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Internal Social Networks Now Important Proving Ground

Companies see internal social deployments as way to not only drive collaboration but also test ideas, IBM 2011 Tech Trends survey shows.

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Companies are looking at internal social networks as both a means to drive collaboration and a test bed for future social initiatives, according to IBM's 2011 Tech Trends report.

Data from the Tech Trends report was culled from responses from more than 4,000 IT professionals in 93 countries and 25 industries. The survey focused on business analytics, mobile, cloud and social business--areas that IBM dubs critical for developers looking to determine which skills they need to "fuel development, architectural, and analytic opportunities."

On the social front, the majority of respondents said that their organization considers social business as a way to increase efficiency and collaboration. "A social business embraces networks of people to create business value. An effective social business embodies a culture characterized by sharing, transparency, innovation, and improved decision making," said the survey report, released in November.

Many of the survey respondents noted that their companies are implementing social from the inside out--that is, they are testing the waters by deploying intranet-based social systems. The top three drivers for such deployments are employee collaboration, efficiency in locating people and resources, and idea generation, according to the report.

"In general, there are a bunch of benefits associated with internal social networks, including a lot of the same benefits as online social networks: instant communication, collaboration, innovation, developing and fostering connections, and information dissemination," said Ari Lightman, professor at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the CIO Institute there. Lightman teaches a course in which graduate students and companies such as Microsoft, RIM, and Pepsi come together to apply measurement schemes around different social tools, applications and techniques.

Lightman said in an interview that internal social networks are an important social media proving ground. "How can you be successful externally in terms of engagement when you have nothing internally?" he said. "One of the big advantages of having an internal social network is using it as a test bench to identify messaging, functionality, and campaigns that are successful and will have a greater chance of success when launched to an external market. It also gives employees the opportunity to become practitioners of these tools and techniques so they can become experts in fostering community building, as well as data collection and analysis."

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The Tech Trends survey showed that the top three social business capabilities that companies are utilizing today are file sharing, blogs, and forums. Lightman noted that the ability to offer features such as blogs, profiles, forums, and bookmarking is becoming a commodity, and that platform differentiators will lie in "analytics or the ability to capture data to derive insight/intelligence that will benefit the employee, department, group, corporation, etc."

Looking ahead, the survey said, internal deployment will edge out external deployment as the top social-business focus area.

At the Enterprise 2.0 conference, a UBM TechWeb event, technology evangelist Robert Scoble predicted that Facebook and Google will both wind up in the enterprise social networking market within the next couple of years. He said he sees the potential for Google+ as an enterprise social network that will be used for internal company communication.

However, for any social initiative to achieve success, said Lightman, organizations will have to prepare for and weather a cultural shift.

"The big hurdle is breaking the culture around knowledge hoarding," he said. "For these systems to work, tacit knowledge needs to be shared and co-developed to identify viable ideas and processes that will benefit the organization. This is difficult for several organizations, especially those where workers see knowledge as a means of job security."

The Enterprise Connect conference program covers the full range of platforms, services, and applications that comprise modern communications and collaboration systems. It happens March 25-29 in Orlando, Fla. Find out more.

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