Social Media Is Good Business

By Samuel Greengard

Operating a design and engineering firm with offices in more than 100 countries is a big challenge. Not only is it necessary to coordinate people and projects, it’s also critical to share data, information and knowledge.

“The key to success is finding ways to help people connect, share and collaborate,” says Brad Vaughan, CIO at Black & Veatch, which pulled down $2.6 billion in revenues in 2011 and ranks number 18 in the world for design-build firms.

About a year ago, Black & Veatch, headquartered in Overland Park, Kan., embraced social media in a major way. The company rolled out an internal Facebook-like system—built on Microsoft SharePoint and My Site—that allows its more than 9,000 employees to post their credentials and expertise online, along with their location, education, licensing and phone number.

They can also add whitepapers, presentations and any other materials in areas as diverse as telecommunications and wastewater management. Other employees can search out the expertise they require and either download the desired content or contact the person.

For example, an engineer in Santiago, Chile, might contact another professional in San Diego to get information about the use of specific materials or learn about a good restaurant to take a client. They can also use instant messaging or video conferencing to interact in a more immediate manner.

“Finding the right information is no longer a hit-or-miss proposition,” Vaughan says. “People can share information in a natural and intuitive way. Social media tools are making the world smaller and the company more efficient.”

Over the last few years, social media has gone mainstream. Forrester Research reports that sales of software to manage corporate social networks will grow 61 percent annually and reach $6.4 billion in sales by 2016.

Companies large and small from a variety of industries are embracing technologies and tools to amp up communication and collaboration. These include external-facing sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, as well as internal systems that build on collaboration and knowledge management tools.

To be sure, social media can’t be ignored. “It is changing business and the enterprise in significant ways,” says Kelly Dempski, director of Accenture Technology Labs. “Because an organization pulls different levers and uses different tools with social media, it’s important to design a strategy and build in protections to ensure that it’s used effectively and securely.”