Social media is IT

Cisco has released the results of a third-party global study designed to assess how organizations use consumer social networking tools to collaborate externally, revealing the need for stronger governance and IT involvement.

Based on interviews with 105 participants representing 97 organisations in 20 countries around the globe, and conducted between April and September 2009, the research was carried out by leading business schools in the United States and Europe: IESE Business School in Spain, E. Philip Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the U.S., and Henley Business School in the United Kingdom.

The study findings indicate that the business world is at the early stages of adopting social media tools and in the process of identifying key challenges, such as the need for increased governance and IT involvement, which may impact the integration and adoption of these new platforms and technologies.

Of the organizations interviewed, 75 percent identified social networks as the consumer-based social media tools they primarily use, while roughly 50 percent of the group also identified extensive use of microblogging.

Only one in seven of the companies that participated in the research noted a formal process associated with adopting consumer-based social networking tools for business purposes, indicating that the potential risks associated with these tools in the enterprise are either overlooked or not well understood.

Only one in five participants identified any policies in place concerning the use of consumer-based social networking technologies in the enterprise. Within the respondent base, social networking governance typically involves more stakeholders than standard corporate initiatives, as these organizations have yet to define who "owns" external social media strategies. Without a single point of ownership within organizations, these initiatives are extremely difficult to control and manage.

Due to the unstructured nature of social networking, companies continue to struggle with policy creation and adoption, as copying an established governance process from other, more structured areas (for example, information technology) often doesn't work for social networking. Businesses also find difficulty in striking the right balance between the social and personal nature of these tools while maintaining some degree of corporate oversight.

Only one in 10 respondents noted direct IT involvement in externally facing social networking initiatives. Although the IT department is typically not involved as a primary decision maker, respondents did recognize the need for these tools to scale and properly integrate with existing business processes to reap maximum benefits.

The Future of Social Networking and Collaboration Tools in the Enterprise
Across the board, respondents recognized that consumer-based social networking and collaboration tools will continue to evolve, as will their complexity, and that these tools will continue to influence the way business is conducted. The key for organizations will be the way they adopt and integrate these tools into the enterprise IT environment.
The following issues need to be addressed regarding the adoption, deployment and governance of social networking in the enterprise: when, how and what initiatives are to be launched (and not launched); how the enabling technologies should be managed; and how employee use of these technologies should be managed.

Nick Earle, senior vice president, Cisco Services, said, "The rise of the connected consumer is driving a market shift in the enterprise, creating "people-powered business" where social networking tools and collaborative technologies are the propeller of the next-generation of productivity and bringing about a fundamentally different leadership model. Companies who will succeed in embracing the tremendous power of social networking will be those who design a collaborative IT architecture capable of supporting the use of these technologies and mitigating the risks they pose."