Social Media Offers Opportunities and Challenges

By Samuel Greengard

A few years ago, enterprise social media consisted of little more than creating a Facebook page and monitoring Twitter for sundry comments and complaints. In many instances, all that was needed was a handful of younger workers or interns to sift through posting and feeds and provide a basic response. It’s safe to say that social media was little more than a blip on the information technology horizon.

That’s no longer the case. “Today, virtually every customer-focused and employee-centric system has a social component,” observes Ted Shelton, managing director at PwC and author of Business Models for the Social Mobile Cloud: Transform Your Business Using Social Media, Mobile Internet, and Cloud Computing. “Social media is creating enormous opportunities in areas as diverse as collaboration and analytics. It is fundamentally changing the nature of business interaction.”

For IT departments, this unfolding and rapidly evolving environment is fraught with challenges. It’s critical to build an IT architecture that supports social media tools and extends them to mobile devices. It’s also crucial to cull unstructured social media data and plug it into existing databases and systems in order to support advanced analytics.

Finally, there are cultural issues to consider and security challenges to address. “It’s an area that no company can ignore,” says Forrester principal analyst Clay Richardson.

Businesses Go Social

Social media has clearly arrived at the mainstream of enterprise IT. According to various industry statistics, about four in five companies are already using or planning to use social media. A 2012 MIT/Sloan Management Review study found that 52 percent of executives say social media is important to their firms today, while 86 percent believe it will be vital within three years. Key areas include: marketing and advertising, researching competitors and improving relationships with customers.

Yet, behind the flashy façade of new and emerging social media services, interfaces and tools lies a simple fact: The concept boils down to systems that revolve around the free flow of information and knowledge, Richardson says.

The ability to tap into a more democratized system—one that delivers information upward, downward and sideways throughout the organization and marketplace—is a transformative step in the evolution of business. In fact, he says, “We are beginning to see social and business processes merge together to create greater capabilities.”

Putting social to work is now a core strategy at EDP Renewables North America, which operates 29 wind farms and thousands of turbines across the United States. The company must closely monitor turbine performance and repairs across nearly two-dozen key departments.

“Different departments must collaborate with each other—using structured data, written information, audio and video—in order to keep everyone up to speed on current conditions and problems,” says Stephan Blasilli, corporate development manager for EDPR.

In the past, manual and semi-automated processes were often slow and tedious. Today, using a social-based case management system running on an Appian BPM platform, EDPR is able to tap into what Blasilli refers to as “extreme collaboration.” Geographically dispersed teams exchange notes, expertise, data and various media in real time. In addition, based on the error code for a turbine, they can prioritize discussions and broaden the collaboration process, if necessary.

The platform, dubbed COBRA, short for “COlaBoRAtion, offers analytics capabilities, and it will soon extend to mobile devices. Already, more than $100 million in issue relation resides in the system, and Blasilli says that it is speeding resolution by 10 to 25 percent.