A guide to evaluating Enterprise Social Networks (Part 3)

In Part 1 we explored what a social network is and developed some categorisations. In Part 2 we assessed the relevance to the enterprise in terms operational impact of each of these categories. Now we turn to the thorny question of Business Case: Is it worth implementing an Enterprise Social Network?

Now that credible enterprise social solutions are beginning to appear there is evidence to suggest they bring real business benefit. McKinsey’s Quarterly Review describes how the technology has “found its payday”, using the term “networked enterprises” for organisations that adopt Web 2.0 technology, noting amongst other statistics that;

“…27% reported having both market share gains against their competitors and higher profit margins… Highly networked enterprises were 50 percent more likely to fall in this high-performance group than other organizations were.”

What started as consumer focused ‘Web 2.0’ is maturing into ‘Enterprise 2.0’, or ‘enterprise social software’, gaining sufficient credibility as it’s applied for external purposes shown in Part 2 for corporates to assess its benefits internally.

We’re used to working with enterprise IT services teams and they continue to retain  crucial governance and compliance responsibilities, yet these technologies allow IT to devolve some responsibilities to business users; it’s the end-users themselves that own data distribution, networks of users and business processes. Focused internally these capabilities produce great returns – 30% of companies report increased speed of access to knowledge or experts, while 20% report decreasing travel costs, increased employee satisfaction and reduced time to market for products/services.

If internal networking is powerful, the step change is to be found in combining both external and internal networking; using technology to build closer relationships with the supply chain, peers or partner organisations. Such organisations are in the top 3%, seeing greater benefits for employees, customers and partners.

With mature technology and proven business benefit there are compelling reasons to move to a networked enterprise model.

Yet not all enterprise social networks are created equal. Given the high profile of social platforms vendors are rushing to add social capabilities to existing platforms. They’ll fail. Here’s why.

The potential of software to add value to the business is dictated by its core purpose, not by the addition of some social features. Even the most social CRM solution can only add as much value as the best of its breed and in non-retail enterprises (e.g., manufacturing or process sectors) that value is miniscule in comparison to operational efficiencies.

Where a platform is described solely as a ‘social platform’, not only is their ability to add value in doubt, but as all platforms add social features their differentiator also disappears. Without a core operational focus the application has limited use – what should be regarded as a group of social features have become the product itself. This logic applies to location-based services also.

Therefore it’s important to choose a solution that has been designed ground-up to be social yet fulfills a genuine business need.

In Part 4 we’ll look at four enterprise social networks that add value; microblogging, collaborative projects and virtual operational environment.

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