My company is too small for social business
Colleen Burns 120000C4RP firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  ibmconnect connections adam_smye-rumsby small_business enterprise social-business ibm_connect
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A colleague was recently looking for guidance on how to help a client that was unsure as to how they would benefit from implementing an enterprise social networking platform as part of embracing social business. The client's point was that in their company of 700 employees, “everyone knows everyone already.” This got me thinking about some concerns I have for small businesses that I wanted to share.
In a small company where workers are co-located, Alice may well know Bob works in sales, has three kids and is planning a trip to the shore for the weekend. However, does she also know how much productivity Bob lost trying to find the right version of this month's sales figures buried in several different emails she had sent him? From the company's point of view, which of these is the most important piece of knowledge for Alice to possess about Bob? Just because we know something about a colleague, doesn't mean we know what they are working on, or more importantly, what challenges they are facing in getting work accomplished.
While it is true that larger enterprises are looking to social business technology such as enterprise social networking to make them seem smaller to staff and expedite finding expertise, this is only one of many benefits of social business. Companies I work with are not looking to simply replace the water cooler or break room where people used to get to know each other when everyone worked in the same office; they are instead looking to increase workforce productivity, open up innovation to involve partners and customers and improve customer service.
While today there may be an element of truth to the statement that “everyone knows everyone”, how long will you be able to say this? Maybe your small business is in an industry with historically low turnover, so know-how lives in Bob's 30 plus years of hard-earned experience. This combination of long tenure and the fact that in a small business there are fewer peers performing each function or job role, makes for something of a time-bomb when you consider that in the US alone 10,000 people are reaching retirement age every day. How are you capturing all that tacit knowledge and experience, so that it doesn't walk out the door when Bob does for the last time? Social business practices and tools help to capture and preserve that experience, whether your organization has 50 or 50,000 employees.
At IBM, I've heard anecdotes of how companies with as few as five employees stand to benefit from adopting social business tools and methods, although the nature of those benefits will vary compared to larger enterprises. While small organizations may have less of a challenge finding the right expertise owing to their simpler organization chart, they stand to reap benefits through force multiplication – using social business practices and tools to project a larger presence and reach a wider audience than they would otherwise be capable of.
Small businesses tend to be more dependent on their partners for processes and capabilities they do not have in-house. Enterprise social networking tools can help with scaling to better manage those relationships, while simultaneously turning the nature of those relationships on their head; rather than sporadically reaching out from behind the firewall with information restricted to the task at hand, social business encourages small businesses to invite trusted partners into their world, extending outward the boundary of their organization and paving the way for closer partnerships that can drive new business value.
For all the research, case studies and testimonials on the benefits of social business, there will always be a hold-out of companies, that whether it's because they think they are too small, or because everyone knows everyone, will maintain that social business is not for them -- much in the same way there were companies in the mid-'90s that thought they didn't need email. Advances in cloud computing and SaaS mean that companies of all sizes can participate and benefit, without the need to invest in additional IT infrastructure.
Comparing the Fortune 500 of 1995 to today reveals a startling statistic that makes clear the risks of doing nothing when it comes to social business: 87 percent of 1995's Fortune 500 companies no longer appear in the index in 2012. With the ever-increasing pace of change across all industries and markets, small businesses have an even narrower window this time around in which to act, and even more to lose by betting against social business. It's time to learn from history and go beyond the surface – “why not?” instead of “why should we?”
*To learn more about how your business can benefit from a social business plan, join us at IBM Connect 2013 in Orlando, Florida on January 23, 2013.
Adam Smye-Rumsby has worked in the information technology industry since 2000 in a variety of roles including database administrator, test analyst, technical support specialist and consultant. In his current role Adam advises clients on how IBM solutions can support them in their journeys to becoming social businesses, with a focus on extracting maximum value from their existing IT investments. He enjoys guiding clients towards their social business “aha” moment, and beyond. Adam is a twice-published IBM Redbooks author and also a contributor to the IBM Social Business Insights blog.
Adam is an IBM Redbooks thought leader