If You're Not Helping Lay The Foundation For A Social Business, You Need To Start Now

The movement of information is key to today's global economy. Companies like General Electric send their design concepts to countries like India, allowing developers there to localize products to suit the domestic market. Firms like Intercontinental Hotel Group create customer communities to gather input from customers to fashion new services. Businesses like handheld device manufacturer Psion (recently acquired by Motorola) build social platforms to connect their partners to their customers in order to formulate new solutions. And prospective customers tap into social media like Facebook and Twitter to gather information and express ideas, which we see has the power to alter the course of companies as well as countries. In this environment, a successful company's competitive advantage comes in part from its ability to grow an information advantage -- the ability to share, process, and act upon information more rapidly than the competition.

But how does a company go about gaining this advantage? Forrester's research shows that it comes through removing the barriers between people (employees, customers, partners) and information while making it easier for people to work together using that information to solve business problems. We call this a social business. While the concept seems simple, the number of businesses that are truly executing upon it is surprisingly small. Now you may be saying to yourself, "How can this be? Forrester's told us over the years that business leaders have made significant investments in the collaboration and social technologies that make social business possible." You're right, of course, but that's only part of the story. We've seen no uniform way in which social initiatives are developed, launched, and managed within organizations: Marketing departments might implement a listening platform to monitor customer chatter; the product teams might roll out an ideation tool to manage feature requests; sales personnel may use a file-sharing tool like Dropbox to share documents with customers; and human resources could deploy a social human capital management tool, like NationalField, to help managers track employee contributions. These haphazard and disjointed efforts, while potentially successful in their individual silos, don't fully realize the power of social business and expose the business to other risks such as:

  • Lost opportunities through untapped data. The information collected in these social business tools can provide a business important information about employees, partners, and customers. However, if they're housed in separated, nonintegrated systems, it is difficult for business leaders to compile and understand the data in their possession.
  • Poor scalability. A solution implemented among a small group of employees may work well for that group but fall flat when it is presented to the broader workforce. This could be because the tool is not technically capable of serving the business's broader needs or its design and usage model are only applicable to a subset of the workforce.
  • Misunderstanding of business potential. A small pilot may fail because it's not big enough to have the network effect necessary to make it truly valuable. So, business leaders can draw the wrong lesson -- the tool isn't worthwhile -- from this experiment. Conversely, a successful small pilot may lead business leaders to believe the tool is ideal for only a small number of use cases and miss the broader potential.
  • Failure to remain in compliance. Social business technology experiments conducted within the lines of business may not adhere to the government or industry regulations that govern how they store, transfer, and publicize information. This opens the business up to potential action from regulators.
  • Increased risk of security breach. Employees interacting with partners and customers in the social arena expose the business to attacks from cyber criminals. These potential breaches could lead to data leaks that affect product development and customer relationships as well as risk potential litigation from parties harmed from said leaks.
  • Higher costs for the organization. Complexity, too much heterogeneity, and duplication of systems make technology more expensive. Integrations necessary to tie the tools to business processes and workflows create expensive-to-maintain applications. Furthermore, the lack of centralized contract negotiation opens the door for suboptimal pricing and contractual terms.

With that in mind, the opportunity for the CIO is clear -- it's time for the rise of what Forrester is terming the social CIO. The office of the CIO must take control of the disparate social initiatives and create a uniform strategy that lays out the necessary people, process, and technology changes to make a social business work. In so doing, the CIO will help her business create an information advantage by helping the knowledge workers in her organization work more productively, be more efficient, advocate for the business, act resourcefully to solve problems, and create positive customer outcomes. Sounds great, right? But how do you get there?

Forrester has opened up a stream of research into social business and collaboration strategies. This playbook, designed to walk those in the office of the CIO through a social business transformation, shows that the road to becoming a social business requires those in the office of the CIO to:

Our Social Business And Collaboration Playbook provides 12 reports to walk you through each of these phases (note the playbook framework below). We kick this playbook off with six reports that address the future look, assessment framework, stakeholder needs, strategic plan, skills and staffing issues, and policy and procedures. The rest of the playbook will be fleshed out over the latter half of this year.

So where should you start? I recommend that you begin by reading our executive overview for the playbook and our future look, The Social CIO. This will ground you in our definition of social business and give you an outlook on what these documents will contribute to your ongoing initiative. The documents in this playbook are living, so as needed, we will refresh these documents with new data and examples to ensure that you're always getting the most up-to-date information.

For a more hands-on approach, Forrester Consulting offers full-day workshops and consulting projects designed to help support your social business and collaboration initiative.

So what do you think? How does Forrester’s vision of social business compare to yours? And will our playbook be useful? My colleagues -- @tedschadler, @robkoplowitz, @philkarcher, and @NigelFenwick -- and I are interested in your thoughts and feedback as we refine this playbook to help you in your job.