Social Business: Web 2.0 Reimagined Inside Company Walls
Wes Simonds 120000EFD6 firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  media web 2012 business software inside capabilities ibm 2.0 lotusphere connect social
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Think you've learned everything you can from social media? Think again. I played a little chess as a kid. And the older I get, the more it seems to me the lessons of chess apply pretty well in a business context, too.
Consider this timeless advice, for instance:
1. See the whole board.
2. Develop your strategy quickly.
3. When the other guy isn't looking, take some of his pieces off the board.
Or, among the subtler lessons, here's my favorite:
4. If you see a great move, don't just make it. Look for a greater move or, even better, a combination of great moves.
It seems to me that businesses today can really benefit from this last idea -- specifically, with respect to social media.
They have already, almost without exception, made one great move: they've participated in social media for promotional purposes.
This has sometimes been followed up with another great move: they've applied analytics tools to social media data, and can now detect emerging customer trends very quickly.
A chess combination, though, involves at least three moves. And one of the best third moves businesses can make, to build on the first two, is this: develop Web 2.0-inspired collaborative platforms internally.
Why? Quite simply, because they work. We know from their growth rate that Web 2.0 environments are incredibly popular worldwide; why not reapply that popularity in a business context, for business value?
If you want team members to share, collaborate and lead, it certainly helps to provide communications platforms of the type they already like, and use, the most. That description has Web 2.0 written all over it.
It seems I'm not alone in thinking this. Recently I read online that organizations already ‘realize the power of bringing social behaviors, processes and platforms behind the firewall.’ It turns out that IBM is a leader in this field -- social business -- and has specific predictions for how it's likely to change in 2012 in the areas of social analytics, community managers and gamification.
IBM Software leadership in social business began at home
Well, that was enough to get my curiosity going. The next logical move was to talk to an IBM expert, and so I did: Rawn Shah, who is both a Social Business Strategist for IBM and the author of a book on exactly this topic.
Shah was quick to point out how IBM isn't just developing solutions in this area -- it's leveraging them internally and increasingly every year, because the business case for doing so is overwhelming.
‘At any given time, 40 percent of IBM is not located in an office, but instead working from home, traveling, etc. -- as an IBMer, you never see all the people you work with,’ Shah said. ‘But we really want to empower people to connect and contribute as much as they can. So we've built innovative collaborative systems, implemented with social media concepts in mind and linked in many ways.’
The business value to IBM and its enormous team of more than 400,000 employees is very clear: talent and ideas aren't constrained by geography, but multiplied by technology.
IBM can hire people anywhere they happen to be instead of requiring them to move. It can create and connect virtual teams drawn from specialists all over the world, and thus populate those teams with the best available people.
And it can do all of that more quickly than less foresighted organizations, who still haven't gotten on board with the idea that Web 2.0 concepts can be applied internally.
Empower your people to collaborate, and leverage the best ideas
The specifics of the IBM approach are expressed in a number of different ways, but the focus is always the same: a better business outcome through superior collaboration.
Consider the IBM spin on social analytics, for instance. Today, analytics solutions are used by leading organizations to sift through massive volumes of public social media data, and discover and quantify useful trends and patterns.
They can accomplish much the same inside the firewall. And when they do, good ideas not only get a longer shelf life; they're developed better, and more likely to be reused whenever that's possible.
‘Given internal digital communities and the tremendous daily interaction they involve, [organizations] have the ability to learn and work in a better and faster way,’ said Shah. ‘Good ideas never vanish. Conversations aren't limited to a phone call and the people attending it. Instead, they can be archived, rediscovered, improved and reapplied by others. This helps the organization avoid reinventing the wheel and creates more business value, faster, for lower cost.’
Making that happen, of course, will require powerful analytics solutions to focus on the right ideas (and, just as important, not focus on the wrong ones).
‘Solutions like IBM Cognos Consumer Insight already do that with public social media data,’ said Shah. ‘And what works for external data can often be reapplied to internal data, too.’
One great source of such data: internal digital forums and communities. Organizations increasingly use these to get people talking and collaborating about business issues of all kinds -- from technical challenges to team coordination across different time zones.
Such was the case with Colorado-based Russell’s Convenience, a subsidiary of HJB Convenience Corporation. With 25 stores spread across three states in three different time zones, the retailer struggled to keep track of daily operations, resulting in growing operational costs and delays in resolving problems.
Through the use of social business and collaboration tools, Russell’s Convenience was able to share information across stores more seamlessly and transparently. As a result, the retailer increased sales across multiple markets by identifying best-selling products, reduced travel and meeting expenses and accelerated problem resolution through the use of engaged communities across the organization.
To really fulfill their potential, such communities in most organizations require a little oversight. Community managers can play a crucial role -- if it's understood how that term applies.
‘What's the best kind of management in this context? At IBM we're taking a very deep look at that area,’ said Shah. ‘Part of that is because IBM is huge -- we have tens of thousands of internal communities. So just assigning people to be part-time community managers isn't the best approach. Instead, we're defining community managers more seriously: as skilled, dedicated professionals who understand community dynamics, guide progress in desirable directions, help people take joint action and even foster new leadership wherever it's needed the most.’
What skills do you need to do that? ‘Well, there's no handbook, but we do have a mentoring program to guide people,’ added Shah. ‘The ones who do it well are like diamonds -- you want to find them and keep them.’
Get your game-face on
Gamification is yet another angle IBM is taking in its approach to social business. That makes sense when you consider how games throughout human history have often had the practical value of helping players build useful real-world skills.
And games are unquestionably among the most popular services available on leading Web 2.0 sites worldwide -- a suggestive trend. So suggestive, in fact, that it implies organizations should create them with business value in mind.
‘Games are a fast, fun way to develop excellence,’ said Shah. ‘So games and game concepts often translate very naturally in a business context, where ongoing excellence is required to maintain a competitive edge.’
That doesn't necessarily mean a big, complicated game. In fact, it might be something so simple it doesn't even appear to be a game. Shah cites the idea of a sales leaderboard -- a familiar sight at many organizations, and a really straightforward instance of combining analytics and human performance to drive a target outcome.
IBM is also, however, pursuing gamification in much more sophisticated ways. For instance, IBM offers an online service management simulation game, in which small teams of players can collaborate to make a virtual business successful. This game gives players a chance to see for themselves if (and why) best practices really are best, continually reflecting the likely business outcome stemming from player choices.
Attend Connect 2012 to learn more
If you'd like to hear more about using social business to achieve measurable business results, you'll get an outstanding chance to do it next month at the IBM Software Connect 2012 event, to be held January 16-17 in Florida alongside Lotusphere® 2012.
No event this year will offer more concentrated value in the area of social business. You'll get the inside scoop on an extensive range of social collaboration capabilities, including live demos and product roadmaps. You'll interact with leading experts, and connect with professionals who may already have solved the problems you face today. And you can find out what other organizations are doing in social business, bring the best ideas back to your organization and leverage them to collaborate and compete more effectively.
Learn how Social Business can benefit your organization
See what Connect 2012 is all about
Register for Connect 2012
Great blog post about the difference between Social Business and Social Media
About the author
Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.