Social IT in the enterprise: Getting past the hype

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Can social IT crack open information stuck in departmental silos and improve IT department to business communications?

Social IT has generated a lot of hype over the last few years but many organizations have been left wondering how to turn the grand theory into practice – in a way that delivers tangible results for the business. People know what social media is; they just don’t know how to transfer the principles of social media into the world of IT operations to improve efficiency, reduce costs and increase IT customer satisfaction.

Start at the top

The trick with social IT (as with any new technology) is to start with what you want to achieve. That means taking a top-down view of the challenges you are facing and examining how social IT principles and tools can help you face those challenges. You have to have a good understanding of the issues to begin with, as well as understanding the “toolbox” of social mechanisms that are available. If you start by looking at social IT technology, you won’t get the results you need. You’ll simply be implementing technology for technology’s sake. Focus effort by thinking about where social principles can help you to improve services, reduce costs and improve business satisfaction with IT.

Make it part of your strategic ITSM roadmap

Social IT isn’t something that you can do in isolation. Social IT should be implemented as part of your strategic ITSM roadmap, not as a separate IT initiative. It’s not something you can implement with a big-bang approach and then say “We do social IT.” Social IT isn’t something you can buy in a box (although you will need technology to make it work). Nor is it the answer to all of your problems. What social IT provides is some new ways to improve communication, problem-solving and decision-making across geographical and departmental boundaries. Better communication is something that most IT departments will benefit from. Social IT is already happening in your organization, in a limited way and at a local level. People frequently collaborate and share knowledge offline to solve problems. The challenge for IT is to “digitalize” this social behaviour and facilitate it on a global scale.

The “toolbox” of social mechanisms

  • Collaboration sessions/discussion boards – open forums that enable collaboration between groups around whatever issues, problems and projects they’re working on.
  • Follows – By letting staff follow the people, services, projects and devices that are relevant to them, they can stay informed without being overwhelmed with information.
  • Status updates – “Short-form” announcements that help people stay connected.
  • Wikis – User-generated knowledge bases that are maintained by the whole community to keep them in alignment with your live environment.
  • Likes – User-ratings for content, knowledge or services that indicate quality and usefulness
  • Hashtags – Tagging improves searchability by grouping different types of content with similar topics.
  • Social profiles – A who’s-who for your organization, helping people to pick suitable collaborators.

Scope of social IT

The scope of social IT isn’t restricted to within the IT department. There are two other angles you need to consider. There is a lot of value to be gained by harnessing social mechanisms to encourage and improve interaction between IT people and end users. Social IT can also be applied to the broader end user community by facilitating knowledge sharing and peer support (and empowering end users to take some of the day-to-day strain off the service desk). With all these new interactions going on, you will need to define policies to maintain a sensible level of control and set out which social mechanisms are appropriate in which situations. For example, a peer support forum is not the right place to report a critical application issue that is affecting an entire business unit. Sometimes it is still best to pick up the phone and call the service desk.

Mapping challenges to social solutions

Organizations can help ensure they gain business value from social IT by mapping business challenges to social solutions. Every organization is different, but there are many different ways in which social IT can help to improve efficiency, reduce costs and minimize risk. The way you map challenges to solutions will depend on your business structure and priorities, but here are some examples of how you can derive social IT tactics from strategic business drivers:

Challenge

Barrier

Social Solution

Resolve IT issues faster. Support knowledge is locked up in departmental silos. Facilitate collaborative discussions and the crowd-sourcing of solutions to issues.
Expose a searchable record of historic collaboration sessions to boost the knowledge base and helps support staff (and end users) to find more solutions more quickly.
Reduce negative impact of change. Lack of transparency between IT and the business prevents proper understanding of business risk and impact. Let end users follow the services and devices they use so that they are aware of planned changes and disruptions. Use microblog status updates to announce changes and linked blog posts or wiki articles to describe detail.
Use open collaboration sessions to consult with business stakeholders/end users to crowd-source a full impact analysis.
Drive continual improvement of services. IT doesn’t understand current business needs, or how business needs are changing over time. Social engagement between IT people and business people promotes better understanding of business demands and the issues that affect productivity. With collaboration tools, IT people and business people can discuss where and how improvement is needed to meet changing demand.
Drive business innovation with new technology. The IT department is bogged down with firefighting common issues relating to current technology. Facilitate peer support by enabling the sharing of fixes and best practices within the end user community. Collaboration sessions, wikis and a searchable knowledge base empower end users to find information and solve problems without intervention from IT.
Improve IT process efficiency. Geographical and departmental barriers restrict the flow of information. Integrating social collaboration into ITSM processes means IT staff can tap into an enterprise-wide knowledge/resource pool.

Conclusions

  • Social IT helps you get the most out of your people by creating collaborative communities and transforming the way people communicate and share knowledge. Collaborative problem solving is both more efficient and effective – and translates into higher productivity, lower costs and lower risk for IT and the business.
  • Social IT doesn’t start with buying new technology, it starts with examining the challenges that IT faces and working out how social mechanisms can help improve productivity and efficiency. However, tools play a vital part in facilitating open collaboration on a global scale.
  • Social IT helps you bring offline collaboration and problem solving activities online – to create a system of engagement that will help you optimize the activities that make up your IT processes.
  • Social IT is a “fuzzy” way of working that IT isn’t very familiar with. The open nature of social media requires IT to embrace new ways of thinking and let go of the need for such strict control of data and interactions. However, some governance policies are required.
  • Social IT doesn’t require a big-bang approach. You can apply social mechanics to small corners of IT to test the water and demonstrate value before a larger roll-out.

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