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How Collaboration Tools Can Turn Your Business Into A Social Enterprise

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Social networks for business help enterprises collaborate securely across departments, offices and countries. Many available tools give employees a sense of online community and help forge connections between different parts of the business and your customers.

However, some business leaders struggle to understand the benefits of the “social business”. Furthermore, organizations that have made the leap often find that after embracing the technology initially, employees’ enthusiasm soon dies down and only a handful of workers continue to use the technology.

So, how can businesses develop a long-term social business strategy? We spoke to a number of experts to find out.

ROLE-BASED, GOAL-BASED

“Social tools have evolved well beyond Facebook and Twitter, this much we have to accept as a given,” said Adrian Bridgwater, an enterprise IT blogger for a number of B2B sites, including Forbes. ”We now have an opportunity to use socially-driven collaboration tools in new ways to change the way we work. Role-based, goal-based, cloud-based collaboration can now be engineered into the computing fabric that firms now centre their Line of Business architectures around.“

David Terrar, 

David Terrar, founder of digital transformation and social business consultancy Agile Elephant, underlined the point, saying that enterprises that don’t embrace these technologies risked become irrelevant.

“I don't care what business you are in, your business model is under threat from a smarter, nimbler competitor with a new idea or a better use of technology. If you don't want to end up like a Kodak, a Blockbuster or your local taxi firm you need to be harnessing the collective know-how and the potential returns from the great ideas of all of your people.”

CUSTOMER SERVICE

According to Computerworld’s 2015 Forecast Study, social networking, alongside predictive analytics, will be one of the most disruptive business technologies over the next three to five years, more so than the Internet of Things and mobile payments. For many organisations, that disruption is already underway.

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For those businesses that are already reaping the rewards of a social enterprise strategy, it’s not simply about providing employees with the means to interact with each other more effectively. Christian McMahon, CIO at business consultancy three25, said that in future many interactions with customers could be improved by the use of social tools.

“Harnessing social collaboration through your socially enabled cloud infrastructure is a great way to engage with and get rapid response from/to both your internal and external customer base,” said McMahon.

“Social media will soon become the main interaction point for customer service and external communication in less regulated industries, away from just being pointed at traditionally bloated websites with pages of static content and FAQs to wade through. In this more interactive and collaborative mobile world, customers now deserve more dynamic and engaging interaction beyond the traditional call centre approach,” he added.

René Büst, Senior Analyst and Cloud Practice Lead at Crisp Research, said that a cloud infrastructure with social capabilities has the potential to help improve the customer engagement by letting the customer become an integral part of the entire customer life-cycle process. “The customer is empowered to follow his request in real-time and be integrated into the process in real-time, giving him more power, influence and overview. This kind of closer, real-time, collaboration helps to accelerate the overall process to solve issues and challenges faster by working like a team together with the customer,” said Büst.

Furthermore, by becoming an enterprise that relies on social collaboration, you have the opportunity to reduce reliance on other things, like storage and even paper.

“Gone are the days when large attachments need to be sent to hundreds and thousands of employees and consume vast amounts of storage for each individual copy: single points of cloud-based storage enable short messages linking to one copy only… the risk of out-of-date manuals, procedures and processes can be mitigated by similar mechanisms,” said  Daniel Steeves, a business consultant at Beyond Solutions. ”Costs in printing and posting paper contracts and agreements can also be reduced or eliminated – as well as the time lags required – by combining file sharing and e-signature capabilities.”

“With the right collaboration and sharing service, a lot of your storage and data management problems go away,” agreed Dale Vile, Research Director at IT analyst firm Freeform Dynamics. “You know where your data is, you know it is safe and secure, you don’t have to worry about long-term retention, and everything is easily accessible, subject to security policy of course. How much can you say those things in relation to all that data sitting in file shares, on personal hard disks, mobile devices, and so on.”

RIP EMAIL

So, what are the major hurdles faced by organisations striving to become a “social enterprise”? Vile said one of the challenges is weaning users off unofficial and “often insecure” communication tools, and ensuring “that the service you choose delivers the same the level of convenience.”

But even with the perfect collaboration tools in place, encouraging users to change the habit of a lifetime will be a battle, said Alan Mather, former chief executive of the e-delivery team at the UK Government’s Cabinet Office and now Director at Ardea Enterprises Limited.

“How do you get people off email and into collaboration when email is so often the default way to communicate, exchange files, debate the contents of a document, send a version of a document for review and so on.  That latter point is nothing about technology and all about how you make the collaboration space the heart of the where the company does its business - it means the CEO must be active and everyone down from him or her must be as active. It means that if you want the latest version of a document or you want an opinion on a policy or a strategy point, you can only go to that social space to get what you need.”

CULTURE OF SHARING

Forcing employees to use social tools is one way to ensure new technologies are embraced, but ultimately the challenge will be in changing the culture of the organisation.

“The way you do that is with a culture of sharing, working out loud and collaborating across the organisation, underpinned by the accessibility and connectivity of a cloud infrastructure combined with the sort of open, lightweight communication that good social tools or the right enterprise social network can bring,” said Terrar. “You need cloud, social and mobile technology to make that happen effectively, but it only works if you get the culture and leadership right too.”

CIOs and other IT decision makers face plenty of challenges in their pursuit of social enterprise collaboration. Business must understand what they’re trying to achieve before they set off on the journey, and be committed to making cultural changes to the way they work. But the message is clear – collaboration tools are likely to take over your enterprise whether you like it or not, and it’s better to be the leader rather than the follower.

“If you are not presently positioned as a socially aware organisation that offers social collaboration, your customers may force your hand and insist you rapidly change your approach,” said McMahon. “The proliferation of modern devices, always-on mobility and the way your data is consumed proves social collaboration isn’t the ideal, it’s the new norm and you had better be ready.”

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