Social Networks As Collaboration Tools

It seems I can’t enter a meeting these days without a CIO bringing up the topic of social networks: what they are, what they do and whether an enterprise really needs one. More often than not, it’s because they’ve invested time and money in collaboration tools and knowledge management systems, and don’t understand why they’re not being used, or why social networks are needed as well.

At Capgemini, we use a combination of these tools and technologies. Our main internal social network is based on Yammer and, after two years, includes more than 18,000 people. We’ve built a wiki-based knowledge management system where we store important, reusable content. We are also using several collaboration tools chosen to suit the type of collaboration and work required, enabling our employees worldwide to work together in response to real-time requests.

See also Winning Business With Social Media

At first glance, the business case for each is relatively clear, but the question is: Why do we need three different tools? The simple answer is: They are complementary. While collaboration tools are task-centric and knowledge management tools are content-centric, social networks are people-centric. They solve the unexpected, unplanned and unstructured issues that increasingly crop up.

See also Five Ways to Unlock the Business Value of Social Media

When faced with an urgent client question or problem, you often e-mail all the people you know in the enterprise. By contacting 20 people, you may receive one response, wasting the time of the others. Worse, how do you know that this answer is the right or best one?

This constant tide of e-mail doesn’t just interfere with employees’ jobs. For some, it has actually become the job, as employees weed through e-mails for hours, and managers seek to constantly monitor these interactions.

In contrast, by leveraging a mix of collaboration, knowledge management and social networking tools, enterprises can enable employees to quickly access a wealth of information and knowledge across the organization to more effectively respond to client requests. Quite simply, social networking makes available the dynamic collective memory of all employees.

By integrating social networking with your existing systems, you can create new networks that extend beyond employees who know each other, thereby creating enterprisewide collaboration. And this benefit extends far beyond the enterprise.

For example, our new “We are the Ones” campaign showcases results-oriented stories and sector experts worldwide. This campaign ties into our “Expert Connect” platform, which runs on and provides an interactive tool for clients to network with our experts and learn about their expertise and publications.

Most importantly, it allows clients to interact with our staff, either through the integration with social networking tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn, or through direct contact. An unexpected benefit is that managers can see who continually responds to questions, helping them identify new leaders and factor this into staffing decisions and promotions.

With this in mind, CIOs should ask themselves how they can effectively integrate social networking with collaboration and knowledge management technologies. They must look beyond traditional approaches to promote information sharing and innovation by determining the best mix of tools and technologies to unleash the power of employees, building a culture of collaboration and creativity.

Andy Mulholland is the global chief technology officer at consulting and professional services firm Capgemini and the author of books including Enterprise Cloud Computing.