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Getting Started with Social IT (Part 1 of 2)

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Today’s post from Matthew Selheimer of ITinvolve is part one of a two-part feature on Social IT maturity, part 2 will follow soon. 

"Most of your customers, employees and stakeholders are actively using social media"

Today, 98 percent of the online population in the USA uses social media sites, and worldwide nearly 6 out of every 10 people use social networks and forums.

From a business perspective, this means a very large percentage of your customers, employees and other stakeholders are already participating in the social media universe where smartphones, tablets, video communication and collaboration are a part of daily life. It almost goes without saying that, if you want to connect with new audiences and marketplaces today, there is no other platform that compares to social media in reach and frequency.

In fact, a recent McKinsey & Company report suggests that the growth businesses of tomorrow will be those that harness the power of social media and its potential benefits not only externally but internally as well:

Most importantly, we find that social technologies, when used within and across enterprises, have the potential to raise the productivity of the high-skill knowledge workers that are critical to the performance and growth in the 21st century by 20 to 25 percent.’

We are social by nature

How might IT departments take advantage of this social media potential? IT organizations are, in fact, quite social by nature. Knowledge and expertise reside in different teams, and specialists must frequently come together and collaborate to plan for changes and resolve issues. These social interactions, however, are typically ad hoc and take place across a wide variety of methods from in-person conversations and meetings, to email, to phone calls, to instant messaging, to wiki sites, and more.

How can IT build upon its existing social culture to deliver new value for the broader organization?

To be considered as more than just a ‘nice to have,’ social media must provide tangible benefits. The good news is that social media principles do provide real benefits when applied to IT – and they do so in a big way. For example, IT organizations that are using social media principles are finding that their staff can interact with users and each other in new and more immediate ways. They are also finding that they can much more easily capture and share the collective knowledge residing across their systems and teams; and then armed with this knowledge, they are able to better understand their IT environment and the complex relationships that exist among their IT assets.

Being social brings risks and rewards

This, in turn, is leading to increases in staff productivity and is making day-to-day tasks like resolving incidents and planning for changes more efficient and more accurate. The results include faster time to restore service when outages or degradations occur, a higher success rate when executing changes, and a greater overall throughput of IT process management activities – just to name a few.

But the adoption of social media principles in IT also has the risk of certain pitfalls. In this article, we will explore a four-level model of social IT maturity, (See Figure 1) including how to avoid the most common pitfalls.

  • At Level 1, organizations begin to explore how social IT can contribute by defining a milestone-based plan with clearly established benefits as their social IT maturity increases.
  • At Level 2, IT takes specific actions to add on social capabilities to existing operations, and begins to realize projected benefits around user intimacy and satisfaction.
  • At Level 3, social IT becomes embedded into and enhances IT operational processes, providing relevant context to improve collaboration among IT professionals thereby making IT teams more efficient and accurate in their daily work.
  • Finally, at Level 4, IT evolves into a socially driven organization with a self-sustaining community, recognition and rewards systems that further incentivize the expansion of the community, and a culture that harnesses the power of social collaboration for continuous process improvement.

 

Figure 1 - A Proposed Social IT Maturity Model

Level 1 Maturity: Social Exploration

The first level of social IT maturity is Social Exploration. The goal of Social Exploration is to learn, and the value delivered comes from defining your plan to improve social IT maturity.

Such a plan must include specific key performance measures that can be tied to financial or other tangible business benefits. Otherwise, your social IT plan is bound to be greeted skeptically by management.

Start by asking yourself simple questions like ‘How can social tools improve my ability to provide better IT service and support?’ and ‘What social IT capabilities are available in the market that I should know about and consider for my organization?’ If you’ve not started asking these types of questions, then you aren’t even on the social IT maturity scale yet. Exploring what social IT could mean for your IT organization is the critical first step.

To exit Level 1 and move to Level 2 on the maturity scale, you must have a documented plan for how you will improve your social IT maturity that incorporates specific key performance measures. The following sections will discuss a variety of elements and performance measures that you should consider.

Social IT Pitfall #1: Ungoverned Broadcasting

In your transition from Level 1 to Level 2 maturity, a common pitfall is to look for a ‘quick win’ such as broadcasting via Twitter or RSS. A number of IT management software vendors include this capability in their products today, so it seems like an easy way to ‘go social.’ However, if you haven’t taken the time to define your communications policies clearly, you could end up doing more harm than good. Posting IT service status to public feeds could leave your organization exposed or embarrassed. You wouldn’t want to see ‘My Company finance application unavailable due to network outage’ re-tweeted and publicly searchable on Google, would you?

You can do more harm than good if you try for a ‘quick win’ approach to social IT by broadcasting via Twitter or RSS. Posting IT service status to public feeds could leave your organization exposed or embarrassed.

Level 2 Maturity: Social Add-ons

The most important thing about getting to Level 2 maturity, Social Add-ons, is that you are now taking specific actions to leverage social capabilities as part of your overall IT management approach.

While some organizations may choose to move directly to Level 3 maturity, because of its greater value, a common next step in increasing social IT maturity is the adoption of one or more social capabilities as add-ons to your existing IT processes. The goals at this stage are typically to leverage social capabilities to improve communications with users and, to a lesser extent, within IT.

The value of Level 2 social IT maturity is defined in terms of metrics such as user satisfaction, the percentage of incidents or requests that have been acted upon within their prescribed SLAs, and the creation of formal social IT communications policies that clarify what should be communicated to whom and when.

A logical place to start is to evaluate the social add-on capabilities of your current IT management software. You may find that your current vendor offers some type of 1:1 chat (instant messaging, video-based, virtual chat agents, etc.), often with the ability to save or record that chat. You may also find support for news feeds and notifications (e.g. Twitter, RSS, Salesforce.com’s Chatter, Yammer, or Facebook integration). You might also consider using these approaches on a standalone basis outside of your current IT management software if your current provider does not offer these capabilities.

Define your communication policies

Remember the first social IT pitfall of broadcasting, though. Before you start communicating, you must define your formal communications policies. Most likely, you already have a policy that pertains to email or Intranet communications to users and employees. If you do, that’ll give you a head start to work from. In any case, here are a few good rules of thumb to follow:

  1. Only communicate externally what you are comfortable with the entire world knowing about. In most cases you will find there are very few things, if any, which fit into this category. For example, you might push out a tweet to a specific user’s twitter account that their incident has now been closed, but without any details about the nature of the incident.
  2. If you do want to communicate using social tools externally in a broader way, consider using private groups that are secure. For example Twitter, Chatter, and Facebook all support private groups, although there is administrative overhead for both users and IT departments to request to join them and to manage members over time.
  3. Make sure what you communicate is focused on a specific audience.Don’t broadcast status updates on every IT service to everyone. If you create too much noise, people will just tune out your communications defeating their entire purpose.

To exit Level 2 and start to move to Level 3 on the maturity scale, you need to shift both your thinking and your plans from social add-ons to how social capabilities can be embedded into the work IT does every day. This means expanding your social scope beyond IT and end user interactions, and working to improve collaboration within IT.

Social IT Pitfall #2: Feeds, Walls, and Noise – Oh My!

One critical success factor for social IT communications is to ensure you are targeting specific audiences. Some vendors offer a Facebook-like wall in addition to the ability to push updates out via Twitter or RSS. In addition to the exposure risk previously discussed, these approaches can also create a tremendous amount of noise, which will make it difficult for both business users and IT to identify useful information in the feed or on the wall.

Relying on a solitary Facebook-like wall for social IT, as well as pushing updates out via Twitter or RSS, can create a tremendous amount of noise, making it difficult for both business users and IT to identify useful information in the feed or on the wall.

There is a simple analogy to illustrate this point. Imagine you are invited to a dinner party and arrive as one of twenty guests. As you enter, you hear many conversations taking place at once, music playing, clinking of glasses behind the bar, the smell of food cooking. What’s the first thing you do? If you’re like most people, you look around the room to find someone else you know, someone who appears interesting, or maybe you head toward the bar or the kitchen. What you’ve just done is to establish context for the party you’re attending. A single IT news feed or wall doesn’t provide useful context. It’s like listening to random sentences from each of the conversations at the party and contains a lot of noise that a business or IT user just doesn’t care about.

While news feeds and walls typically have a keyword search capability, both users and IT users will end up spending too much time trying to locate relevant information. As a result, they will likely over time start avoiding going to the feed or wall because it contains far too much information they don’t care about. What’s more, the feed can grow so long that it needs to be truncated periodically causing useful information that was posted a long time ago to become lost to the organization.

Stay away from one-size fits all walls or feeds. They’re not useful and will hurt the credibility of your social IT project.

This is part one of a two-part feature on Social IT maturity, part 2 will follow soon.

Matthew Selheimer

Matthew Selheimer is Vice President of Marketing at ITinvolve. A 17-year industry veteran, he has rich and diverse experience spanning enterprise business applications, IT management software, data center hardware and consulting. Previously, he held executive marketing and product management positions at BMC Software, as well as sales, business development, alliance management, systems engineering, and consulting positions at Informatica Corporation, Compaq Computer, and Deloitte & Touche.

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