Social collaborative tools aren't a recipe for success on their own.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

November 15, 2011

3 Min Read

"Social without a goal is really just a whole lot of noise," declared Andy Wang, principal systems architect at Genentech, at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, a UBM TechWeb event, on Tuesday.

Wang and his colleague, Adam Graff, senior manager of collaboration services at Genentech, had come to provide an overview of their company's early bet on consumer IT. And while Wang's warning about the perils of rudderless social IT initiatives in companies might seem to play into the hands of tradition-minded IT practitioners, it was anything but a call to raise the firewall and double-down on on-premises servers and sprawling, business-oriented software.

Since deciding to embrace consumer IT in 2007, Genentech became a poster child for the benefits of non-traditional IT. The company, which merged with Roche in 2009, became a marquee Google Apps customer, as well as a user of, Jive for enterprise social networking, and iOS as a mobility platform.

It hasn't been an easy road, Graff admitted. "We learned some very hard lessons early on," he said.

Enterprise 2.0

Enterprise 2.0

For example, there's no road map for consumer technology. Companies like Apple and Google rarely pre-announce products. That meant Genentech's IT group had to do more outreach to vendors and internal users to understand what might be coming and how past initiatives have been received.

"One of the bad habits that we've had is embracing 'build it, and they will come,'" said Graff, pointing to the company's Jive implementation as an example.

[ Curious about Genentech's experience with Google's online software? Read What Genentech CIO Likes About Google Docs. ]

Genentech implemented Jive's social software as a platform for wikis, blogs, and discussions, Graff said. It had a change management program that lasted for about a year. But lack on ongoing evangelism and managerial engagement led to diminished use of the software.

"What happened was the use plateaued," said Graff.

After an initial surge of enthusiasm, usage leveled off after the change management program concluded and subsequently declined as users drifted toward collaboration services like Ning and Yammer that users found more appealing.

The consumer market generates multiple mobile and Web apps that do the same thing as many enterprise apps, often better and faster, Graff suggested.

IT can no longer just walk away from projects, Graff said, it has to engage with users to determine a comfortable rate of change. Remaining relevant, he suggested, "will require a more significant investment in change and adoption management."

Graff offered an example of social with a purpose: Genentech is using social tools to reduce the cost of drug development. A few years ago, it took 10 years and $1 billion to bring a new drug to market. Today, the figure is more like 14 years and $1.5 billion, Graff said.

One of the biggest expenses, Graff said, is clinical trials. So Genentech's product development group has turned to crowdsourcing and social tools to gather information and interact in a more cost-effective manner.

Wang offered another example of a purpose-guided social project: A custom iOS app--one of over 60 Genentech has created--that works with Skype's technology, so doctors can consult with experts about prescriptions.

Wang concluded by noting that technology isn't enough--users will continue to seek better tools no matter what. The role for IT organizations then is to engage with users, understand their needs, and provide the desired tools, inasmuch as policies permit.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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