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Enable Global Collaboration with an Enterprise Social Network

Author: Charles Barratt

I had the fortune to work with a large global organisation recently that has multiple sites, thousands of staff, and a huge R&D team. Although the organisation itself has an impressive suite of end-user computing technologies aggregated into a single portfolio and delivered to the end user, the one element that’s missing is an effective communication platform to help avoid duplicated effort. I advised my client how the implementation of an effective enterprise social network (ESN) would pay dividends for them.

As with many areas of business, there continues to be a blurry line between internal and external communication channels. Driven at a fast pace by consumerisation, enterprises need to utilise more effective communication channels to foster better collaboration. ESNs bring in the best of public-facing social networking technologies such as Twitter and Facebook, but their roots reach further back to strategies such as knowledge management from the turn of the century.

ESNs create business value by harnessing the familiarity of social network sites— linking individuals and groups across the business through updates, notifications, and projects—all behind the safety of a firewall. A global organisation that adopts an enterprise-wide ESN correctly should enhance business value by bringing together disparate teams to communicate for the benefit of the organisation.

An ESN provides additional value once the service is opened up to trusted partners. This creates a third dimension that allows organisations to not only develop bigger and better capabilities but also quickly respond to dynamic markets to increase brand value and revenues.

Equally important as finding the right technology to implement an ESN is taking the time to review and optimize the people and processes surrounding it. An ESN is a fantastic way to improve communications, but to get the full value from the investment, people need to be educated in its use, a management system needs to be established, and an improvement process needs to be defined.

In my recent collaboration with earlier mentioned client, my ESN strategy recommendations included Socialcast® by VMware, because it could blend familiar social capabilities into business systems already in place across their company. For this particular client, the technology’s comprehensive set of built-in security and data integrity features to keep company data safe and in compliance was key. That, along with the ability to deploy the technology platform in three ways—on premise, as well as single-tenant cloud and multi-tenant SaaS—cemented their decision to move forward with including Socialcast in the IT roadmap.

When an enterprise “goes social” with a sound strategy and implementation team, the rewards are vast:

  • Improved collaboration on global projects, removing team silos
  • Reduced operational costs associated with collaboration and team travel
  • Fast time to market
  • Removal of duplicate effort and cost
  • Improved product quality
  • Service and product awareness prior to product launch
  • New feedback channels
  • Broad networking, removing the walls associated with hierarchies.

So how do you go about developing an enterprise social network? Firstly the purpose, charter, and strategy need to be defined, agreed upon, and phased. Below are some of the core areas that you’ll want to focus on.

  1. Define your ESN Strategy
  2. Build a virtual team across all boundaries of the business and leverage crowdsourcing techniques to define “What good looks like”
  3. Involve all stakeholders
  4. Pilot on a contained user group, including a blend of users across the business each with their own use case
  5. Build on the right IT architecture and one that is integrated into other touch points to become part of the business’ DNA
  6. Market the service using innovative approaches to gain excitement and momentum
  7. Leverage reward-based systems based on active sharing and learning
  8. Evolve, evolve, evolve. Social networks should never become dormant. It’s the same principle as websites; a website that hasn’t been updated in months is ultimately ineffective. Find ways to ensure adoption. Identify processes that are inefficient and can be addressed through social networks, such as connecting people with expertise or improved workflows through collaboration.

An enterprise social network should not be seen as just another communication tool. Instead it should be integrated into existing platforms and communication tools to deliver a true omnichannel service. Remember that the consumer world is increasingly spilling over into the enterprise space; it is only a matter of time before people expect to engage internally using this type of service. It’s a complicated moment for end-user computing—but also an exciting one.

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Charles Barratt is a business solutions architect with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services, based in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @csbarratt

 

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