All too often IT has a reputation for resisting change. But embracing the changes brought by the social enterprise represents the way back to relevance.
The social enterprise is about more than marketing and customer support making use of social media for outbound communication and for gathering data about customers, preferences, and trends. It's also about enabling everyone in the enterprise to collaborate on events, projects, data points, meetings, tasks, and just about anything else, in real time or time-shifted as the situation requires.
Enabling that kind of anytime / anywhere / everyone collaboration for the enterprise is, or ought to be, the job of IT. And the IT department that is forward-looking enough to lead the corporation into productivity-multiplying social tools will be adding measurable value to the enterprise.
The CRM example
At our sister community The Brainyard, Enterprise Strategy Group founder Steve Duplessie gives some history and some examples for how such social enablement can play out. Many enterprises tried to get value out of CRM systems such as Siebel in the 1990s. Systems of this ilk tended to be tremendously complicated, more suitable to PhDs than to ordinary workers when it came to configuring and operating them. As a result, few salespeople used the early CRM systems and any return on investment they could offer was not realized.
Fast-forward a decade and Salesforce.com offered salespeople automation they could use, as a service, without all of the heavyweight baggage. Marketing and sales teams actually began using it and companies saw their investments in CRM begin to pay off.
The spiral turned higher when Salesforce.com added social enterprise features including Chatter. This tool allowed knowledge workers to collaborate in real time, or nearly so, on their issues -- theorizing, blue-skying, debating, and acting in concert instead of in isolation. They took advantage of the new shape of knowledge "when the smartest person in the room is the room," as David Weinberger's new book has it, and the return on investment accelerated.
There is much more driving the movement towards the social enterprise than business consultants and companies with something to sell. Social is the way we learn, play, and work, and this will be so increasingly going forward. Especially for the generation who grew up connected, social is the water in which they swim. As they enter the workforce, they want and expect the same fluidity of communication, the same level of device and mobility choice, as they have known all their lives. As Tom Petroclli blogged from IBM Lotusphere and IBM Connect 2012, "They are creating the same pressure to transform the way we do business as previous generations did with the World Wide Web and e-mail."
The IT department cannot successfully resist this pressure. No one can. The IT leaders who put the right tools into the company's hands at the right time will be the ones who remain relevant.