featured, IT, Social

Rise of the Social Business

10 May , 2013  

In addition to the commercialization of IT, BYOD, and the use of personal cloud services, mid-sized businesses are grappling with how to manage, adopt and embrace social media as a tool for internal business collaboration and communication. Social media has proven its value in our personal lives, through the sharing of ideas, opinions, stories and personal status. In the business context, social business tools can bring similar benefits to employees and staff, serving as a platform for communication and collaboration that breaks through traditional organizational and communications barriers.

Generational Shift In Communications

Why do mid-sized businesses struggle with the internal use of social media? Like a majority of the current workforce who didn’t grown up in a world enveloped with texting and social media, businesses are experiencing the effects of the generational shift to this new model of communication. In a subtle but fundamental way, social media doesn’t rely on the same large message, sender controlled communications model inherent in email, fax, telephone and voicemail. Business oriented social media tools appear at odds with the tried and true communication methods relied upon for decades.

How is social media different than traditional communications? Lets use email as an example. With email, control of the content and who consumes that content is sender controlled. The sender specifies the audience (one or multiple recipients) for which the information is intended, and the sender by in large is in control of who receives the email. Unless the email is forwarded, only the a limited set of intended individuals can access the contents of that email. Additionally, email messages can be of any length, frequently containing lengthy, rich content and attachments.

Social media flips this traditional communication model on its head. The sender is no longer in control of who receives their communications; the universe of “followers”, friends or potentially anyone (including automated processes) can consume content when it’s sent. The sender likely never knows who consumed their content, unless recipients reply, converse or direct message the originator. Content consumers have total control over who’s content and what content they wish to view, follow and be in conversation with. The sender’s content is “out there” for virtually anyone to consume, often by content consumers the sender may never know.

Social media tools often enforce message size limitations, such as Twitter’s 140 character limit which drops to around 117-118 characters when a URL is included. While other social media tools such as Facebook don’t enforce such a limited message size, social norms emphasize brevity, shorter and more frequent messages that often include URLs to articles or additional content. Lengthly and verbose posts are ignored by most content consumers and go unread. The same brevity norms apply to text messaging.

Understanding the fundamental shift of social media aides in increasing user adoption and makes it easier to understand how social business tools can increase engagement and knowledge sharing, and better facilitate collaboration compared to traditional communications tools.

Increasing Social Business Adoption

Digital social interaction isn’t new to mid-sized businesses; it’s already happening via email, instant messaging and online forums. The challenge is getting the frequently long threaded email chains out of email and into conversational social business tools, where broader groups of participants can interact. Migrating from online forums to social business tools such as Yammer or Jive is less challenging than getting users to try tools beyond tried and true email. It’s often too easy to live out our work day in Outlook, versus expecting users to take the conscious steps of using an alternative tool.

New applications, particularly unfamiliar social business tools, can appear intimidating and users often need compelling reasons to try out something new. Here are five ways to help encourage interaction on social business tools.

  1. If you know Facebook, you can use social business tools. During a meeting, one participant sited his reason for not using Yammer was due to his lack of knowledge with how to use the tool. The answer provided to him was actually very simple; he already knew how to use Yammer because of his experience using Facebook. Re-enforce with users that social business tools operate very much the same way as the social media tools they already know.
  2. Lighten your Inbox load. Who doesn’t suffer from too much email in their inbox? Everyone can relate to solutions that alleviate influx of email into their inbox. Suggest to users that social business tools help move those annoying email threads they are frequently cc’d on to a more appropriate tool where you can more easily chose to participate,  follow the conversation thread (versus fragmented email conversation threads), and manage your notification level.
  3. Asking the question can be more important than the answer. Asking the right questions can rapidly create engagement amongst staff who have views and ideas on the topic. Put questions out there and see what topics and types of questions generate the most interaction. Post questions such as; “What is the one thing you would do to most improve customers’ experience when doing business with us?”, “What’s the best product you’ve recently discovered?”,  “What could we do to improve our presentations?”, “Why is our company a great place to work and what could we do better?”, and “How would you reduce calls to customer service?”.
  4. Create opportunistic social collisions. When senior leadership posts on a social business tool, employees pay attention. It often creates an implicit expectation to join in. If the CEO posts about a topic, or encourages employees to participate, it’s a pretty strong message to everyone that we should all join in. And there are many ways to create opportunistic collisions through content that engages staff. Social business tools often include the ability to host an online poll. Create an area to post about interesting and thought provoking posts, industry related news, and feedback about company products or events. Or create a section about ideas for innovation.
  5. Integrate important content with your social business site. Most mid-sized businesses already have an intranet, likely in a wiki or content management system such as Drupal or Joomla. Integrate social business tools into your intranet and other frequently accessed internal content. The opportunity for interaction is much greater if users are already going to the intranet to get a form or lookup information.

Short URL to this post: http://goo.gl/HbBNp

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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featured, General, IT, Mobility, Uncategorized

The CIO Role – From Tech Manager to IT Services Broker

27 Mar , 2013  

Recently I was asked to define the role of a CIO in medium-sized businesses so I thought I would share my thoughts and research on the topic. There are many definitions of the CIO’s role. Traditionally the CIO role is defined as managing technology for the business and managing how information is utilized. Views vary whether the role is best served by a business person or a technologist.

In fact, the role of CIO has changed significantly  in medium-sized businesses over the past several years. Once viewed as order takers and leaders of the “techie group”, CIOs now work with the CEO and senior executives to understand current and future business goals, develop technical strategies that enable and facilitate those goals, bring technology enabling opportunities to the business, and create alignment within the IT organization and across its actions.

Effective CIOs see the big picture, understand and anticipate where the business is going, anticipate what challenges may be faced and what opportunities might arise that can be leveraged to benefit a medium-sized business.  CIOs take the initiative to distil changes in the technology marketplace, translate those changes into business value, surface technology-based opportunities, innovate and experiment, and lead cross-organization initiatives to achieve the strategic and tactical business goals.

As an example, the CIO must anticipate the impact of changes from a workforce that is more mobile, works from many locations, uses multiple devices (corporate and personally owned), and has “consumer expectations” of IT technology.

The CIO’s new role is to serve as a broker or conduit to business and technology solutions, assist in re-engineering business processes, educate the organization about potentially valuable technologies, and negotiation with and manage vendors. Most importantly, the CIO facilitates the organization’s access to online services, business applications, hardware and software tools, and technology-based services.

CIOs constantly ask themselves and the organization questions such as:

  • What are the impacts of business decisions on how we work, who we hire, and what business processes must change?
  • Are we capitalizing on technology for shareholder/member value and business profitability?
  • How do we foster a high-performance, creative and collaborative culture?
  • How can we better empower the organization with technology to make it more productive, efficient and lean?
  • What new innovations can IT bring to the business?
  • What technical skills are needed, and how do we develop internal staff and leverage external talent?
  • How do we identify and leverage the company’s knowledge resources?
  • What information exists or is needed by the organization, and how can we transform that information into company-wide solutions?
  • What new or changes in technologies have implications to the business?
  • What can IT do to be more efficient and effective in our use of technology?

Sources for this post: In addition to my own views on the topic, there were also several useful resources if found as part of my research. Some views matched up very well, while others held a differing opinion. Feel free to check out these resources.

Short URL to this post: http://goo.gl/fzH5K

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Apps, Cloud, featured, IT, Mobility

Bring Your Own Cloud (BYOC) Strategies for Medium-Sized Business

6 Mar , 2013  

 Short URL to this post: http://goo.gl/E0kiL

Bring Your Own Cloud (BYOC) is here and will only increase its presence in medium-sized businesses. iPhone users store company information, including files and emails, in their personal iCloud account. Staff utilize Dropbox and Evernote to manage confidential business information, notes and files. We should only expect continued growth of this trend and our best approach is to get ahead of it, not in front it.

What are IT adoption strategies for BYOC? I prefer to be realistic about such trends. IT customers will continue to utilize their own productivity devices, software and the online services they feel will aid them in the work environment, whether it’s sanctioned by the business or not. If IT doesn’t provide them, IT customers will acquire it themselves. If IT attempts to block their use, our customers will just do it anyway. Company policies on these matters aren’t effective because there are no serious consequences for violations, so IT customers use unapproved consumer cloud services anyway.

Business Editions – Finally

Consumer cloud services have taken a page right out of Apple’s “camel’s nose under the tent” playbook: rely on employees to bring consumer cloud services into the enterprise instead of working through the tedious and more stringent IT approval process. But consumer clouds’ success brings with it the message from the business that these services need to add more robust enterprise management, security and user account management capabilities. And many services are beginning to do just that, often in a slow and incremental fashion, but they are making the move towards addressing IT’s needs. Consider the following business-friendly alternatives to consumer cloud services.

Evernote now offers Evernote Business, a hybrid cloud service connecting personal Evernote accounts with shared business notebooks managed by your company. This allows Evernote users within a company to access, modify and manage notebooks controlled by your company, while still maintaining the privacy of users’ personal Evernote notebooks.

Dropbox offers Dropbox for Teams, taking the simplicity of shared folders to the next level. Businesses can create, share and manage access to folders they control, view user activities, control whether company folders can be shared with others outside the company, and enforce two-step user verification.

Box.com and ownCloud are comparable to business versions of Dropbox, while offering much, much more. Box.com is one of the most business friendly and mature file sharing cloud offerings available. Box.com offers passwords and time limits on shared files and folders, activity logging and audit trails, mobile clients, extensive user management, AD and LDAP integration, social collaboration, and a community of application developers significantly expanding upon the Box.com platform.

ownCloud is an open source software, private cloud, internally operated alternative to Dropbox and it possess a significant number of the management capabilities required IT. ownCloud offers content management (including restricting the types of files that can be shared), file versioning, encryption, mobile clients, user management through LDAP and Active Directory, and open APIs. If you haven’t checked out ownCloud, you owe it to yourself to do so.

These are just a few of the medium-sized business friendly cloud service alternatives to consumer cloud offerings. If your IT customers are using services such as Dropbox or Evernote, consider the business edition alternatives we’ve discussed here.

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

 

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Cloud, featured, Games, IT, Mobility

Are you ready for BYOC? – Bring Your Own Cloud

17 Feb , 2013  

Short link to this post: http://goo.gl/q4KGj

A not so subtle undertone of CES 2013 was the expanding presence of the cloud, smartphone and tablet apps that connect consumer products with online user data and services. IT organizations of mid-sized businesses are already familiar with consumer devices, apps and cloud services, including smartphones, tablets, Dropbox, Google apps, SugarSync, Evernote, iCloud, Microsoft SkyDrive and Yammer (to name a few), that utilize online storage and application services. Even though many of these cloud services have little or no corporate IT administration capabilities, services like Google Drive, Evernote and Dropbox are accepted solutions in many small-to-medium sized companies.

More consumer cloud services and devices are headed into the business environment as employees erase the boundaries that separate company approved solutions and technology end users’ use in their connected lives. Health and wellness biometric sensors, wi-fi enabled cameras, audio connected devices, cloud connected cars and trucks, social networking, cloud-based home security monitoring and smart home devices… all types of personal and consumer products represent “connections” end users want to bring with them and access from the workplace.

Consumer technology has shifted from connecting your device to a computer to configure, sync or download data, to registering your device or user account with the accompanying consumer cloud service to perform sync, access data and utilize online services. IT customers bring personal smartphones and tablets into the workplace everyday, expecting to use their consumer devices and accompanying apps as essential productivity and communications tools. This consumer cloud and app bundling is now the norm — Count up the number of apps and online services you use on a weekly or even daily basis. You’ll be surprised at how many cloud services are tied to devices and apps that tag along with you everyday.

All of this represents the next steps beyond BYOD, what I refer to as Bring Your Own Cloud (BYOC). With devices comes apps, and with those apps comes the cloud services they rely upon. Depending on your corporate IT DNA and acceptance of using personal devices connecting in the workplace, BYOC can represent a great opportunity or an even greater challenge to IT’s ability to weave together a suite of productivity tools and applications, while still meeting uptime, interoperability, corporate data protection and security requirements.

What does this trend mean for mid-sized business IT organizations? As IT leaders we must anticipate users wanting, and expecting, to use more consumer devices, apps and cloud services in the work place. We can either embrace the challenge and determine how to best adapt to IT customers use of BYOC, or deny its existence all the while it is happening around us. My approach has always been to figure out how to embrace what IT customers want to do, help find solutions and strategies to make it work, not ways to shoot down their ideas. Don’t be the traditional IT “Land of No”. (See my post IT can’t say No anymore, Learn how to say Yes.)

In my next blog post, we’ll talk about strategies to help you avoid being the IT Land of No in your quest to embrace the challenges of BYOC.

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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