Community Platforms: Here Comes The CIO

I’m currently doing an intensive 3 month research project on the topic of Community Platforms, and it’s become very clear that by talking to many of the 27 brands, 9 vendors, and leaning on forecast data where many decisions are currently being made to purchase these enterprise software solutions. To start with, many solutions (define as a set of software, services, support) are being purchased by marketers who want to bring a social aspect to their corporate website.

These marketing folks, who may have worked with IT in the past to load CMS programs are bound by corporate red tape, de-prioritized by IT project management, or want to evade the rigors of legal and security and free to purchase community platforms using Software as a Service model (SaaS). Why is this beneficial? As they’ve only to rely on IT for single sign on (SSO) they often can handle the rest within the web marketing team, or lean on the services of the community vendor.

Yet, they aren’t the only buyers, HR departments are starting to become sponsors for enterprise social network platforms to improve internal knowledge transfers, collaboration, and developing specific programs for alumni, new hires, interns, and even women using pre-packaged use case features provided by these vendors.

You can see where this is headed right? IT departments realize that fragmented communtiy software is going to lead to a disparate mess to clean up, and many are starting to make recommendations for enterprise platforms that will span the usage of the whole company. Why? To reduce overall resources, ensure security, centralize data, and ensure, well that they are responsible and safe when it comes to their information.

I’ve only heard of a few instances from the marketers that I’ve interviewed where IT has thought of community platforms as an enterprise solution rather than a one-off by marketing.

Talking with many of these folks in this research project, I could make the case that in 12-24 months we’ll start to see CIOs start to initiate projects to deliver enterprise social networking mandates, take ownership over these disparate projects, and wake up and realize the importance of these tools beyond marketing and HR.

This yields all kinds of questions regarding: security, what does enterprise-class entail, how will Microsoft/SAP/IBM respond, will Saas or on-premise software be required, governance, flexibility, allowance of third-party widgets, and costs. More to come on this as I dive further into this research project.

It’s amazing it’s taken so many years for this to come around, I first started writing about this back in 2005 with Dennis McDonald.

  • http://kimmaterial.blogspot.com Kim

    This is *exactly* how web 1.0 played out too, isn’t it? Marketing was lured by the Web, because people were starting to go there. We got brochureware. Business folks took interest and saw revenue potential, then CIOs stepped in and we got services. This will naturally be followed by an internally political scurry about “who should own this” which always gets more intense when something passes a tipping point and becomes hot.

    IMHO, CIOs taking interest is a good thing. You need Marketing and IT working together, and there are a lot of potential potholes as adoption increases, particularly related to privacy protection and data security. IT brings a lot to the table there, and I’m not sure how much due diligence has been done on some of these white label vendors so far.

  • http://www.afpr.com Andrew Finkle

    If you are thinking about adding social networking (web 2.0) elements to your enterprise, you WILL need ONE person(Chief Social Media Officer) to manage it, one that reports directly to the CEO.

    This is because social media can not, and does not encompass any one area of your business.
    Your advertising lead will use it to advertise WITH your customers, and not at them.
    Your HR department will use it to locate the best hires.
    Your product development will discover new products not thought up on their own
    Your logistics will use it to track & communicate with your fleet
    etc.

    The point being, that social networking best practices do not belong to any one area of your business, they will be integrated into every aspect of your business,your products,your customers,your employees….EVERYWHERE! So while your CMO might have their own ideas on how to incorporate aspects of Web 2.0, his focus is likely not on product development (as it should be in a corporate structure) it is more likely on marketing.

  • http://www.vanessabrooks.com Keith Brooks

    Wondering about the mmonolithic centralized IT org which existed for mainframes, then for client/server then for the web now for this.
    But will IT move fast enough this time and will the big dogs(IBM/MS et al) really move as quickly as corporates want them to? Or will a new pack of “Enterprise solutions” come about.

  • Annalie Killian

    Well, not all IT departments are technology laggards. At AMP, Enterprise 2.0 and a technology platform to enable that was a project initiated out of IT and funded by the CIO who saw the enterprise benefit and wanted to get an enterprise solution early instead of dealing with fragmented services. This work commenced in 2006, and was implemented in 2007 for intranet, and just finishing in Sept this year for the internet. It can sometimes be just as difficult for forward-looking IT departments to convince the business that this is where the future lies.

  • http://www.fullcirc.com Nancy White

    Jeremiah, this echoes what we heard when doing research about technology to support communities of practice for our book (Etienne Wenger, John Smith and I – eventually!!!). This constituency, much like the marketing group, saw the benefits of collaborative and social networking tools before many of their IT departments, got frustrated with the red tape and went out and started using whatever they could find. Less restricted by single sign on worries or working with large external members, they just DID it. In some cases, that triggered IT departments to look at this set of tools. It also often triggered the organizations themselves to look at their policies around what data could sit on which servers. The Company Command CoP is a classic example.

  • http://alignmentinquiries.blogspot.com/ Andrew Meyer

    Jeremiah, there is another aspect to this also. Many departments are going to SaaS vendors as a way to avoid working with IT. They just want the services and not the IT. How this will play out will be interesting to see.

  • http://www.citizenschools.org Will

    We’re already there – part of my mandate at Citizen Schools is to lead our Social Networking efforts, particularly due to the need to integrate data between the network and other enterprise applications.

    As with prior solutions that got started at the departmental level, once people start seeing the value, they want to be able to compare the data the they’re getting from the local/external solution with what they’ve got internally – those demands for information lead IT to figure out how to get at the data, which requires IT resources, which attracts IT management attention.

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  • http://www.infor.com Venson Kuchipudi

    At Infor we have initiated an internal community project as a joint venture between IT and Marketing. One thing that has helped is that our Marketing team has an IT focused sub-team that frequently interfaces with IT. These dotted line, project based teams, made up of members from different departments, help facilitate better project collaboration, resource allocation, and ownership. Thought leadership comes from many different angles, driven by the ‘community’ vs. just IT or Marketing.

  • http://michaelmoir.blogspot.com/ mike moir

    Community as One-Off or an Enterprise Standard Initiative…

    I think that the idea the implementing community is as some separate site area only is flawed. As community needs experiences need to be integrated into an enterprise’s customer, partner and employee channels and applications in a relevant way. To do this the community vendors need to provide not just a community destination experience but also a robust API for deep integration. I have explored and worked on some of this with community vendors, but this is pretty early in delivering this in a meaningful way.

  • http://www.conenza.com Tony Audino

    Jeremiah, great to see you digging into this area further. The tag line for your blog, “…how web tools enable companies to connect with customers”, is too narrow in the context of the enterprise. As you’re discovering in your research other areas of the enterprise are awakening to the potential for social computing in their respective functional groups or LOBs. One of the greatest opportunities exists to help facilitate cross-functional communication and collaboration. I would encourage you to extend your blog to provide an forum for discussion of these cross-functional opportunities and challenges vs focusing on marketing and customer-facing. Good luck with the research…look forward to some interesting insights!

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Tony

    Thanks, I mainly focus on web marketing, but you’re right it crosses over, esp in the case. The trick here of course is, that employees are customers too.

  • http://thenetworkgarden.com Mark Sigal

    Hi Jeremiah,

    I am knee deep in the sandbox that you are writing about, as my company, Snapp Networks (www.snappville.com) builds software that is targeted at enabling community building initiatives that are both internally (employee centered) and externally (customer/constituency centered) focused.

    (Check out MyRagan as an example powered by our platform: http://www.myragan.com)

    The simple net out on our experience to date is that SaaS is the easiest path for companies not to have to fight IT red tape and move to implementation quickly.

    After all, social networking is all about facilitating free conversations in a managed chaos type of framework, which is sometimes an anathema to IT’s role to protect, serve and secure the infrastructure.

    Arguably, keeping the community platform off of IT’s domain is more a tactic to route around a would-be friction point, than it is a strategic embrace of SaaS.

    That said, as more companies start to embrace internal, employee-centered communities, this tactic might only work on the front end of reviewing vendor options and winnowing down to a favored vendor solution.

    Ultimately, IT will have a role in approving the solution, which is probably as it should be. These systems, after all, touch user authentication systems, generate consumer or employee data (for which their maybe liability/leverage dynamics) and often integrate with the existing web infrastructure and email systems.

    Somewhat akin to the way VMWare in the virtualization space began its penetration path with individual testing groups then moved into full workgroup environments before penetrating the datacenter, I expect that you will see similar adoption dynamics with enterprise community offerings — from marketing orgs to workgroups, then divisions then company wide.

    As to Microsoft, they are reasonably well positioned with SharePoint (on internal community side) since it is already within the enterprise, often under enterprise-wide licensing agreements, and IT groks it since it looks like an intranet software to them.

    In fact, I see the friction within companies all the time, with IT pushing SharePoint and the communicators responsible for driving community looking for something more vibrant and organic.

    Cheers,

    Mark

  • http://www.cayuse.com Mark Ace

    Thanks for your insights! This meshes with what we see, and it’s not confined to community media SaaS apps.

    I think the fundamental conflict is the debate around the role of a SaaS solution. As long as the SaaS solution does one discrete thing, it’s much easier to contain it and make the case that IT need not be involved.

    The minute that SaaS app starts integrating with anything, whether CMS, HR, support, sales, whatever, IT is going to get involved. And in community apps, where are the edges? By definition, community touches a lot of things. So IT wants in.

    In general, I would say they have a duty to get involved, but it sure does slow things down. And with IT involved, there is the risk of diluting, distorting, or fumbling the implementation and/or integration.

    I’m an advocate of bringing in the SaaS app and letting it prove itself. Worry about integration later. Go with open architecture and a secure service, and give IT something stable to work with when they’re ready to integrate.

  • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

    More and more organizations that I work with are looking for social media tools that are easy to use and easy to manage (From an overall organization perspective – not just one piece of the org. like HR or Marketing).

    There is generally a battle between SaaS vs. premise based systems. Each have their strengths and weaknesses – some general to the solution and others specific to the organizations need/requirements.

    Needless to say as social media grows it makes for exciting times for all of us that are eager to see it flourish.

    CIO’s, IT staff and the rest of organizations departments will be involved the more the benefits are made known and organizations can see the real value in social media.

    Good stuff.


    http://twitter.com/franswaa

  • http://www.chriswoodbooks.blogspot.com Chris Wood

    Thank you for the insights – social networking is an area I’m just getting interested in.

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  • http://kimmaterial.blogspot.com Kim Mahan

    In response to several other comments…

    Most saavy IT departments are moving to SaaS also. You WANT IT involved to ensure security and interoperability among all these platforms.

    It should be a partnership.

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Kim

    Absolutely agreed.

  • http://www.austin20.biz Rennie

    Thank you for sharing this highly valuable information. I’m a firm believer in SaaS …let the provider/vendor/social media experts do all the “behind-the-scenes” work and allow the customer to focus on their business.

  • http://www.deanowen.ca Dean Owen

    How about a new C level position, CWO…Chief Web Officer? Yesterday’s solutions don’t work for today’s problems never mind tomorrow’s. What enterprises need is someone to tie together all the web based demands and services across the organization. Most CIOs aren’t in that position.

    Since most IT departments spend 75%-90% of budget and resources keeping legacy systems alive they don’t have time for new initiatives and their mindset, culture and business plans will typically crush any innovation (BTW: isn’t that what the I in CIO should stand for?)that would get in their way of keeping the lights on. Most IT departments and managers, not all but most, are tactical thinkers and not strategic.

    It’s been reported that at least 65% of the IT workers will retire within the next 5-10 years. Maybe the senior people should be encouraged to take early leaving packages to get them and their road-block mentality out of the picture and make room for new ways of thinking. As an IT manager for many years I was involved with the NO mindset. Now as a ‘born-again’ IT guy and consultant I get frustrated when talking to traditional IT managers who view social media as something to block at the firewall.

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  • David Seifert

    I agree with Dean Owen, I find most IT departments steeped in legacy and even though younger entrants into the department are eager to work with the new technology and what to go in what ever direction the marketing or businesss user needs to head, the old school IT leadership will not allow it, devoting way to much precious resource to mantaining status quo. Traditional IT management is much to conservative for the web. It requires a seperate group of IT professionals, lead by the Web leadership to keep up with this fast moving area.

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  • http://www.vanessabrooks.com/ Keith Brooks

    Wondering about the mmonolithic centralized IT org which existed for mainframes, then for client/server then for the web now for this.
    But will IT move fast enough this time and will the big dogs(IBM/MS et al) really move as quickly as corporates want them to? Or will a new pack of “Enterprise solutions” come about.

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