Enteprise social networks fall short of expectations: study

Enterprise social networking (ESN) software can improve communication and collaboration among employees, but most companies aren’t implementing and using these products properly, leading to unmet goals, according to a new study.

ESN software can help organizations by boosting information-sharingamong employees and improving cross-departmental collaboration, amongother benefits, but missteps in planning and execution abound,according to the Altimeter Group study“Making the Business Case for Enterprise Social Networking.”

The main mistake organizations make is not defining clearly the reasonsfor adopting ESN software, which offers features and capabilities likeprofiles, status updates and microblogging popularized by consumersocial media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but adaptedfor workplaceuse.

“What is the pain point? What is the problem you’re trying to solve? Ifthat’s not clear, then you shouldn’t be using [ESN],” said Altimeterfounder and the study’s lead author Charlene Li. “This isn’t easy.There is no magic bullet to it. It requires a rethinking of therelationships inside your organization, and therefore a rethinking ofyour culture.”

Altimeter, which interviewed 13 vendors and 185 end users and surveyed81 IT decision makers from companies with more than 250 employees,found that most ESN implementations end up stuck in one or moresignificant roadblocks.

These include a sharp drop in interest and usage after initialenthusiasm; strong adoption in only one department; confusion aboutproper use of the software, due in part to a lack of executiveinvolvement; and lack of clarity and maturity of the organization’ssocial business strategy and goals.

Tie ESN use to business goals,problems
Particularly surprising to Li was the finding that few organizationsproperly gather and analyze usage metrics for their ESN software,focusing too much on raw engagement figures and very little on statsthat show whether goals are being attained and problems solved.

Companies also often fail to integrate ESN software into the existingbusiness applications already in use by their employees, like email,collaboration platforms, CRM, ERP and office productivitysuites. ESNsoftware thus becomes yet another stand-alone tool that is under-used.

Adding to the problem is that IT decision makers tasked initially withevaluating ESN software face a very confusing market, with manyofferings that often vary greatly in features and functionality.

Vendors in this relatively nascent market range from “pure play”companies like Yammer, Box.net, Jive Software and Socialtext to biggerplayers that are embedding ESN capabilities into broader platforms likeMicrosoft, Salesforce.com, Cisco and IBM.

To improve their chances of success, organizations need to define clearobjectives for using ESN software, and once it’s implemented, they mustmonitor and analyze usage in a way that gives them an idea of whetherthese goals are being met.

Focus on corporate culture important
Moreover, organizations need to devote the necessary staff andresources not only to implement but also to maintain and manage ESNsoftware, and also get executives involved in using it.

If implemented and used properly, ESN software can yield significantbenefits to organizations, such as encouraging employees to shareinformation, expertise and best practices; improve efficiency throughbetter coordination and reduced duplication; and empowering employeesby giving them a “voice” within the company.

“The organizations that have been successful at doing this are onesthat are very focused on their culture: they understand it, theyunderstand their shortcomings and are using these tools to solve theseshortcomings,” Li said.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprisecommunication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers andgeneral technology breaking news for The IDG News Service.Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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