Changing Your Business Into a Social Business

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Carlos' Bake Shop, a social business

Social business requires new thinking, including an ability to view the organization in a flatter, more horizontal way and a willingness to change workflows.

The foundation for any successful business is the ability to connect people effectively. But somewhere between the promise of unfettered communication and collaboration and the challenges of building a social business framework lies a stark reality: "It is often difficult to connect all the dots and tie together all the key stakeholders—clients, customers, employees and management—in a meaningful way," says Robert Harles, global lead for social media and collaboration at consulting firm Accenture Interactive. "Many organizations do not achieve the results they desire or expect."

Unfortunately, the situation isn't getting any easier. The need to unleash communication and collaboration within an enterprise and with outward-facing channels presents significant and growing obstacles. The need to put data, information and knowledge to work in more focused and effective ways adds a layer of business and IT complexity.

"Social networks and tools have upped the ante in a lot of ways," says Tony Fross, vice president, digital advisory services, Capgemini Consulting. "They have changed expectations for consumers and employees." He adds that success requires more than the right mix of tools and strategy.

Social business requires new thinking, including an ability to view the organization in a flatter and more horizontal way. In today's business environment, roles and responsibilities frequently take a backseat to ideas and information.

For example, a social business is open to everyone's ideas, realizing that a clerk, chef or assembly line worker might contribute the next big idea. In addition, communication and collaboration streams become a valuable source of analytics data, modeling and business planning.

As Accenture's Harles puts it: "Successful social business is as much about change management as it is about technology, platforms or channels. It changes internal patterns and workflows, as well as risks and governance models."

Recipe for Results

Over the last few years, social business has evolved rapidly. Although most organizations use social systems in one form or another, integrating people and platforms can prove nettlesome.

"It's not just that we are in the 21st century and must use social to conduct business," Harles explains. "There are a growing array of components and things that transcend the words 'social' and 'social media.' It touches just about every enterprise application, workflow and task. It's really about boosting engagement and participation with employees, customers and others."

Carlos Bakery social business

Carlo's Bake Shop is one company that has recently discovered the power of social business. The century-old family-owned business, known as "Cake Boss" on the popular TLC television show, has used social business tools to transform an organization that was gradually sinking under the weight of paper into a highly efficient digital business.

The firm currently operates 10 locations in New Jersey, New York and Las Vegas, and it has an aggressive expansion plan in place that will create a national presence over the next few years. "The success of Cake Boss pushed demand through the roof," says CIO Leo Minervini.

Despite the company's enormous success, store operations presented a growing challenge. Not only was the mountain of paperwork crumpling efficiency, it was leading to errors, which sometimes resulted in a need to fix or remake cakes or offer partial or total refunds to customers.

"We had custom orders on paper and carbon paper," Minervini recalls. "Order forms were getting lost, and people couldn't read the handwriting from the order taker. We had to build a better system, especially with our plans to expand the business."

As a critical step in turning things around, the company turned to Salesforce CRM in June 2012 and added Salesforce Chatter in October of the same year.

This article was originally published on 2015-06-18
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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