Social Computing in the Enterprise May 2008

 
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Social Computing in the Enterprise

Table of Contents
 
SOCIAL COMPUTING IN THE ENTERPRISE ................................................................................................................. 3 WHY COMPANIES ARE PURSUING SOCIAL COMPUTING ........................................................................................... 3 Recruiting, Retaining, & Retiring ............................................................................................................................ 3 Expertise Location ................................................................................................................................................... 4 Innovation ................................................................................................................................................................ 4 Collaboration ........................................................................................................................................................... 4 Identity & Recapturing Social Network Time ......................................................................................................... 4 WHAT ENTERPRISE SOCIAL COMPUTING REALLY IS ................................................................................................. 5 HOW TO IMPLEMENT SOCIAL COMPUTING SUCCESSFULLY ..................................................................................... 6 People ...................................................................................................................................................................... 7 Technology ............................................................................................................................................................... 8 IMPLEMENTING SOCIAL COMPUTING AT YOUR ENTERPRISE ................................................................................. 10

 

 
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SOCIAL COMPUTING IN THE ENTERPRISE
The power and popularity of Wikipedia, Digg, Del.icio.us, Facebook, and other Web 2.0 solutions have caused enterprises to consider the benefits of implementing these solutions internally. Whether the end goal is better expertise location, improved collaboration, an edge in recruiting and retention, or capturing knowledge from retiring workers, enterprises are realizing social computing software has a place in the enterprise. While internal social computing deployments tend to be in the early stages in many companies, the pace of adoption has accelerated sharply in the last six months, and this growth is anticipated to continue. An April 2008 Forrester report predicts that the Enterprise Web 2.0 and social computing market will grow from $455M in 2007 to $4.6B in 2013. NewsGator has been fortunate to work with several leadingedge companies and thinkers on enterprise social computing. These early adopters have reaped rewards and learned lessons while traveling down the social computing trail. This paper summarizes: o Why Companies Are Pursuing Social Computing o o What Enterprise Social Computing Really Is How To Implement Social Computing Successfully

WHY COMPANIES ARE PURSUING SOCIAL COMPUTING
Social computing creates benefits in many ways within enterprises. Generally speaking, social computing offers the greatest impact for organizations that have large numbers of employees who deal with a large amount of information. The benefits come in several key areas detailed below.

Recruiting, Retaining & Retiring
“Generation Y” workers are already using social computing tools. These tools have been an important part of their existence for years now, and this trend is only getting stronger. According to Wikipedia’s April 2008 numbers, Facebook is estimated to have approximately 69 million active users, with 250,000 new users joining each day. Providing tools and working environments that match their prior experience is an important part of recruiting and retaining these workers. A manager from a large consumer products company recently told us the story of a new employee who put his company-issued laptop in a drawer in his desk and had it forward all his email to an external service. Then he used his own computer and only web-based tools to do his actual work. Clearly this is at the edge of user behavior, but the basic fact is that workers tend to solve problems in the ways that are most obvious to them. If the company-provided tools do not meet the workers’ needs, they will find other ways. Generation Y workers already know lots of web-based ways to solve problems. Having good social computing tools not only helps with recruiting and retaining these workers but also helps to ensure that business processes happen through the company’s business systems instead of some external web service. At the other end of the spectrum, most companies have a significant number of retiring workers who have substantial knowledge about how the company really gets things done. They know the “whys” of the current practices and processes and that knowledge is incredibly valuable. Surveys show that 70% to 80% of executives at large companies are worried about the coming brain drain from retiring workers, but fewer than 20% have done anything about it (Fortune, July 19, 2006). Many companies have tried “knowledge management” initiatives over the years that have failed because they require far too much effort to capture the knowledge. As we’ll discuss in the “how” section, social computing tools allow for automatically capturing much of this information in the course of doing the work.

 
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Expertise Location
If you work for a company with more than two hundred employees, it’s nearly guaranteed that you’ve asked “Who knows about X?” sometime in the past few months. Among NewsGator’s larger customers and prospects, expertise location is the most common reason for implementing social computing solutions. The time spent trying to find an expert is expensive. And having multiple workers solving the same kinds of problems without the knowledge of a real expert can be even more expensive. Social computing solutions make expertise location markedly simpler because working within social tools creates metadata that identify experts by their actions without requiring them to complete some sort of skills survey. Also, communities of users are very effective for providing an assessment of credibility. Just like the seller ratings on eBay provide a quite accurate tool for assessing the seller’s authenticity, explicit or implied credibility ratings in a social computing tool spotlight expertise.

Innovation
The majority of our larger prospects and customers rely significantly on innovation to compete. Consumer packaged-goods companies, for example, rely on creating several new products each year that can rise in sales to the stature of their current brand leaders in order to meet their company growth goals. Social computing tools help innovation directly by connecting both people and concepts that would otherwise be separated by geography or organizational boundaries. While anecdotal, it’s also important to note that many of the most innovative companies in the world have a distinct sense of “play” in their culture. Clearly, not all companies can embrace Nerf-gun wars in the cubicles, but social computing tools do bring a sense of fun to the work environment.

Collaboration
While collaboration can clearly be done by emailing a document among co-workers, the tools of the Web 2.0 world work better in many instances. Today, email is often the default “collaboration” tool simply because it is available. Email has its place, and we will talk more about how it fits in the implementation process, but clearly there are many kinds of discussions and collaborative work that are better done outside of email. A Baseline article (Social Software’s Culture Clash – February 21, 2008) lists a 25% reduction in email attachments at one company and a 10% increase in productivity at another company based on implementing wikis. Reducing the friction of getting the work done through better tools not only improves efficiency, but also has a powerful cultural effect that supports the recruiting and retention goals.

Identity & Recapturing Social Network Time
Establishing identity is a basic human need. While this may appear most dramatically on MySpace, where young teens pour out their feelings in their quest for self, many professional workers take pride in their LinkedIn profiles to a similar degree. In an era of uncertain company futures, a knowledge worker’s best asset is their identity which combines their connections, experience, and expertise. In July of 2007, InformationWeek reported the Facebook network for Citigroup employees had 8,228 members. Creating a place for workers to establish their identity within the company benefits them just as much as it benefits the company as a whole. While it’s not yet clear that use of social computing tools in the enterprise will cause employees to stop establishing their identity and having discussions about the company externally, it certainly can’t hurt to give them the ability to do those things inside the firewall. The more subtle, yet almost certainly more powerful, effect is that these internal communities give workers more ways to attach to each other and the company.

 
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When implemented correctly, internal social computing solutions will give employees some of those enjoyable serendipitous moments (like seeing a co-worker’s birthday or spotting some pictures of a company event) within the context of an actual workplace tool. Companies are implementing social computing software for a variety of reasons. The success of these tools in the consumer space and the urgency of challenges like retiring workers or improving productivity have created a compelling need. Now many companies are focused on what business goals they want to achieve and are moving forward on implementation.

WHAT ENTERPRISE SOCIAL COMPUTING REALLY IS
“I want Facebook for the Enterprise”. Many conversations with companies that are beginning work on social computing start with a statement like that. It is exceedingly rare, however, that the business goals and correct implementation actually match such a statement. In most cases, statements like these are proxies for things like “I want rich user profile pages” or “I want intelligent filtering and recommending of content based on social context”. The model depicted in Figure 1 provides a simple yet effective framework for analyzing social computing goals and solutions. All enterprise social computing solutions break down into individuals, groups, content, and the relationships among those three. The view of the person is central to social computing. A rich and dynamic representation of an individual creates a powerful “humanness” to the software as well as providing the actual business value for some scenarios. For example, if I’m looking for people who know about Microsoft Exchange Administration, I get a much higher sense of comfort if I see their profile contains both a listing of certifications and RSS feeds that they read about Exchange.
Figure 1: Social Computing Model

Groups provide another cornerstone element of social computing because they represent a set of individuals with some common interest, goal, or expertise. Groups provide both a powerful way of organizing to do work as well as helping to establish the identity of the individual. I get a far different sense about my Exchange person in the previous paragraph if I see he is a member of marketing-related communities versus if he has joined a group of network administrators. Content includes the information that is not literally about the person or group. This includes discussions, wikis, documents, blogs, external news, video and much more. The RSS feeds that my Exchange person was reading and the discussion from his marketing community are great examples of content that have value in their own right but also help to further define the individual and the group. Content includes both the information created by the individuals in the system and external information, since the user’s interaction with external content also establishes his identity.

 
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This model functions as a tool for identifying how to accomplish your business goals. For example, if expertise identification were the top business goal for your social computing initiative, you would want to focus your implementation around the elements that: o Provide an easy way for the user to explicitly declare interests and expertise o o o o Encourage content creation by the user (since this has a very high correlation with areas of expertise) Encourage easy interaction with content such as through tagging (while content creation is an extremely strong indicator, not all users are going to be significant creators) Present an easy way to discover and join groups (particularly groups around key expertise areas) Deliver a simple way for users to create personal social networks (“friends” or “colleagues” because connections between individuals both define the person as well as provide opportunities for approaching them)

Note that none of these elements require specific technologies. For example, blogs can be a great way to create content, but wikis or discussions are also effective. The right technology for user creation of content in this case has more to do with whatever is more likely to be adopted by your experts. Focusing on the user stories creates a much clearer picture of the right solution than taking a bunch of technologies and trying to figure out how to stick them all together. Before we dive into the implementation process, we need to look at the “hidden secret of Web 2.0 software”. The business benefits and the model shown above are not revolutionary. Adding a social aspect to what would have historically been termed “knowledge management” or “collaboration platform” solutions makes them more enjoyable and more effective. But the real power of good social computing software is that it follows three principles: o Give the user a direct benefit for every action o Make all user actions as fast and easy as possible o Use the data from one user’s actions to provide benefits for others The simplest example of this is tagging. When a user tags something, she gets the direct benefit of organizing the content for easier discovery and retrieval later. When done with a simple text box in an AJAX interface, tagging is exceptionally quick and simple. Most importantly, the act of tagging content not only makes that content more discoverable for all other users; it also helps to identify the interests and expertise of the person who tagged the content.

HOW TO IMPLEMENT SOCIAL COMPUTING SUCCESSFULLY
Implementing an enterprise social computing solution requires both social/cultural (the “people part”) and technical steps (See Figure 2). The people aspects need to be considered first since they will dictate the key requirements and the adoption process. The technical portion comes down to implementing the right features in the right way to support the broader social picture and the business goals. The people part of enterprise social computing projects breaks down into: o Deciding on the company stance around “openness” and “fun” o o o o o Finding the first champion Identifying the initial group of people Looking at existing business processes for those people Providing a mechanism for feedback Considering new incentive systems

 

 
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Figure 2: Implementing Social Computing

People
The first step for any company embarking on a social computing project is getting buy-in on what will be accepted. When employees already have an easy way to create content that is visible to all other employees, it’s too late to decide what will be done about an inappropriate blog post. This doesn’t mean that companies should write twenty-page “appropriate use” policies that they email to every employee. In general, a couple of sentences pointing out that a) the tools are provided to make the company better and b) employees should use their best judgment should suffice. Similarly, the management team should come to grips with the “fun” side of a social computing project. Will it be acceptable for users to form communities around non-work topics? Will this be encouraged? Will non-work content be emphasized or discouraged? Successful social computing projects always need some element of enjoyment for the end user. Deciding on the appropriate level and means is an important step to take consciously in the beginning of the project and adjust as needed over time. This stage of the project has a lot to do with the management team getting comfortable with social computing. The reality in almost every company is that workers are already using company systems like email for lots of non-work activities. Work and personal life intertwine heavily for almost all employees. In most cases, the conversation is going to happen. The only question is how much of it happens on company systems. A champion drives the project forward. While it may be tempting to look at some consumer computing solutions and see them as examples of success without champions, the truth is that most enterprise projects need a champion. The champion provides the needed push at the beginning of the project to keep usage up and discover more advocates among users. In most social computing solutions, a very small number of users actually provide the critical momentum that powers the whole system. The champion needs to keep helping and encouraging users until this initial base of power users is created. Just as planting in fertile soil improves the chance of success of the crop, picking the right initial group of users has a lot to do with the rate of growth and output of a social computing initiative. Starting a social computing project on an enterprise-wide scale is almost never appropriate for companies of more than a few thousand users. The ideal starting group will contain plenty of workers who are already sharing a lot of information. Typically, a group that has a significant number of younger employees will get more early traction since generally the “millennials” tend toward more openness and sharing and often are already using external social networking solutions.

 
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A group that depends on sharing information and collaborating for its success makes an excellent base. While some good results can be achieved with groups as small as ten or twenty users, it’s ideal to get at least a few dozen users in the initial population to start to see some of the benefits of connecting people who would not normally have connected. Even with an ideal starting group, one of the key aspects of a successful implementation is integrating with existing processes and working environments. The chances of success are much lower if the social computing platform is seen as “another place I have to go” or as “additional work I have to do”. The ideal implementation is to make the social computing tools the easiest and most natural way to do work that was already happening. While there are real technology steps that need to be taken to make this possible, this is really a people process in the beginning, with the champion helping to get users set up with a discussion or a wiki instead of sending a massive email thread around the company. Typically, it will require a combination of integration with existing processes, pushing from the champion, engaging content within the social computing platform to attract users, and notifications distributed out of the platform that remind users to come back. Successful social computing initiatives evolve just like successful life forms. To do this, they need feedback from the users. So it’s important for a feedback channel to be established from the very beginning and for users to be encouraged to use it. The corollary to this is that feedback needs to lead to actual changes. When users see their ideas becoming reality, the sense of ownership and the number of power users increase tremendously. Finally, it’s clear that employees respond to incentive systems. Whether the reward is actually public recognition by the champion, a scoring mechanism built into the social computing platform, or some form of compensation tied to participation depends mostly on company culture and the real business value of the solution. It is important to consider the incentive side early in the project, since it can lead to differences in implementation (e.g. maybe you want a “Most Active User” view that is very prominent in the user interface.)

Technology
The technology side compliments the social/cultural elements and is also critical for a successful outcome. The key technology elements are integration with current work processes and destinations, providing sufficient and appropriate channels and modes of participation, security, and designing for minimum end user effort. Even with a champion pushing and incentives in place, the chance of success for a social computing solution is much higher if users can participate in it from interfaces where they are already spending their time. The existing internal corporate intranet or portal infrastructure can be made better by incorporating social computing elements. And the users who are already going to those destinations can start powering the social computing engine. Similarly, incorporating existing work processes into the social computing solution can be extremely powerful. One of the best examples we have seen is a system that automatically builds weekly summary and timetracking reports based on the user’s activities within the social computing platform. Since the users have to produce these reports anyway, the system is actually making the work easier for users by simplifying the entry of tracking codes while they are doing their work in the social platform. The result is that the work gets done in the interface that benefits the company the most by capturing and sharing key information, and the worker is happier because he doesn’t have to spend as much time each week creating reports. Closely related to integrating with existing destinations is the concept of providing the right modes of participation. Some users will jump right into any new technology or tool. But many users will feel more comfortable in existing tools or environments. Email may be overloaded for many users, but it can be an effective way for some workers to participate if the solution is implemented well.

 
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For example, some wiki and discussion capabilities allow users to contribute by sending emails and receive only the updates they want as email output. Another example is content authoring. A worker may feel more comfortable creating a Word document than writing a blog post or a wiki page. With a good enterprise content platform, however, the worker will automatically generate an RSS feed update when he uploads this document. This feed in turn can power additional social interactions, turning this classic content creation style into a powerful input for a social computing platform.

Figure 3: Sample Social Computing Participation Modes

Mobile devices and other notification options provide critical channels for participation as well. When users can get updates and interact from a mobile device, the chance of user participation increases significantly. Similarly, “pop-up” and ticker notification clients allow key information from social computing platforms to be displayed prominently. This serves as a powerful reminder for the user to go back and contribute to the social platform. The critical element to successful mobile and desktop notification is routing only the critical information to those devices. Creating new spam channels with endless updates that the user has to try to filter does nothing for social computing success. But funneling only the updates from critical projects or discussions to the right client is a huge benefit. Security needs to be designed into the project from the start. While the ideal starting groups and subject areas are the ones that are public, all companies have information that is not appropriate for all users. The two keys that we have seen in making security work are to inherit from existing security implementations and to give users only the simplest choices about security. Most companies work hard at maintaining security credentials in some central store. Ideally, a social computing solution should reference that security store and not implement separate user credentials. The social computing platform should store specific rights and permissions that pertain to it (“Joe can author on this blog/feed”), but storing separate user ID’s or duplicating lots of security information from other systems always creates liabilities. When users are given the choice to implement security rules, the choices should be as simple as possible. For example, in community implementations, community creators can only choose between “public” and “private”. The typical user is not going to have the knowledge to choose at a more granular level than that. But social computing solutions require the ability for users to quickly and easily modify structure and content in order to thrive. The ideal security solution then gives users simple choices that are constrained by the overall security infrastructure that is maintained by experts. The final element of the right technology implementation is to go back to the underlying Web 2.0 principles. The moment that the user decides to take an action in the system is the moment of truth for its success. Every time a user has to make another decision or go through another click is a chance for the user to give up. Social computing interfaces should be designed with actions being as simple and obvious as possible. This in turn requires some design expertise since a user interface that contains twenty different simple and obvious actions is not simple and obvious at all. By going back to the business goals of the solution and focusing on the interactions that support those goals, the correct user interface design becomes much clearer.

   
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IMPLEMENTING SOCIAL COMPUTING AT YOUR ENTERPRISE
As this paper illustrates, a wide range of business benefits can be achieved with social computing, including better expertise discovery, improved collaboration, increased retention, enhanced recruiting, and superior knowledge capture. While all social computing solutions share a common underlying framework (individuals, groups, content and the relationships between these three) the business benefits that can be achieved will depend upon careful goal definition and a well thought out implementation. Before undertaking a social computing project, consider your company’s goals – that is the business problems you are trying to solve or the business needs you are trying to satisfy. After defining the business problems and needs, select the appropriate social computing elements to meet your goals. Finally establish an implementation plan that considers both social/cultural (people) and technology components. By following this process you can help your enterprise realize the positive business results that social computing provides. To learn more about social computing, contact NewsGator’s sales team at 877.669.6437 or insidesales@NewsGator.com.

 
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