Why most enterprises fail at social collaboration?


My friend was in a pickle. She works for a large, respected company and had just received an assignment from her boss that was bothering her. The firm’s managing director asked her to write a strategy document that outlined the company’s social media goals for the coming year. The more she thought about it, she realized that the very act of writing a document that placed social media in its own silo, like any other line of business, ran contrary to what social media was all about.

Effectively collaborating across departments and building interpersonal relationships takes connecting entire company and everything that’s in it. So placing social media in its own silo distinct and apart from other corporate initiatives defeats the purpose. So my friend decided to take a bold step and use the assignment to explain to her boss why the company needed to think about social collaboration tools as less of a separate and distinct technology and more of an integrated, company-wide mantra.

First, she cited some sobering facts gleaned from a recent Gartner report: Nine out of every ten social collaboration initiatives in large organizations fail. In a bygone era, the focus of any collaborative project involved sharing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with everyone involved. The point was to make sure everyone knew what his task was within the project and to meet those goals within a prescribed timeframe. The promise of a social collaboration platform is that the assorted documents are just the beginning; they form the basis for fostering interpersonal relationships throughout departments. The so-called contextual effect that the platform delivers has the potential to drive high-performance within the overall organization.

Yet on its face, social collaboration tools tend not to be aligned with the goals of the greater company. Much like the dilemma my friend was facing in her own firm, collaboration tools are conceptualized as stand-alone efforts disconnected from long-term strategic plans built by the company’s leadership. That’s why she was using the memo to her boss to demonstrate how imperative it is that social collaboration programs have a concise strategic foundation directly tied to business objectives. It’s critical to have senior leadership involved to make sure the program is aligned to organizational goals and, ultimately, business outcomes.

Of course, let’s not blame the company for everything here. There are social software vendors and consulting firms that rush to capitalize on the potential revenues from selling big companies on the promise of social collaboration programs. These firms focus too much on the tools and technologies of the platforms and not enough on the cultural changes that the right tools can have on a company. In too many companies, mid-level and senior managers have ascended to their positions because of their abilities to navigate the politics of the company – and much of that involves directing flows of information to their benefit. A really good social collaboration platform is a direct threat to this kind of entrenched culture.

That’s why my friend began addressing the potential impact of social media in her memo. To be sure, it’s widespread throughout the company, but people need to think beyond the traditional organizational hierarchies. She went out on a limb and proposed that her firm create a Digital Office to oversee the business elements that social media provides. A chief digital officer would focus on business goals and strategy. 

Granted, the marketing, information technology, human resources, and corporate communications departments all have a stake in an overall social media strategy. But as the old saying goes, the buck stops here (with the chief digital officer) when it comes to ensuring a single owner of the entire process. That officer is the conduit through which all the other departments must flow.  The CDO is the link between the social media transformation and the organization’s business goals – within the proper financial frameworks, of course!

Besides the chief digital officer working within the company, it’s imperative that the firm bring in a partner that has extensive experience in digital transformation. A company like Infosys can assist in developing the right kind of social media strategy. Infosys is known for its Social Edge solution and its ability to help choose the proper technology and identify pitfalls in order to drive acceptance of the company’s digital transformation.

Why? Because properly using social media means more than simply engaging customers on Facebook and Twitter. Social Media channels involve “omni-directional” engagement with customers, employees, partners – everyone connected to the company, even retirees. Within this engagement you define the company’s brand and value. These new channels of brand engagement give companies the chance to build authentic relationships with customers. Such channels, however, aren’t without risk. As the demand by consumers for personalized engagement increases, so do the risks of damaging that relationship by allowing for slow respond times, ill perceived messaging, and even competitor messaging. 

The sheer velocity at which information travels over social media makes it critical for companies to have the right strategy in place and that begins by aligning the strategy to the brand. Social media, although not a replacement for traditional marketing practices, can augment and enhance.

It’s also important to consider social collaboration as movingin a ‘bricks-to-mortar’ direction. The brick is the social collaboration platform itself. Because many vendors sell a version of the platform with identical functionality, it can become in itself a commodity. The mortar is the binding of all the different enterprise business applications and business processes. For example, Infosys operates within this wrapping, helping companies with their existing front-end and back-end enterprise systems and identifying where business processes can be enhanced with the socialization of processes.

As my friend placed the finishing touches on the strategy memo, she wrote another line that essentially asked her firm’s managing director to remember that to transform the company, it would be absolutely mandatory to treat social collaboration and social media programs as a business transformation program … and not simply as just another IT project.