Marrying social networking with business process transformation

San Jose, Claif. — While social networking is gaining popularity in enterprise circles, as companies look to leverage collaborative tools to drive business value Cisco Systems says to be truly transformative social networking alone won’t cut it: business process transformation is a key factor.

At the networking vendor’s annual C-Scape press and analyst conference here this week, Cisco executives described how the company is positioning itself for the second phase of the Internet. It’s a phase that involves collaboration with Web 2.0 technologies, globalization, personalization, and the blurring of the line between business users and consumers.

While social networking may seem like a tool for the young, Cisco CEO John Chambers said it’s actually the more mature enterprise users that can drive real productivity gains from Web 2.0 tools.

“Our early studies show that as the 40-plus year olds learn to use the technology they’re more efficient at it,” said Chambers. “At first we were confused by that, but we saw (they) bring process. It’s technology with business process change.”

Erik Brynjolfsson,an economist and professor with MIT`s Sloan School of Management in Boston, said the power of collaborative Web tools to drive productivity gains is just beginning to be recognized and quantified adding its clear collaboration, however it’s enabled, creates new opportunities for economic growth.

While the technology tends to get the attention, Brynjolfsson agreed it’s the business process change enabled by social networking, when properly managed, that drives productivity gains. Just 10 per cent of the effort that goes into a successful social networking implementation is technological, he said.

“It’s really about business process change…ultimately that’s where most of the productivity growth has come,” said Brynjolfsson. “I don’t think there’s been an adequate understanding of these business process changes and their importance in utilizing the technology.”

Jayanth Angl, a research analyst with London, Ont-based Info-Tech Research said Cisco won’t need to sell the enterprise world hard on its vision for social networking in a business context.

“Part of this is demand from their large enterprise customers for increased collaboration and social networking,” said Angl. “These are elements they’re bringing into the enterprise discussion. I think a lot of IT managers recognize it’s important and I don’t think [Cisco is] necessarily risking alienating that solid IT decision-maker base.”

As the popularity of these tools increases and knowledge of their usefulness spreads the implementations will increasingly be driven by the user base said Philippo Passerini, CIO of Cincinati-based Proctor & Gamble. While it’s useful to have an executive champion, Passerini said he sees the tools eventually becoming so pervasive everyone at the senior management level will feel a responsibility to lead collaboration.

“Our early experience with this technology is really phenomenal. We’re seeing a lot of traction, there’s no need for IT to push anything because there’s so much pull,” said Passerini. “I believe we’ll get to a point where IT will move from pushing to enabling.”

Blurring the consumer/enterprise line

With the traditional borders between our work and home lives disappearing Cisco`s strategy is to develop the network as the platform for all life’s experiences said Charles Giancarlo, Cisco`s chief development officer. He added while the enterprise world used to drive technological development, now its the consumer side that is increasingly pushing innovation into the enterprise arena.

“Consuming and creating are coming together like never before,” said Giancarlo.

Instead of building unique networks for the enterprise, service provider and consumer markets, he said Cisco now sees it all coming together with the role of the network being to enable information, communications and entertainment in a fluid and transparent matter, wherever the user is. Unified communications will help foster extra-enterprise collaboration, he added, and video will be the big growth driver.

In the enterprise space, Cisco sees opportunity around areas like video convergence, TelePresence, desktop video, video surveillance and dynamic digital signage. All will involve strong parter opportunity, he added, with a great deal of data that needs to be stored and managed.

In the service provider space Cisco`s focus is around IPTV, video infrastructure and set-top boxes, and in the consumer space its video in the home, and related content storage and services.

“We’re committed to exploiting that market transition, and we’ll build, partner or acquire to get there,” said Giancarlo.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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