Social networks have become ubiquitous in the 21st century, with 2.4 billion predicted users by 2018, according to eMarketer. For many people they have become their defacto communications and collaboration platform to help them share information, find friends and organize their life.
Enterprises already have an extensive presence on consumer social networks, particularly for marketing and customer relationships. Now, many businesses are waking up to the potential the technology has to improve collaboration between co-workers, both inside and outside the organization.
Familiar interface drives use
Analysts predict that spending on these “enterprise” social networks will grow up to 20% per year and potentially exceed $8 billion by 2019. They appeal to employees who would like to collaborate using new tools rather than more traditional platforms such as email or telephone, and promise to transform legacy tools to something altogether more usable.
The concept behind social collaboration isn’t new. Similar platforms such as groupware and knowledge management have existed in one form or another for a couple of decades. However, many of these tools have suffered in the past from not being easy enough to use or find the right information. Enterprise social networks promise to change all that by presenting users with a familiar interface that allows them to collaborate and find information.
“Enterprise social networks encourage collaboration by collapsing organizational hierarchies and giving everyone a voice,” says Ahmed Tag Eldeen, Product Manager – Business Together Sharespace, Orange Business Services. “It is particularly useful for people new to the organization as they don’t actually need to know anyone to access communal knowledge or find the right person to ask questions.”
Building new collaboration tools
There are a number of successful use cases for social collaboration, which have seen them completely revolutionize traditional tools. These include the helpdesk, project management, corporate internet and sales collaboration.
Take for example the IT helpdesk: instead of updating employees over the phone or email, they can be kept up to date through the enterprise social network. This takes valuable information out of siloed and unstructured email and stores it centrally for other people to use after it has been validated. In addition, it provides a platform for people outside of the helpdesk to answer questions or share knowledge. They may have experienced and solved the problem themselves, for example.
The more the platform is used, the less reliant employees will become on calling the helpdesk and raising tickets. Anecdotally, organizations have been able to reduce operational helpdesk costs significantly – by as much as 40%.
Making it work
Successful deployment of social collaboration platforms requires careful planning, set-up and administering. Richard Heaps, Head of Product Management for UCC International, Orange Business Services, warns that despite similarities in naming and technology, enterprise social collaboration needs a different mindset to consumer social media.
“Enterprise social collaboration is configured and constructed to support the business, so it needs to be positioned that way,” says Heaps. “There need to be guidelines about its use and content, so that the platform doesn’t get misused: just because 50 people “like” an answer doesn’t make it right and similarly we don’t really want to see your holiday snaps. In addition there needs to be a framework that provides privacy for discussion of sensitive material and a procedure for validating content that is posted – to ensure that it is correct.”
Key to success is a community manager. Tasks for the community manager include managing access for different types of information, helping teams establish shared workspaces and making sure people get the most out of the platform. When Orange Business Services works with a customer to deploy social collaboration, this role is initially taken by a consultant, before it is transitioned to someone internally.
The project also needs a business sponsor and an aim – which frequently is to increase productivity and reduce reliance on multiple collaboration and communication tools. Gamification can help encourage take-up; however, businesses should be careful not to make it too competitive, as this can drive some people away. However, it can be used to encourage people to answer questions in the helpdesk, for example, by providing badges or similar recognition on their profile.
The value of social collaboration tools can be further improved by incorporating co-workers, agencies, partners or suppliers from outside of the organization. By bringing together outside and internal knowledge, companies can make new connections and come up with new innovations.
Ultimately enterprise social networking will work best in organizations that have a collaborative culture, which rewards employees for sharing their knowledge. Enterprise social networks don’t create collaboration by themselves; they provide a framework to help employees work together more effectively. The best results will be achieved when the technology can be seamlessly integrated into employees’ working practices.
Orange Business Services’ social collaboration platform is called Business Together Sharespace. The solution supports internal and external functionality ranging from employee support to customer engagement.
Orange has used the same technology to develop an internal social collaboration solution that will reach all 154,000 employees. The tool called Plazza is used extensively both to support teams and deliver helpdesk services. Benefits include improved communications, reduction in email and time savings.