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?

Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

May 25, 2012

4 Min Read

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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About the Author(s)

Dion Hinchcliffe


Dion Hinchcliffe is a business strategist, enterprise architect, frequent keynote speaker, book author, blogger, and industry analyst who works with business and technical leaders in large companies to apply emerging technology to drive digital transformation and growth. He is most recently co-author of Social Business By Design from John Wiley & Sons (2012) and has personally led large-scale social business and smart mobility strategy initiatives for Fortune 500 and Global 2000 firms on three continents.

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