Tips for Social Computing in the Enterprise

Implementing Web 2.0 tools can lead to better collaboration and productivity at your business, higher levels of employee engagement. The tools also can help you attract the next generation of workers. These tips can help you get started--and also get out of the way.

Innovative communication techniques grouped together and interchangeably labeled social computing, social software, social media, Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0), need to shape the way companies do business. (For more, see An Introduction to Web 2.0 and Web 2.0 Crucial to New Information Workplace.)

Senior managers who learn to let E2.0 concepts have a life of their own will benefit from enhanced knowledge sharing and stronger communities within their companies. These communities reinforce interactions within work groups and support collaboration and innovation.

Benefits for the Enterprise

Increased Collaboration

People form communities based on shared interests. Once the community is in place, it becomes a greenhouse for the development of ideas and the distribution of information, attracting all those who wish to participate.

The collaborative exchange of ideas is essential to the success of difficult initiatives, including software architecture and design, project management and organizational transformation. Tools such as social networking sites, discussion groups and wikis enable people to connect with one another virtually while enhancing and extending face-to-face interaction. Using these tools, traditional hierarchies and structures in the company move into the background as the community emerges, removing many of the inhibitors of information exchange.

Companies are seeing improved collaboration surrounding creation of user groups (around development languages) and complex design (in globally distributed teams). In each case, participants from otherwise isolated parts of the company share problems and solutions, reducing redundancy and increasing common functionality.

Enhanced Innovation

Peter Drucker writes extensively about innovation as a subtle reexamination of context rather than mountaintop epiphanies. Most companies that take an innovative turn spot something—an opportunity—that offers a natural extension of the status quo.

Chris Zook recommends searching for "undeveloped adjacencies," or unexploited capabilities in the organization that can be developed into new, repeatable processes. Successful corporate innovation capitalizes on existing assets and ideas combined in new ways. Use of social computing creates a new stage for innovation, where ideas are more easily exposed and patterns spotted. As communities work out the kinks of new ideas in public forums, innovative thinking coalesces and ownership/leadership emerges. Amazon uses social computing (especially wikis) extensively in the development of new features for Amazon.com. Virtual teams form around seeds of ideas, take ownership and drive the idea into a product enhancement.

Increased Productivity

Increased productivity is usually the result of more efficient access to correct information. This reduces the time needed during discovery phases and troubleshooting. For software development, access to shared solutions and knowledgeable people speeds time to delivery. For call-center environments, the ability to find information and communicate in real time with coworkers shortens call time. For design scenarios, collaborative work on shared artifacts accelerates the early stages of a project and simplifies future iterations.

In all scenarios, the collective intelligence of the community leads to answers more quickly. As more questions are answered, repeatability increases. As new workers enter the company, there is a baseline of knowledge to get them ramped up more effectively. Much of that knowledge is available as content within the social computing infrastructure.

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