ViewPoint: Are Irish companies ready for the social enterprise?

Many Irish companies are just coming to grips with the digital marketing age of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the others. And many are struggling to get a handle on it. They are slowly realising that it requires dedicated resources to create and manage digital platforms. It is not something that can be done on a wing and a prayer.

Internally, companies have been adopting internal web sites/platforms or intranets to share and store information for years with collaboration, document management, management information and knowledge sharing being the main drivers of this.

But that area is also changing. Outside of work, people are used to the interactivity and speed of Facebook and Twitter and other social media tools especially on their smartphones. And now they are no longer happy to look at what they see are staid, slow intranets where information is pushed out to them and they can’t interact with it.

Enter the social enterprise networking tools. Big players here include Microsoft with SharePoint. Their purchase of major social enterprise application, Yammer has pushed them significantly into this area now. The new version of SharePoint is out and has more social enterprise features though a full integration with Yammer is still some way off for on-premises versions. Other players include Jive Software and Newsgator and with the likes of CRM company Salesforce.com bringing a solution (Chatter) to this area as well, it’s going to get interesting real quick.

So where does that leave Irish companies with limited resources? Indeed, why should they be bothered to bring in social enterprise tools?

One element is the way we work. The old ways of working are changing. 9-5, sitting at a desk, using emails, desktop PCs, applications, software and files shares, etc. can be an inefficient way of working. More and more people work from home and/or on the go from laptops, smartphones and remote access, they want to be more flexible and adaptable and businesses have to support them in that.

The pace of business too is quicker as customers demand quicker service. Social enterprise tools can help employees and business be flexible, to be able to respond to customers quicker and get things done in a more efficient way. This is the digital workplace and it is changing how we work. And it’s all in the Cloud now, man.

Will bringing in a social enterprise tool magically transform your business? Of course not. Every organisation is different, they all have different needs and different cultures. What will work for one will not necessarily work for another. The business case, objectives and requirements have to be carefully set out and you have to be very clear as to what you want to achieve from any social enterprise activity. Not everyone is going to become a successful blogger overnight.

The best thing to do is to start small with a small targeted group of employees who can be your champions for rolling it further into your organisation. You are not going to change an organisation in a short space of time but it has to be seen as something that can be done in incremental steps over a defined period of time such as a year. Training, support and commitment from senior managers is critical. Be very specific in knowing what you want a particular tool to do and where it fits within your organisation.

It’s also not a case that IT picks the platform just because it comes from a favoured technology supplier and will ‘fit with our existing platforms and applications’. No. Get the best tool for the job not because you have a maintenance contract with them for other applications.

Culture too plays a big part in implementing a social enterprise set up. Irish people can be very vocal across many platforms. But not necessarily in work. Many are not going to get involved in social enterprise for fear of either upsetting someone or looking stupid. I regularly used to hear people say that they were not encouraged by their managers to use the intranet as it was time wasting! And this was a business tool and our main communications channel for the company.

That sort of nonsense has to be overcome by clear communications, training, governance and support. But again, it will take time. So take small steps, look for quick wins that can be achieved quickly and get some good enthusiastic people involved as early as you can.