Innovative communication techniques grouped together and\n interchangeably labeled social computing, social software,\n social media, Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0), need to shape\n the way companies do business. (For more, see An Introduction to Web 2.0 and Web 2.0 Crucial to New Information Workplace.)\n\n Senior managers who learn to let\n E2.0 concepts have a life of their own will benefit from\n enhanced knowledge sharing and stronger communities within\n their companies. These communities reinforce interactions\n within work groups and support collaboration and\n innovation.Benefits for the Enterprise\n\n Increased Collaboration\n People form communities based on shared interests. Once the\n community is in place, it becomes a greenhouse for the\n development of ideas and the distribution of information,\n attracting all those who wish to participate. The collaborative\n exchange of ideas is essential to the success of difficult\n initiatives, including software architecture and design,\n project management and organizational transformation. Tools\n such as social networking sites, discussion groups and wikis\n enable people to connect with one another virtually while\n enhancing and extending face-to-face interaction. Using these\n tools, traditional hierarchies and structures in the company\n move into the background as the community emerges, removing\n many of the inhibitors of information exchange. Companies are\n seeing improved collaboration surrounding creation of user\n groups (around development languages) and complex design (in\n globally distributed teams). In each case, participants from\n otherwise isolated parts of the company share problems and\n solutions, reducing redundancy and increasing common\n functionality.\n\n Enhanced Innovation\n Peter Drucker writes extensively about innovation as a subtle\n reexamination of context rather than mountaintop epiphanies.\n Most companies that take an innovative turn spot\n something\u2014an opportunity\u2014that offers a natural\n extension of the status quo. Chris Zook recommends searching\n for "undeveloped adjacencies," or unexploited capabilities in\n the organization that can be developed into new, repeatable\n processes. Successful corporate innovation capitalizes on\n existing assets and ideas combined in new ways. Use of social\n computing creates a new stage for innovation, where ideas are\n more easily exposed and patterns spotted. As communities work\n out the kinks of new ideas in public forums, innovative\n thinking coalesces and ownership\/leadership emerges. Amazon\n uses social computing (especially wikis) extensively in the\n development of new features for Amazon.com. Virtual teams form\n around seeds of ideas, take ownership and drive the idea into a\n product enhancement.\n\n Increased Productivity\n Increased productivity is usually the result of more efficient\n access to correct information. This reduces the time needed\n during discovery phases and troubleshooting. For software\n development, access to shared solutions and knowledgeable\n people speeds time to delivery. For call-center environments,\n the ability to find information and communicate in real time\n with coworkers shortens call time. For design scenarios,\n collaborative work on shared artifacts accelerates the early\n stages of a project and simplifies future iterations. In all\n scenarios, the collective intelligence of the community leads\n to answers more quickly. As more questions are answered,\n repeatability increases. As new workers enter the company,\n there is a baseline of knowledge to get them ramped up more\n effectively. Much of that knowledge is available as content\n within the social computing infrastructure.\n Improved Employee Relations and\n Engagement\n An employee who happily engages with their coworkers and the\n company is usually a great thing. They have a lower rate of\n attrition, are generally more productive and have a better\n sense of the overall objectives of the company. Social\n computing allows employees to connect more easily with one\n another and with the corporation as a whole. Shared connections\n also enhance face-to-face interactions and the sense of\n belonging to the wider corporate community. New friendships\n emerge, common interests are identified and cohesion increases\n as users interact with one another around similar goals. Social\n networks, blogs and wikis create a forum for the voice of the\n employee to be heard and for their ideas to be validated. They\n have the ability to directly influence decisions within the\n organization, and their level of engagement increases.\n\n Attracting and Keeping Younger Workers\n Much has been made of the need to update enterprise technology\n to attract younger workers. These workers carry expectations of\n highly interactive, mobile and ubiquitous computing into the\n workplace. It's how they interact with the world, and they have\n become highly productive (and a bit distracted) by it. These\n people expect high interpersonal connectivity and create\n solutions to problems from fragments of interaction. It's not\n just about younger workers, though. Although that demographic\n has more time to experiment and, as a result, build facility\n more quickly, people of all ages have experience with a broad\n range of social computing devices and applications. Recent\n studies at Stanford's Communication between Humans and\n Interactive Media (CHIMe) lab suggest that adaptability has\n more to do with new cognitive types that are not age-specific.\n Humans are highly efficient parallel processors, even though\n most of our information worker applications force them into a\n narrow box. The challenge for IT departments is to design\n applications that take advantage of these human capabilities on\n top of an infrastructure that is strained to support them.\n\n Promotion and Public Relations\n Many companies are starting to use public-facing social\n computing as a means of projecting brand. From executive blogs\n (such as Marriott's and General Motors') to consumer\n communities (such as Pepperidge Farm's and Wells Fargo's),\n companies are trying their hand at increasing customer loyalty\n in innovative ways. This is tricky if not done carefully,\n though. An executive blog that is obviously written by the PR\n department will alienate people. Forced "community" experiences\n will immediately feel artificial or opportunistic. In the case\n of Pepperidge Farm, their well-crafted "Connections" initiative\n targets a specific demographic (professional women with\n homemaker sensibilities) and builds on a theme of friendship.\n The connection to the company's product is tangential:\n Obviously, a selection of Pepperidge Farm goodies would be a\n natural addition to a gathering of friends. Rather than build\n in any social computing functionality to their site, Pepperidge\n Farm suggests ways to use some of the most common applications\n (photo sharing, blogging) to connect with friends. Other\n companies are creating a presence for themselves using social\n networking sites like Facebook.com, which have also proven to\n be a fertile ground for political candidates and musicians to\n get their message out.Managing the Social Organization\n\n Observing Without Disturbing\n The attraction of social computing is also its challenge. It\n thrives because it is highly participatory, self-defining,\n self-directing, emergent and viral. It does not grow along a\n prescribed axis. Communities form around seeds of ideas that\n grow over time into larger patterns. If a group senses that it\n is being observed (and relied upon for output), there is the\n danger that interactions will become too self-conscious.Use of social computing cannot be mandated; it must simply\n be facilitated. Once the mechanics are in place to support\n social computing, the content produced through user interaction\n is treated like other content in the organization. It must be\n indexed and searchable, making it easy for users to discover\n information and engage with it. Reasonable arm's length\n policies regarding content and style will also allow the voice\n of the group to reach equilibrium on its own. In order to\n achieve the best results, enterprise social computing must\n retain the perceived freedom of the Web.\n\n Provide Executive Leadership, But Stay out of the\n Way\n CIOs are responsible for making sure that the corporate\n environment supports the paradigm shifts accompanying E2.0.\n They are responsible for infrastructure investments that\n constitute the E2.0 platform. They must establish standards and\n enforce boundaries when required. They may even take part in\n the communities as they emerge. But CIOs must also realize that\n their direct presence in those communities can have a muting\n effect (the celebrity factor). One way for senior executives to\n be effectively engaged with E2.0 is to keep active blogs of\n their own. This will provide IT staff with valuable insights\n into their leadership. At the end of the day, CIOs set\n strategic directions that are "worked out" in the E2.0\n communities populated by their employees.Chris Howard is vice president and director of the\n Executive Advisory Program at the Burton Group. He is a former\n university professor with more that 16 years of IT consulting\n experience.