with the benefit of permitting them to maintain their social network activities on business time (yes, BYOD is as much a distraction as a benefit to the business). If the CIO does not become equal parts technical expert and business savvy, then business should eliminate the high cost fluff and turn it over to the CFO or COO.
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