This week Jive published a paper listing seven steps to get a handle on social applications in the enterprise. My favorite nugget of advice is the second step that reads, "Acknowledge that social is like water. It goes around all barriers...so rather than try to dam it or push it back, you have to channel it." It highlights how resistance to social in the enterprise is futile, and that it's best to accept social as part of your business.

 

But why channel social? Why accept it as part of your business? If you want to get a glimpse of how social business can drive significant productivity gains, read more here. In this blog post, however, I focus on a few key benefits IT will see by channeling social. I don't do this to diminish the value social provides to the business, rather, to focus on the challenges IT faces by providing a service that presents new and quickly evolving challenges. In the seven steps paper we say, "once you accept social as part of your business you can develop a strategy to make it a positive and secure part of your business." But my recent conversations with IT go much deeper than that. Chime in here and post your thoughts. Do you think you can and should channel social? Why? Why not? What benefits do you think you'll gain?

 

Based on recent conversations I've had with customers, here's what I'm hearing around channeling social and why it's important. First of all, those who channel the use of social technologies simply because it's futile to block them are missing out on a few key benefits: increased visibility, decreased (or controlled) risk, and reduced costs. Before we dig into these benefits, let's look at the two types of social technologies that are commonly brought into the enterprise, and how to channel each.

 

1) The Social Business Platform

 

A social business platform makes it possible to easily engage the people that matter most: customers, employees, partners, anyone else your organization needs to connect with. It provides the fundamental user experience (and associated plumbing) for connecting people and the information they need to make decisions and get their jobs done faster. Think content sharing, automatic recommendations, microblogging, mobile connectivity, profile searching, discussions, you get the picture.

 

The reason for channeling social through a platform is straightforward. You either provide a secure, centralized, and supported platform that enables social collaboration--or you don't. If you don't, your users will bring all sorts of unsanctioned technology into the enterprise in the form of wikis, blogs, and such. Most organizations I've talked with have between four and thirty separate wikis before they centralize on Jive. Add document sharing sites, microblogging tools, and other collaborative tools and the number of disconnected social point tools is staggering. A social business platform makes it possible to engage fellow employees, customers, and the social web in a centralized, secure and scalable way. This is especially important when you need to support communities and social interactions that span the firewall. Remember, this is not Facebook for the enterprise. Users of your social business platform will not be posting pictures of what they had for dinner last night to share with a hundred and fifty friends. You need to support a sophisticated set of capabilities that drive productivity throughout the organization. Your users will be engaging hundreds of thousands of coworkers, millions of customers, and they'll be sharing things like training videos, executive communications, critical project tasks, red-lined legal documents, product feedback, and more. Frankly, most organizations we talk to today realize it's irresponsible to not provide an enterprise-class platform to support this kind of social business engagement. So let's get into the piece of social business that is more challenging to channel.

 

2) Social Business Applications

 

Once you've given your organization a way to engage people in a meaningful way, don't be fooled--you're not done channeling social. More is on the way. The second category of technology to consider are the social, Web 2.0 apps being brought into the enterprise. Unlike a social business platform that provides the foundational social interaction capabilities, these apps are laser focused on helping people perform a specific function--social or not. They focus more on creating, managing and sharing content, rather than on providing a platform for engaging large communities.

 

Here are a few examples of popular social business applications. Gliffy offers easy, but powerful online diagramming that makes Visio look 20 years out of date. Box.net provides simple, secure, ubiquitous document sharing and management that makes Sharepoint look unwieldy and expensive. Tungle.me makes scheduling easy, even across organization boundaries and across different calendars and implementations of Microsoft Exchange. These applications make it easy to create and share information. It's only natural for users to want to use these to create content that they share and collaborate around with others in their social business network. If you don't give users a way to include these apps in their social experience, they'll go around you and use them anyway. In fact, recent Forrester research suggests that at least one in every three workers brings an unsanctioned Web 2.0 tool to work.

 

As you think about channeling social in the enterprise, it's important to treat social business apps separate from the platform. Now granted, as a Jive employee I'm extremely biased, but my take is that your social business platform should provide you with the ability to channel these social apps. In fact, it should do way more than that. It should integrate the information from these apps and your social business platform seamlessly. Plus, it should provide you with the control you need to enable social apps, without compromising your enterprise values.

 

The Benefits of Channeling Social

 

To go back to our initial question, why? What is the value of channeling social? The quick answer is that it offers increased visibility, decreased (or controlled) risk, and reduced costs.

 

With increased visibility you get insight into how social apps are being used across the enterprise. You know exactly what apps are being used, and by whom. For the control freak in you this means you evaluate the apps being used: Do they fit your organization's risk profile? For the innovator in you, a small group of users may have stumbled upon an application that you recognize as valuable to other parts of the organization. You can now bring that innovative app to those teams.

 

Next, channeling social helps you manage the risks that are otherwise uncontrollable with unsanctioned Web 2.0 apps. If you see an application being used that you deem too risky to your organization, you should be able to disable access to it. Besides giving you control, it gives you an opportunity to explain to the business why apps like this are not allowed.

 

And finally, channeling social helps reduce costs. When you have visibility into app usage, either individual or departmental usage, you have an accurate picture of app adoption. Is an app being used by just a few users? Is there rampant use of an app? Would you get a better deal to get an enterprise-wide license rather than a string of individual license. We think it should be simple to monitor that usage and then simply switch licenses for those apps to allow enterprise-wide access at better deal.

 

In summary, my take is that it's important for IT to channel social rather than dam it. But don't channel it simply because blocking it is futile. Understand the benefits of channeling social so you can be sure to take advantage of it by increasing the visibility you have of social in the enterprise, by decreasing risk associated with rogue Web 2.0 tools, and by reduced the costs associated with decentralized app licenses.

 

What's your take on channeling social? Can it be done? If so, what benefits are to be had?

 

And again, here's the link to grab the paper that spawned this discussion, let us know what you think.