IBM puts social networking to work

The theme of this year's Lotusphere developers' conference in Florida is Get Social, Do Business. Basically, the focus is on how businesses can harness the power of social networking to perform better. In a way, it's not surprising that a company like IBM would seek to position itself in this space when it is clearly vulnerable to appearing irrelevant to end users moving towards an off-premise model for their applications.

The company's collaboration software specialist Lotus is launching a raft of products, or adaptations of existing products, to support web-based collaboration and extending its integration with IBM's other subsidiaries that focus in areas such as business intelligence to present a rounded offering to customers.

The social networking proposition uses the behaviours, familiar to many users in their leisure time when they connect with friends, to encourage a similarly flexible flow of information within the business. Social networking is about to go to work.

According to IBM general manager collaboration solutions Alistair Rennie, businesses that adopt social networking internally are more successful. In his keynote speech, he cited a 2010 McKinsey report that found such businesses reported better profitability.

The main benefits of adopting social networking within business are:

- An ability to capitalise on collective intelligence.Employees are better able to search out the expertise they need to complete a task

- A transparency within and without the business.Employees are better able to cross the siloes that prevent them from working collaboratively with the relevant colleagues. Customers are more engaged with the company because the lines of communication and feedback are simpler.

- An increase in speed of reaction.Teams are able to act quickly to changes in the market, because they have the information they need at their fingertips and the decision-making process is simplified.

This last point refers to a potentially challenging aspect of adopting social networking within the business. IBM Doug Heintzman admits that it will break the conventional leadership model of command and control. If employees are better informed and more closely linked, they will feel the need to have a bigger part in the decision-making process – excellent news for the business, but troubling for old-school business leaders.

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