The Challenges of Social Media in the Enterprise, why Business and IT need to align

Last night I was one of the panelists discussing Social Media in the enterprise (some may refer to this as Enterprise 2.0. but the savvy know it’s so much more). Shel Israel always does a great job of leading panels in an unorthodox manner by encouraging panelists to give about a 6 minute doctrine before getting into question and answer. Here’s loosely the points I made last night:

[The notion of Enterprise 2.0 entices us of open communications, collaboration, in a connected world. Before we adopt these cheap and free tools have we must stop to consider the dangers when IT and Business departments don’t adapt at the same speed]

Web Strategy in the Enterprise
Many people consider me a marketer, yet I have a long background in intranets and the enterprise. I’ve served in both IT and software engineering departments. I’ve worked on four enterprise intranets and was the business manager for the global enterprise intranet at Hitachi Data Systems, mainly focused on the marketing and sales side. I was on the Board of Advisors for two enterprise 2.0 companies, ConnectBeam and Worksona (which has morphed to a new company) and have written a white paper with Dennis McDonald on the topic (we started it in 2005, before the term ‘social media’ came about). For what it’s worth I prefer to be called a “web professional” not segmented to IT, Media, or Marketing, there’s many facets to the web.

The Shine of Enterprise 2.0
The promise of “Enterprise 2.O” to deliver open communications, collaboraiton, and social connections for a faster and more fluid business there are several concerns to consider. Even simply blogging tools like Six Apart’s Typepad is an example. We’re all excited about how disparate individuals and groups will be able to find each other, connect, and collaborate in new ways in the company, have we stopped to consider some of the pitfalls?

Then the dullness sets in Dangers of dispersion
Unfortunately for many IT departments, they focus on the programs they are budgeted to maintain. Sometimes they are not given the freedom or resources to innovate outside of the current enterprise architecture, “Must stay J2EE” or “This is a MS shop only”, or the worse one “Not built here? then we don’t want it”. This slowness gives business units with eyes wide open from business pains three options: 1) Ask IT for help, and hope their request for new communication and collaboration tools to be granted 2) Do nothing 3) Do something on their own.

Access to tools is simple, it’s called the “internet”

If business units adopt these tools without IT providing a technology and communications strategy the enterprise may suffer from a disjointed experience –regardless of individual successes. Out of necessity, the business unit turns to the web as they develop a program on their own. What exactly will they do? Access the variety of free tools, or cheap ones to meet their needs.

I’m guilty and you may be too
I’m somewhat guilty of this problem, I’ve deployed tools without contacting my IT department. Why? because I was afraid they would slow and eventually stop any innovative programs I would lead on the business side. It’s so simple to download, or use web based collaboration tools (in fact I have a list of nearly 80 white label social networks, and dozen of collaboraiton tools) that can be used at any given time.

Thinking through the impacts
Fast forward a few months, if not weeks. What happens when individual business units develop and deploy these tools? The immediate business problems are met, although the longer, and larger information landscape is forever changed. Enterprises may see ill effects such as:

  • Disparate user experiences to customers and employees
  • Information spread off the firewall, some potentially sensitive
  • Risk of enterprise 2.0 vendors being acquired by a competitor
  • Real time information being spread at the “edges” of the company, where there was one before corporate communications
  • Multiple login systems
  • Multiple identity systems spread from system to systems
  • Systems that may not talk to each other, now or in the future.
  • Business program managers that leave the company or position, orphaning any technology deployment deployed at the business level
  • Business groups paying for web programs in different locations, different budgets
  • Lack of a cohesive web strategy

  • The fix? IT moving at the speed of business

    Business units, IT groups, and Enterprise 2.0 vendors need to work closely together to deploy programs across the enterprise. I, we, you, would love to see IT to rise to the occassion and get ahead of the demand curve. Get aware of what’s happening, build connections internally. Get educated, attend enterprise 2.0 conferences and events. Initiate a dialogue with business units fast and early. Your business analysts can stay close to the groups, gather information and help drive a real strategy. Experiment with new technology (give time and resources to those wide eyed employees in IT you see who may adopt these tools) and deploy quickly. Be flexible as business and technology changes over time. Sure, there are going to be changes at the speed of business, but that’s far better than doing nothing.

    Chime in with your suggestions and experiences in the comments below, please.

    In a few days I’ll be speaking at Visible Path’s event in San Francisco, Ross Mayfield and others will be on my panel. What’s Visible Path? They offer solutions to map out the “Social Graph” of an enterprise by sifting and organizing unstructured data in Outlook and other repositories. Why is this important? The most important knowledge in many orginizations (HR, Sales, Support, Management) can be relationships, and often in other organizations. Corporations are not islands, but are connected with interstate freeways extending at all edges of the border. You may also want to check out the free white paper Dennis McDonald and I wrote “Business and I.T. Must Work Together to Manage New “Web 2.0” Tools

    Links from the Social Media Club event at Intel last night “Social Media in the Enterprise”

  • Stuart was there Update: and has blogged the session notes, and Chris (who said his URL enough times for me to remember to check it out SocialTNT), and he also summarized the event, fantastic capture.

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    • great topic – and timely – I have a blog post in progress that discusses the exact topic – and get’s into a real case study of how we’ve worked through the challenge.

      Like yourself, I am guilty of rogue initiatives. In this case, I believe the problem statement is key. The other key is to *partner* with IT on this one… Get on board, or the 4000 blogs, wiki’s forums, etc – throughout the enterprise wil continue to evolve organically. Either provide a neighborhood for people to thrive in – or run the risk of mass chaos, disjointed tools and huge spend via redundancy. Now is the time to be pioneering Web 2.0 in the enterprise, not tomorrow, next week, etc;

      This is a great topic as many are struggling with it. Thanks for getting this conversation started, Jeremiah.

    • Len

      I want to read your post, be sure to leave a comment here pointing to it.

    • Don’t you think IT has needed to align with business for a long, long time? I’ve seen search marketing campaigns, web site launches, PR initiatives and more derailed by stubborn or overworked IT folks.

      The truth is that, in most cases, IT should be managing infrastructure, not web sites. The smart marketer or strategist puts their site somewhere where they can control it, or gets a dedicated IT resource, or screams until the do.

    • Ian

      A very good point, but this is different. Collaboration tools and wikis and project management tools have sometimes come from groups within IT.

    • Ian – I agree with you too. I’ve been very fortunate to partner with my IT org… We went through some growing pains, and spent time working out the responsibility matrix, etc;… But now have a very productive relationship where they manage the infrastructure and I manage the user experience. I see social media as an extension of the same – except the user experience is influenced more by the community.

      Jeremiah – per your request –

    • The IT group I work with now has been given too much power in previous years to the point that their bad decisions have limited/hindered my decision-making in web strategy. Flexibility doesn’t seem to exist, but rigidity and IT policies and standards certainly do. IT believes themselves to be the keeper of wisdom and now web (in my experiences, and I try to keep an open mind given that my ex-boyfriend was a system admin) and as such has managed to force every other department to adhere to a poor decision because “that is what has been previously decided as the standard.”

      I want to believe that joining together is an option and I always offer them the opportunity to be involved, but at the end of day they either don’t want to be involved, refuse to open their minds to new thinking, or just don’t get it. The IT departments I’ve worked with just aren’t ready to take on websites because they’re still trying to get infrastructure right, so in that sense I have to agree with Ian.

    • Jeremiah said: “Why? because I was afraid they would slow and eventually stop any innovative programs I would lead on the business side.”

      See, that’s the issue right there. IT Departments were created, trained, and staffed in a time before the Internet, or when the internet was new and IT was the only “techy” people capable of understanding the stuff.

      The reason we’re even having conversations like this, 15+ years after the introduction of the commercial internet is because we’ve not properly redefined the roles in a new world.

      As mentioned above, IT (as a general “thing”) is primarily responsible for infrastructure. They’re the group that keeps the phones on, the internal mail servers functioning, and the firewall secure. They’re not, by default, business support. The same group of people dealing with firewalls shouldn’t be be designing Web sites and activities. The marketing people aren’t calculating production line times in their downtime; the in-house lawyers aren’t taking customers service calls between writing briefs. Why do we expect something different from IT?

      Because most people in an organization don’t see a distinction between firewall and web site like they do with legal brief and customer service call. The people who actually work in the IT departments look at the web work and often lust to do that rather than fix the latest Windows bug on a user’s desktop. So they fight hard to create the illusion that anything geeky is their domain.

      I’ll be honest, I’m surprised we (the industry overall, I mean) are still having this conversation. I’ve been part of these discussions for 12+ years now, and I’m wondering if this is one of those perennial issues that will never go away.

      All that said, I do agree that there needs to be strategy about how your web tools build up. If it’s externally facing, however, a typical IT team should NOT be the group put in charge of that activity. When it comes down to priorities, keeping the Exchange server online is ALWAYS going to trump launching a new marketing-related web project. So why are choices like that even being considered?

    • I still haven’t made a determination as to how to deal with social tools in the enterprise. Your list of impacts touches on many of the inherent problems of what is really grassroots adoption and organic growth.

      The risks that I see of “IT moving at the speed of business” include the derision that is caused when an IT solution is prescriptive and inadequate. All that does is encourage those on the ground to come up with their own solutions, workarounds and tools which starts the cycle all over again.

      Chris Brogan imagined a social media enabled workplace:
      This workplace may be realizable in a small to medium size org, but what about the behemoths with >100,000 employees? A unified strategy in those environments is stifling by definition of its highly generalized requirements.

    • In many large companies it is precisely because corporate IT departments spend so much of their time and money maintaining infrastructure technologies that they are shortchanged when it comes to being funded with enough staff to support agile and business-oriented responses to rapidly changing business needs.

      Infrastructure costs are often treated as overhead or support costs that, by definition, are spread over multiple business goals and processes. Performance measurement in such instances is related to cost control, not to revenue enhancement. In such situations IT is something to be minimized. As a result, your pet new project employing shiny new technologies is going to get shortchanged.

      It’s a vicious circle that in some companies has led to so much IT outsourcing that providing support for new technologies can’t happen without the involvement of outside contractors.

    • Since you twittered it , , I thought I would respond.

      First of all IT Departments, Heck IT any Support guys dont like clients carrying out random acts of software delivery and implementation because its the very same IT guys who are reached for when it stops working or wont share or wont export or wont do a whole host of things which werent considered when the “New and Shiny” product is implemented.

      Youve covered most of the above paragraph about 2/3rds of the way through your talk.

      I will tell you this though: Its My Dirty Little Secret. I am following you , I am moving from IT to Marketing and Web Strategy , because after 17 of IT Support, Management and Distribution the very same problems we are supposed to be solving and delivering are still UNSOLVED.

      I have started moving my clients into what I call Short Term Data dumps. Create ideas and product and information but dont go for duration of data warehousing and management information but go for delivery and results and then drop it all and move onto the next job/project/idea.

      Web2.0 Makes that all very easy to do since Users approach to a browser is far more confident than they ever will be towards a Computer.

      They dont see it as the same thing and they see the “Internet” as something utterly new and different than their computers.

      Thanks for reading.

    • Your typical IT guy does not “lust” to work on the sweet new Web site you’ve been inspired to create. He just wants to be sure that nothing awful is going to happen that will require him to sweat over the damn thing for hours (or days). I’ve been in several situations where a business unit deployed something that they were SURE didn’t need IT’s input–including one that was “just a Web site, so what does it matter?”–only to put it on our plate days or weeks later.

      Sometime in the next couple of days I’m going to approach our local IT guy about a social networking tool that I’d like our office to start using. I fully expect him to receive the proposal with deep suspicion. I hope he does, because looking at new technology with deep suspicion is his job.

    • OH, one other thing I’d add in…

      The core of this discussion (or at least the discussion starter) comes from a desire to have any and all project scalable, long-term, and deeply connected to all other parts of the business.

      I’m not sure that always needs to be the case. In fact, I wrote about the “Disposable Camera” model being applicable to many types of social media projects.

      Additionally, Enterprise 2.0 discussions tend to scrub the conversation on the Participate vs. Create issues. Someone mentions “Enterprise 2.0” and the conversation tends to turn 100% to building our own, corporate versions of social media tools, where that might not be a very good solution. The “IT” question brings the conversation to privacy, scalability, etc. as an immediate and primary discussion point.

    • Jake, sorry but your wrong.

      Your looking at IT as infrastructure support. Yes, that is a component of IT; however, that does not define IT.

      If you look at the 15+ history of IT that you mention you will find that a large majority of IT employees were created out of the depths of business schools at US universities. They were trained in “business application support” which traditionally were accounting and HR systems. They have MIS degrees, not computer science degrees. To say that IT for the last 15+ years knew nothing about business is to say that sales knows nothing about the products that they are selling.

      There are IT folks who focus on “support”, there are also IT folks who focus on web design, UX, process design, strategy development, sales, R&D, business continuity, the list goes on and on.

      Any organization actually looking to deploy social media technology needs to have the IT department support them. Not doing so would be a waste of time, money, and resources. If you can’t get the support than you are selling the wrong people.

      Step 1. develop social media concept
      Step 2. implement pilot on your own time
      Step 3. sell your management on the idea
      Step 4. leverage you management buy-in to develop corporate strategy
      Step 5. use corporate strategy to get funding and prioritization for IT
      Step 6. bring project to IT for company wide implementation

      If you make it to step 6, you are well on your way to a good implementation. Keep in mind step 4 & 5 are the hardest!! Convincing senior management that your little social media/collaboration project is just as important as business continuity or an ERP implementation will be hard. The data from the pilot will be critical. The buy-in will also be critical.

      Then again, you could skip the IT department, implement it yourself, and become an IT support person yourself instead of a strategist or innovator….

    • yndy

      Josh makes some very good points – gotta say that I disagree with you as well Jake.

      I’d mention another thing “IT” is short for “Information Technology” – certainly, web applications, internet, and external media count under that umbrella as well. If they were not the purview of the technologists, then we’d likely be calling it TI – for technology infrastructure.

      IT doesn’t just include support – it also includes development.

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    • Josh, thanks for the well-reasoned comments.

      Josh said: “There are IT folks who focus on “support”, there are also IT folks who focus on web design, UX, process design, strategy development, sales, R&D, business continuity, the list goes on and on.”

      Sure, don’t disagree. My point is that lumping anything “digital” into a single “IT” category, then treating that category as a single internal unit is wrongheaded.

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    • This has clearly brought up some very important issues, I’ve taken many of your comments and highlighted them in this post

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    • Stop calling your IT Services department “IT”. It’s not about the technology or the infrastructure — both of which quickly overpower any amount of headcount in an IT organization — it’s about the services provided. Once people start to get this, the pushback both ways inevitably dissolves.

      When IT (now ITS) starts to realize that it’s not about “did we build it?” but rather, “did we help our customer,” they won’t approach things in the “no police” mode, or retain the “not invented here” mentality. Once the business realizes that ITS is here to help, not harm, and ITS _proves_ it, then the business will WANT the ITS department to vet any business technology decisions.

      It’s all about the framing of the discussion and the purpose and mission of the folks who are responsible for business technology at your organization.

    • Also – social media aside, it’s pretty clear that the business side and IT [Services] aren’t communicating with each other enough.

      We did a survey of over 1,000 business & IT professionals last month, and almost a third of them said that they “hardly ever” have discussions between IT and the business about changing business technology needs. Pretty scary. (Full story in this coming week’s InformationWeek,, November 5 issue)

    • IT are mostly facilitators not creators. IT guys often don’t like change, they want systems to be stable. Software dev teams are i’d argue not in IT , these are the teams who need to work with business teams more than the IT departments.

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