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?
If there's anything that's striking about the changes taking place in technology today, it's that many of the most transformative new advances are bypassing the IT department entirely. One only has to look at the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon to see this clearly. Most IT departments are planning to enable (if they haven't already) BYOD, a form of user-led computing adoption. It's easier and easier to make the case today that technology, especially on the edges, is increasingly moving out of IT's hands.
It hasn't always been thus: Graphical user interfaces, computer networks, the Internet, e-mail, and the first and second generations of mobile devices. All of these were embraced and realized by technology leaders as primary computing capabilities in relatively short order.
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The rise of social media has been an outlier in this historical arc of corporate IT adoption. Despite being the dominant form of online communication today, in stark contrast it has been adopted with considerable spottiness and inconsistency in the corporate world. Different and disconnected forms of social media in the workplace--which in this context we are starting to call social business--can usually be found in silos within the marketing department, customer care, the intranet, content management, and few other locations. As little as half of these efforts even involve IT, and many are really just ad hoc grassroots or bottom-up experiments with considerable informality. The latter are often aided and abetted by the intentionally viral adoption approaches formulated by social business vendors (see Yammer and Socialcast for primary examples), who do seem to understand how social media adoption spreads best through connections between people.
This is my first post in a series that continues the discussion from Social Business By Design (2012, John Wiley and Sons), the book I recently co-authored with Peter Kim on the methods that organizations can use to better prepare strategically for social business.
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In fact, IT leaders often tell me they feel "surrounded" by social today. Typically, the sales team is pushing for Salesforce, the organization usually already has SharePoint (with those pushing for its social features), other internal camps are often pushing for IBM Connections, Jive, and other popular platforms. Open source social tools are popular as well, though largely departmental. And these are just the internal solutions, not the inevitable parade of vertical and/or external solutions aimed at marketing, analytics, CRM, crowdsourced production development, and more. There usually is plenty of experimentation with all of these that is further driving the growing trend towards departmental-led deployment. It is into this chaotic environment that IT is often brought in at the 11th hour to sort out the proliferation of social, to deal with its many downstream implications. But not to lead it.
CIOs themselves are perhaps to most blame for lack of leadership here. As I point out frequently these days, last year's Deloitte CIO survey found that 60% of top IT leaders believe that they should be driving growth and productivity for the business. Yet only 1 in 10 are willing to make the changes necessary to adapt to today's rapidly evolving business landscape. This is a surprising gap between desire and action that is ultimately untenable in today's lightspeed world of technology development. This inaction is pushing adoption of powerful and transformative new technology directly into the hands of other areas of our organizations.
A powerful new piece by Paul Gillin observes that IT doesn't even make an appearance when organizations are asked about who has primary responsibility for social business. Instead, marketing is listed first. This is something I've seen as a strong trend in the last year, something I've referred to as the rise of the CIO of marketing.
The lesson: Increasingly mature people-oriented networked technologies that connect us together across all boundaries and constituencies have become so pervasive and embedded and yes, social, that the groups in our organizations most responsible for external engagement and communication (marketing, corporate communications, customer care) are beginning to take the technology lead. In other words, the CMO's purview is overlapping with the CIO, particularly with social business. At the same time, the rest of the organization isn't waiting either.
The near future therefore appears quite different for IT than it does today for many organizations. Adoption of new business capabilities will mostly be a bring-your-own-technology (BYOT) discussion, meaning that shadow IT will probably be the primary way tech is adopted within the next three years or so. (See Gartner's data and my recent analysis of this.) The data show that departments, projects, and individual users will soon be the primary method of new technology adoption. If this continues, IT will largely be charge of security, infrastructure, and governance and not leading the business towards its digital future.
The lost opportunity for IT--because of its traditional deep experience in providing, supporting, and managing technology enablement company-wide--is ultimately considerable and could lead to permanent decline. For some IT organizations, the outcome will be dire: CFOs are already beginning to push for infrastructure to be moved out to the cloud, app stores are disintermediating the acquisition of IT solutions, and externally delivered mobile apps and SaaS will soon become the primary form of business software. CIOs that are really chief infrastructure officers will become more and more marginalized as the business helps itself to a rich new future. CIOs that successfully become what many think they were always meant to be, chief innovation officers, will be better positioned to lead their organizations into a successful technology-driven future.