A Social Business Platform, What it Can’t Do…

This post is for those thinking about, beginning, or having issues regarding their company’s Social Business Transformation. 


Putting aside the platitudes of expectations heaped among the companies that embrace and strive to become more “Social”, there are some realities bound to the actual Social Business Platform (SBP) that you need to know in terms of managing expectations both upstream and downstream within the organization.

You probably heard of the “Do’s &  Dont’s” regarding Social Business Platforms and Transformations.  Those “Do’s & Dont’s” are focused on the “how” a SBP is designed and deployed, but I want to get more specific and talk about what a SBP CAN’T do for your organization, your people, your business on its own merits, and how you can effectively manage thru them.

I will break these down along 2 major pillars:
1. Organizational & Cultural
2. Technology-Related

Organizational & Cultural Changes:

A Social Business Platform (SBP) CAN’T:

  • Force people to Collaborate, Listen, and Trust
  • Force the changing of entrenched Corporate Stereotypes
  • Force breakdown of negative Information Silos
  • Retain existing Employees and attract new Talent
  • Change the way Strategic Planning is done
  • Guarantee Executional Readiness for Business Transformations
  • Build engaging Online Communities of Practice and Experts
  • Make Business Decisions for you
  • Make you a better employee, manager, or leader
  • Improve Customer Service
  • Improve Organizational Politics
  • Change Company Culture for the better


A Social Business Platform (SBP) CAN’T:

  • Fix the lack of a structured organizational Knowledge Capturing processes
  • Consolidate your company’s multiple and separate Employee Directories
  • Provide Single-Sign-On (SSO) capabilities to users
  • Fix your company’s lack of Content Management/Retention Policies
  • Replace your company’s Email (both as a platform and collaboration channel)
  • Replace the best practice of implementing a Mobile Device Mgmt. platform for BYOD initiatives
  • Replace EVERY Document Repository already in your company
  • Replace your current Intranet right “out of the box”
  • Reduce Network Bandwidth issues between remote sites, Corporate HQ,  and your company’s datacenter

So in looking at these 2 lists, it is important to remember a SBP by itself is somewhat limited to what it can achieve.  If you do not resolve some of these expectations around Social Business benefits and existing Technology challenges currently within your enterprise, you will find your transformation exceptionally difficult to undertake.

Remember, the “outputs”.  a.k.a. The BENEFITS of the Social Business Transformation depend on the “Inputs”.

I have seen and heard so many claims to what a SBP can do for the company, then sitting thru many Enterprise architecture meetings and requirement gathering efforts, to where Business and IT come to find the actual platform by itself only offers OPPORTUNITIES to improve the company experiences, rationalize specific technologies, and provide positive Business Outcomes.

Organizations must be primed in multiple dimensions before undertaking a Social Business Transformation. Choosing the Social Business Platform is an important element of that transformation, but without the Change Management Program, the SBP will not solve the existing issues prevalent in the enterprise.

A Proper Change Management Program CAN:

  • Align the Social Business Transformation to overarching company strategy.
  • Ongoing Communication & Commitment by Leadership to support the Social Business Transformation.
  • Creation of the necessary Organizational Structures with detailed Roles and Responsibilities in order to support the Social Business Transformation.
  • Create a Communication Strategy to craft a robust and specific message to the segments of the company so each employee understands the “WIIFM” scenarios
  • Build appropriate Steering Committees comprised of business and operational stakeholders so decisions can be taken on how the Social Business Transformation affects current and future business processes.
  • Ensure the Social Business Transformation has “Sustainable Saturation” to permeate multiple phases of the organization to achieve intended effect.
  • Measure the change and adapt where necessary to maintain alignment with company’s strategy and evolving business demands.

Only with a carefully designed, planned, supported, and executed Change Management Program will a company be able to capitalize on the value a Social Business Transformation can provide and positively impact Business Outcomes.


Social Business Change Management…this won’t hurt a bit!

I recently read a good post from Matt Ridings @techguerilla called Social Business: The Right Way, Or The Way That Works?  who was discussing the nuances of how Social Business transformations are impacted by and impact the prevailing culture of an organization.   His point that while Social Business Practioners audit technologies and the various resources\skills off the company in preparing for this transformation, it is critical to also audit the personality, attitudes, and overall culture of a company in preparing for the Social Business Change Management Program.
I totally agree.

Auditing the personality, attitudes, and overall culture of a company before you build such a wide sweeping Change Management Program can be the differentiator in the long-term success of how Social Business is accepted and provides benefits to the organization.

As people can be highly emotional, and have natural hesitation to changing behaviors, it is key to understand how people perceive these changes could affect them.  Social Business transformations touch on components such as Trust, Relationships, Notoriety, Skill Exposure, and Individual’s Perceived Value, so you have to think differently about how your build the Social Business Change Management Program.

But before that, it is important to understand how we build the Change Management program based on what we define that Change Management program to be.  We often hear and use the word “Penetrate” when talking about Change Management effecting the Business Processes of an company, and we know this directly impacts the prevailing culture.

On the surface, the word “Penetrate” is fine, but look deeper into the nuance of the word, and you will find a link between how the Change Management Program is embraced by stakeholders versus how the program is built and executed.

I have heard company leaders speak how the Social Business Change Management program is to “Penetrate” the company to unleash new age of collaboration, innovation, etc….To me that is not the right word to use and provokes a dangerous mindset, although the end result is correctly desired.

“Penetrate” to me means using an aggressive change management style, seemingly meant to bulldoze through any preexisting cultural fabric. This is a mistake in my opinion, and it results in a “active” and worse, a “passive” type resistance to the change!

As every company’s culture defines how to go about building and executing the Social Business Change Management program, we need to think along multiple dimensions if we are going to achieve the long-term benefits of becoming a Social Business.  This does require an initial “penetration” to kick-start the Social Business transformation, but then the Social Business Change Management Program must shift to looking at the level of short and long-term “Saturation” the organization can achieve as it becomes more of a Social Business.

Again, there is a degree of “Penetration”, but that is needed to get started…But we as Social Business Strategist and Consultants need to think more of “Saturation” then overarching “Penetration” when building our Social Business Change Management Programs.

I liken the Social Business “Saturation/Penetration” POV to receiving an injection at the Doctors Office:

– As the “Doctor” (CEO) approaches you with the “needle” (Communicating the desire and need to change the company), you get nervous (resistant, unsure what to do, anxious).

– The “initial pain” of the penetration (involved in meetings, seeing lots of communication, having your current business process modified) of the needle going into your arm hurts.

– Then the “Nurses” (Change Mgmt Leaders, Advocates in the organization) massage your arm, and the pain subsides, but the spot still feels “sore” (unsure what to do next, how it effects me long-term)

– Then the “medicine” (Seeing actual benefits to individuals, teams, departments, etc) begins to saturate your body slowly over time, and

-you begin to see more “benefits & value” (able to work out loud, more engaged, improving your personal brand, etc)..

So in this somewhat silly but effective example, you can begin to understand how the Social Business Change Management Program needs to be crafted.  Each company’s culture is different, but proportionally speaking, the anxiety in changing entrenched processes is common across almost all people, hence the difference is how the “Nurses” triage that “anxiety and pain”.

Remote Workers take heed…a Social Business platform could help you avoid “disappearing”

“I wish I could work from home…” 

How many of us have said those exact words from time to time when sitting in our offices or cubes?  Working_from_home-wild

According to a Wall Street Journal article, corporate workers are working more from home than they did before. Vice President at market-research company IDC, Raymond Boggs told the WSJ that “the number of corporate employees who work from home at least one day a month has been growing by an average of 23% a year since 2007. Those working from home only one or two days a month are leading the trend: This pool grew by nearly 70% each year.”

Thinking how great it would be to work from home, saving money on gas, not having to get dressed in business attire every morning, and being there when your kids get home from school. At my current and for a short time my previous company, I was able to work from home, and I readily took advantage of the opportunity.

But…, I have to say I am NOT a fan of working from home.  In fact I will admit that when I worked in the corporate office and heard of someone who works from home or has an “alternative work arrangement”, my first thought was how much value could that person have if they are never in the office building working on building face-to-face relationships. “Out-of-sight, out-of-mind” is how I defined these Remote Workers.

It turns out, I might be right. A recent study by researchers at MIT-Sloan, called “Why Showing Your Face Matters”, authored by Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable, shows that the lack of “Passive Face Time” negatively impacts the performance evaluations of virtual or remote employees. The premise is that managers do not even realize that they are negatively rating remote workers, but these perceptions have real impact on promotions, pay raises, layoffs, etc.

The perception stems from two (2) types of “Passive Face Time”. The first type is called “Expected Face Time”. Employees physically being in the office during normal working hours; interacting with their peers and managers.

The second type is called “Extracurricular Face Time”. This is when employees come in early, stay late, work weekends, and beyond normal business hours. According to the study, it turns out that your peers and managers DO notice that effort, and it impacts the overall perception of your work.

Make sure you attend all Company-Sponsored events, like cookouts and holiday parties so the employees can match your name with your face.  Also I highly recommend putting your profile picture on all of your presentations and documents so those reading them can link your face to your work.  This makes for a powerful connection in the organization.

Can a Social Business Platform can help alter these perceptions?

When I read this story, I had mixed emotions.  Since I work from home full time now, I realized I am susceptible to these perceptions from my manager(s) that I do not work the long hours commensurate with my profession.  Now, since I do Social Collaboration for a living, I already follow some basic tenets to ensure my peers and managers have positive “Passive Face Time” interactions with me.   

Those of you who are Remote Workers, new to Social Collaboration,  and your company has deployed a Social Business Platform, you have the opportunity to increase your “Passive Face Time” with others in the company. If your company does not have a Social Business Platform, you can still utilize some of the tips below, but it might be more difficult as the various tools and technologies won’t be centralized and linked together.

So here are some of my tips to make sure you Remote Workers remain visible and on the mind of your peers, manager(s), and company leadership:

Intranet & Key Personal

  1. Find out who the Corporate Communications personal are that are responsible for internal communications. “FOLLOW” them on the Social Software Platform.
  2. If Corporate Communications are not using the Social Business Platform, ask how you can receive as many email alerts and notifications as possible pertaining to internal communications. This way you stay aware and can comment on corporate news and events.
  3. Ask how your Blog posts can be prominently featured on the corporate Intranet.
  4. Suggest starting a featured Blog, Video Blog or Newsletter on the corporate Intranet so your thought-leadership can be seen by the masses.

Corporate Profiles

  1. Make sure you put a current picture on your corporate profile.
  2. Fill out as much information on your profile; Projects, skills, interests, etc.
  3. Search out and “Follow” as many of the leadership in the company so in the event they post, you will be notified and can comment on their postings

Groups, Communities, Spaces, etc.

  1. Learn how to be a valuable Community Manager & Community Member.
  2. Use non-working time to learn these skills from sources on the Internet, and ask the Enterprise Community Manager and other Community Managers for resources on learning this key organizational skill.
  3. Create Communities and Groups that focus on important topics.  Invite others to join from beyond your immediate peer group.
  4. Make sure your manager is either part of the community or knows of your efforts.
  5. Join other communities, being able to participate and provide value.  Post frequently various stories, videos, and images that are important to the community or group members, soliciting discussions and conversations.
  6. Ask your manager how the role of Community Manager and organizational contributor can be part of your annual performance objectives.
  7. DOCUMENT all your efforts and provide Quarterly status reports to your manager.

Discussions, Posts, Walls, Videos, Q&A

  1. Post Questions on important topics, topics that impact the company, and solicit large numbers of peers to answer and comment.
  2. Do NOT settle for 1 or 2 reply answers. Keep pushing for more participation, even if you have to ask for additional verification of answers to questions posted by your peers.
  3. Once the thread has some good content, share the thread and email your manager(s), inserting the link to the discussion. Ask for additional POV, advice and opinions on the topic and thread.
  4. Author and contribute in as many business-centric discussion threads as possible.
  5. Engage with other managers as well as your peers in order to build a reputation as someone who has knowledge on multiple topics.
  6. Post answers and comments often, making sure to share your POV with as many peers as possible.
  7. Be slightly provocative in your engagements. Be highly respectful and make sure your points are well sourced, but CHALLENGE conventional points of view, and admit when you’re wrong.  This will build your thought leadership skills, and the perceptions from leadership is you are always looking to improve on conventional thought.
  8. When posting, answering, and commenting…use [@]Mention as much as possible and link back to previous posts from other managers and Sr. Leadership. Do not just mention them to mention them…make sure the mentions are in context to the conversation, otherwise you will be seen in a negative manner (aka, butt kisser)
  9. Ensure the TIMESTAMPS of your posts indicate your sharing, learning, collaborating is taking place throughout the day.
  10. Email those who are not using the Social Business Platform about the discussions, invoking their participation and feedback.
  11. Create and Post Videos about relevant company topics, making sure to use your face somewhere in the video. If possible have peers contribute their POV to the video too, perhaps even create departmental videos.
  12. Mark all of your valuable and important discussions as “favorites” in the Social Business Platform so you can find them quickly when it comes time to prepare for your Performance Reviews.

In Closing…

Now I know this seems like tons of extra work, and it is, but if you agree with the findings of the MIT-Sloan study, the rewards will be worth the time invested. One key finding from the MIT-Sloan study indicated:

“Managers were 9% more likely to unconsciously attribute the traits “dependable” and “responsible” to people who put in expected face time and 25% more likely to unconsciously attribute the traits “committed” and “dedicated” to people who put in extracurricular face time”

They key point is; if you work remotely and want to improve your value within the company, being digitally visible will make a difference.  I think if you’re able to demonstrate your participation to the overall organizational knowledge pool, then you might find yourself tagged a “High Valued Employee”, even if you are hardly in the office.

So good luck and remember it can pay to…  “WORK OUT LOUD”

*If anyone has other tips and tricks, please put them in the comments section, and I will expand the list accordingly.

Today’s Social Business, we need “SIMPLE” and all about the “Me”

Social Business Programs have not penetrated the enterprise to many factions outside of Global Marketing and perhaps segments of the IT organization. In fact what aspects of Social Business tenets penetrate, does not remain a sustainable and viable usage over time. Early excitement gives way to frustration and a sense that to be more collaborative, open, sharing requires far too many complex processes, and seemingly lacks focus on the “Me”. My needs, my desires to make work simpler, to be able to “Work out Loud”[1]

SocialBiz_roadsign-1In almost every company, Social Business or Social Collaboration was brought into the enterprise through the IT department. Since IT is seen as an operating function or worse a utility, all new technologies must undergo financial scrutiny to ensure there is a Return on Investment for the efforts. For early Social practitioner such as myself, we were forced to tell a story how Social could provide productivity gains or some other cost cutting effort in order to get business case approvals and have a chance to sell the organizational strategy CxO and various leadership teams.

Thankfully, that has now changed to some degree. With all the press coverage and analysts coverage on the anticipated and recognized value of Social Media inside and outside the enterprise, perceptions for financial ROI as the sole benefit for deploying Social Business programs have slowly evolved.  The leadership in many companies are more willing to invest in Social Software and Social Programs without that explicit ROI.  However Social Software and Social programs have still not penetrated enterprises like many thought would happen by this time.

I think part of that is due to the IT organization leading the charge, and thus Social is thought of as another tool in the arsenal of which too many tools already exists. IT is infamous for solving problems with tools, and not solutions. That argument however is for another post. Smile

In my opinion Social Software Vendors have NOT introduced holistic solution to the enterprise which makes it SIMPLE to collaborate across the entire organization or within smaller groups. Nor have they focused the efforts of the “Me”.

The “Me” is to tailor the Social Platform solution to really make it easy and simple to reach out to “You”, to then expand that to the “We”, and maybe to all of “Us” in terms of providing an easy way to collaborate from the one to the many inside and outside the enterprise.

For a Social Business it all starts with the “Me”

As I have built Social Business Programs, the repeatable observation is that the individual begins the process:

of sharing,

of informing,

of teaching,

of learning,

of collaborating,

of trusting,

of innovating

of working out loud..

I look at this as the “ME”-“YOU”-“WE”-“US” effect Social has in the human process of building and cultivating relationships.

As the individual cannot accomplish much on their own, the “Me” expands to include “You”, helping to build those connections, those emotional ties to the co-worker. As I build the relationship with another individual, I start to share ideas, opinions are formed, reformed, and if the relationship flourishes, trust begins to grow. This can be multiplied over and over throughout many areas of the organization as I build out my network.

The next level expands to include “We”, those of us in the team, or department, or business unit or function. Our building of trust is the key in establishing relationships which become the foundation of a Social Business. Expanding my network to include new persons to which I must build relationships to get work done.  I look to form close working ties in order to accomplish tasks, but still want to build trusting bonds to be able to share my ideas, to inform, teach, learn, and hopefully improve myself and my stature in the organization.

In the “We” stage, leadership is absolutely critical to set the tone for how employees can work together, and how a positive culture is cultivated that rewards sharing, learning, teaching, mentoring and overall acceptance of new ideas.

The co-creation for the “Us” can occur across the enterprise when individual stakeholders feel a level of comfort in espousing their opinions, facts, and points-of-view to internal and external stakeholders. The “Us” looks to build a culture that exhibits rapid and accurate decision-making processes, while leveraging the collective energy and efforts of the organization. Be creating these feedback channels can then be inserted into the co-creation process, this reinforces the “Me” to continually look to improve my value to the company knowing my efforts to improve myself, my peers, and my organization are not going to result in negative reactions and pressures from peers and leadership.

Social is not SIMPLE

In the early days we had several niche vendors selling the concepts of Social Software. Emergent software and technologies that paved the way to building the more well-known vendors we have today; Yammer, Salesforce, Jive, SocialCast, IBM, etc. These vendors have taken the software model to an introductory level and have all done a good job of promoting the ideas that Social Software could provide. We now see the consolidation of social platform vendors being gobbled up by bigger fish to empower their own offerings as the Social Software space matures. These vendors as I said did a good job, but something is still missing. Vendors have been building software, but what they need to build are “Solutions” that provide a simple method to co-create !

Recall how we heard all this talk on how email was going away. How a few companies banned email, how social was better than email (it is!), or how email really depressed the collaboration energies inside companies (it can)…  But no one addressed the obvious…email is easy. Email is a tool that you know exactly what you can do and expect from its use. The fact is Email just works!

So why have the masses not moved on from using email?

Because being Social is NOT SIMPLE!

The sheer amount of social software from vendors is pretty extensive, but the overall ease of which a single employee can simply extract value from socially collaborating with others is still challenging. This can attributed to the lack of standards in how Social Software works, and NOT enough focus on the Social Program’s Solutionin terms of impacting the set of processes necessary to produce collaborative relationships.

Where is the concept of integrating the elements of social into the day-in-the-life processes for the sole worker to solve a problem, aka Social Program Solution? Really focusing on how workers completed tasks, collaborated, shared information in a very simple descriptive way will be the way to bring wide scale adoption and profound use of these Social Programs.

SIMPLE - graphic

I think there is a lack of focus on solving the physical and mental efforts required by individuals to change the way they work. Social Software vendors have missed out on this, but hopefully, vendors are going to be quick to catch-up. They need to make things SIMPLE. 

“Social platforms need to be fully integrated into the employees processes to provide less effort in being collaborative.”

How Social is not SIMPLE today

Why Social is Not Simple

So this has employees asking

What is the deal?” …..”I thought Social technology/platforms was to solve all this finding stuff, being able to reach out to people stuff and make my life easier…?”

“This Is So FrustratingBetter to just send the email in the first cryingasianbabyplace, or maybe just call them on the phone, assuming they answer…Why does IT keep sticking tools out there that don’t work like I need them to?”

So again I have to ask in looking at the above real world scenarios, where is having and using Social Software making anything really that much easier?

From my point of view, email is still the best, fastest, and most secure method to collaborate, even if it has many limitations.

Now don’t just think putting some email plugin is the answer.  I think the ability to be “Social”, sharing information, content, whatever you want to share, comment, post needs to be available from any application, any browser session, anyplace, on any device. For Social to become part of the DNA of the corporate worker, Social needs to be easy, needs to be simple, have almost no boundaries.  Long term changes in behaviors are often accelerated from the path of least resistence…although reward and recognition are just as important.

Making it SIMPLE for “Me”

The time has come for Social Software Vendors to rethink their strategy to make the Social platforms SIMPLE and easy to use, and focusing that simplification for “Me”. Speaking to employees, they continually are frustrated as the communication on how this new way to collaborate would improve their work lives, increase their ability to participate with new ideas, and help the company. After a short time however, the shine is replaced with tarnish as the reality sinks in that this new way to work increases their efforts, can be confusing, and in the end really changes little across the organization.

[1] Bryce Williams, Eli Lilly

Attending without Attending…Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2012 – Day 1

I have always enjoyed attending the E2 conference, whether conducting workshops, sessions, or just as an observer in how companies are undertaking the journey that transforms their companies in how work gets done.  I have often said this transformation is like “herding tigers” and that “these tigers bite” which indicates the core changes necessary to bring about the change needed for an open, sharing, learning organization.  Breaking down the “command-and-control” structures, moving from “management” to “coaching and mentoring” is something that can find great resistance in companies.

This week is the infamous Enterprise 2.0 Conference, which has been held in Boston, MA for the past 4-5 years.  The conference is now all about “Social.” Social Media, Social Business, Social Listening, Social Analytics….you get the idea.  No matter how or what you call it Social has become synonymous with “Learning, Sharing, Trust, Innovation, Information, Mobile, Digital, and now Business.” The latest naming edition of this is today called “Social Business”.

The E2 Conference is where most of the thought leadership and vendors come to demonstrate the maturity of Social initiatives and their respective platforms.  It is where we learn of success and try to learn from mistakes and failures, so we can avoid them in our own Social journey within our respective enterprises.

Tuesday, June 19th was the kickoff key note presentations beginning with Wells Fargo telling their story of social strategy, Nike talking about collaboration and the “journey with no finish line” (great quote), American Airlines speaking on how they are building a mobile application into business value, Fed-Ex talking about Gamification, and ended with Michael Wu presenting a very cool experiment on influencers by using a experimental hashtag “#E2Exp” to capture notes from the conference participants…..NO, I was not even mentioned my friends…I guess I have to wait until the next social experiment to become an “influencer”

In all there were some great moments from the Day 1 Keynotes and Twitter streams.  Here are some quotes I found that I liked:

“Culture eats Strategy for Lunch”  (oldie but a goodie)

“Strategy *does* eventually eat culture. Only if Culture is “cooked” the right way

“Different roles collaborate in different ways.” Must have broad definition of collaboration”

“IMO, Collaboration is just a word…”context” is the definition”

“Your smart phone has more computing power than the whole world in 1950”

“Too much twitter stream to follow…good example of too much of a good thing can equal nothing”

“….and the Quote of the E2Conf so far by Eugene Lee, CEO of Socialtext who tweeted this gem  “Only two industries call their customers users — drug dealers and IT.”

The diversity of attendees at the conference, clearly shows “Social Business” has gone viral into organizations, but many executives, managers, and even employees still are unsure how to tap into or deal with the changes to the culture Social can unleash.  These emergent technologies drive the digitization of information and people, which affects processes.   There are many good points to becoming a Social Business, but there can be many pitfalls to avoid, as the openness of information can expand existing sentiments of retaliation, mistrust, and pessimism into a corporate culture.  It is key for your organization to understand and plot this journey with “no finishing line” (another excellent quote from Day 1) in order to provide true business value and have positive impact on culture.

This year I was unable to attend the E2 Conference, where I had in the past, but this year there were so many backchannel discussions that it made me feel as if I were actually there.  This is the power of social networks, social conversations, and bringing a contextual conversation to people no matter where they are located.

One person who I was tweeting with invited me to contact him and chat offline. In fact, another good friend of mine, Claire Flanagan, who is attending and presenting at the conference asked me after all my tweets, re-tweets, and comments:

That my friends is the power of “Social.”

More to come from E2 Boston…

The Consumerization of IT…putting IT Departments back on Offense

Inside IT: Consumerization

Can the Consumerization of IT (COIT), which many CIOs are not happy to embrace, actually change the perception of IT Departments and “save IT” from remaining a “utility” in the minds of the business?   Will COIT put IT Departments back on offense, providing strategic vision for the business?

What is wrong with IT Departments?

Why do they need saving?

IT once used to be thought of as having great knowledge and influence on the business models of companies.  When the Internet boom was ongoing, it was IT who was able to provide the brain trust to expand the use of the Internet to drive expansion into the new market of online sales.   Back then IT was able to drive technology and innovation into a business asset.   When the Internet was just coming of age as a new marketplace of information, ideas, products and services, IT Departments were key to helping the business understand the playing field.


I often speak of how IT used to the “offensive-minded” in nature.  How during the Dot.com boom, IT departments were strategically linked to the business.  Then after the collapse,  IT had become “defensive-minded”, moving to a utility-like function; like a light switch…”turn it on, who cares how it works..just give me light”  was the business’s demand.

IT became its own worst enemy.  IT went from being strategic to being a utility, partially due to the false promises many made during the IT Dot.Com boom.  Requesting tens of millions from budgets on upgrades, expansions, etc, focusing on the technology without enough linkage back to the business objectives.  Not to say it was wrong, everyone was doing it, but IT paid the price when the boom collapsed.

IT departments, looked at as experts in the Internet and accompanying technologies did not do enough to qualify objectives with the business, but promised unrealistic results if the business invested by revamping all the applications, infrastructures, networks, data centers, and employees computers.

Now the build-out of the Infrastructure was a good thing, as IT laid the foundation for the e-commerce we have today, but the toll on internal IT departments was unmistakable.  CIOs lost their spot at the executive “table”, now reporting to the CFO or COO.  IT Departments were told to just “keep the lights on”, maintaining legacy systems, and becoming the department of NO, reducing costs, being “efficient”.  That dreaded word which to IT folks means “no strategic value”!

In 2003, Harvard Business Review published their infamous article “Why IT Doesn’t”t Matter Anymore”.  In this paper, the author, Nicholas G. Carr shows how technology went from less than 5% of capital budgets in the mid 1960’s, to over 50% by the end of the 1990’s.  So has IT budgets and expenditures grew over the decades, each company was able to benefit from the improvements in technology.

This phenomenon showed how IT lost it differentiator effect, yet bore costs to all within the business.  Adding to that was ITs penchant for throwing technology at business problems without fully understand what the business needed.  The terminology…or “IT-Speak” frequently confuses the business, and I have seen an overall lack of trust from the business towards IT.  In return, business leadership began to view IT as moving from innovator to caretaker.

In 2003, Nicholas said “With the opportunities for gaining strategic advantage from information technology rapidly disappearing, many companies will want to take a hard look at how they invest in IT and manage their systems. As a starting point, here are three guidelines for the future:”

1. Spend less. Studies show that the companies with the biggest IT investments rarely post the best financial results. As the commoditization of IT continues, the penalties for wasteful spending will only grow larger. It is getting much harder to achieve a competitive advantage through an IT investment, but it is getting much easier to put your business at a cost disadvantage.

2. Follow, don’t lead.Moore’s Law guarantees that the longer you wait to make an IT purchase, the more you’ll get for your money. And waiting will decrease your risk of buying something technologically flawed or doomed to rapid obsolescence. In some cases, being on the cutting edge makes sense. But those cases are becoming rarer and rarer as IT capabilities become more homogenized.

3. Focus on vulnerabilities, not opportunities. It’s unusual for a company to gain a competitive advantage through the distinctive use of a mature infrastructural technology, but even a brief disruption in the availability of the technology can be devastating. As corporations continue to cede control over their IT applications and networks to vendors and other third parties, the threats they face will proliferate. They need to prepare themselves for technical glitches, outages, and security breaches, shifting their attention from opportunities to vulnerabilities….Excerpted with permission from “IT Doesn’t Matter,” Harvard Business Review, Vol. 81, No. 5, May 2003.

So at the time he was correct.  IT had diminished on its strategic advantage claims, but there was one effect Nicholas G. Carr did not foresee, (nor anyone else).  With the advent of mobile devices led by Apple, 3G and 4G/LTE wireless speeds, the plethora of mashup-type applications, the Internet itself became a total application platform…The new Consumerization of IT within companies..

Today,  mobile devices gives enormous power to everyone who has one, turning them into the power consumer has never before.  Business operates at the speed of  posts, replies, likes, befriending, blogs, etc…with one tweet from the right digital source your product line can accelerate to unprecedented heights.  Mobile devices and consumer-oriented applications like social networking have shown the business what is possible, what you can do with technology.

All of these events and advances in digitization of information has now provided IT departments with the ability to become extremely relevant again. Where the build out of infrastructure gave new life blood into organizations during the Dot com boom, the Consumerization of IT will put IT departments back in the Strategic column for businesses.

So while some IT executives shy away from these new technologies and capabilities, I see tremendous opportunity for IT to be relevant again!

How Do CIOs perceive COIT?

From a recent Compuware Study, CIOs have demonstrated great concern and fear on how to manage COIT in the enterprise:

  • 77% of CIOs worry that further consumerization of IT will lead to greatly increased business risks
  • A lack of transparency into the performance of cloud and SaaS providers is currently reversing IT maturity across 64% of enterprises
  • 64% of CIOs say support for employee mobility is almost impossible due to reliance on external networks, making it much harder to control performance and the end-user experience
  • The consumerization of IT trend is already driving unrealistic expectations around role of IT in 74% of enterprises
  • 64% of CIOs say that enterprise mobility projects forging ahead without the full involvement of IT


CIOs are saying they see the COIT phenomenon more of a Business Risk, but I see it more of an opportunity.  For several years we have read report after report on how CIOs and IT departments were misaligned with the business (Google search returned almost 3.5 million results on this alone).  From Forrester, Gartner, and many other analysts, all espousing how CIOs and IT need to adjust their operating model to account for the greater lack of control they are seeing as the end-users make more and more demands. 

The concept of COIT is forcing root changes in the consumption & delivery models IT departments have delivered over the past 20 years, and that effect will not change.  In fact Gartner says in their BYOC publication (The Impact of BYOC on Management and Support 11 October 2011 | ID:G00217772), that

“IT should not manage what IT does not own — specifically, the hardware, personal operating system (OS) and personal apps on BYOC systems. IT should support only what it can fully control, which should be the basis for appropriate tools and infrastructure.”

I do not think IT can “manage” what it does not own in terms of technology & infrastructure, but at the same time, IT needs to be very clear in how this message is delivered to the business.  As new technology emerges in the marketplace, and employees adopt and embrace this new technology, IT Departments and CIOs will have continuous battle in explaining how the business benefits of new technology cannot be leveraged by an archaic IT Operational model that does not deliver benefits at the speed necessary.

In almost every company, there is the “Black-ops IT” or sometimes referred to “Shadow-IT”.  Meaning employees bringing in and using technology without the tacit approvals and consent of IT departments.  Too often those ‘shadow” technologies which have shown great business benefit become part of the normal or accepted technologies, as it would be impossible to remove them without some Sales or Engineering group claiming they would cost the company lost revenue or increase costs.

Historically, what has IT done when faced with that type of pushback?…relent, cave-in, and undertake the monumental effort of normalizing such rogue technology and adding it to the portfolio of applications\technology IT supports and manages.

I have seen over the years dozens of examples of mobile devices, servers, applications used under the table (literally), that have delivered true value, yet never sanctioned.  In fact, at one company a salesman bought servers off eBay, when he could not get his business case approved…a business case where IT gave him pricing for hardware….he simply went to eBay and made his purchasing, then declared how IT was useless and wrought with expense….

Again, looking at how these “Black-op” technologies enter the workspace, they are often very cheap, free, require no formal training, and can return results very quickly.  Business employees look towards IT, with its strict controls, processes, and habitual saying “NO”, and declare.. “IT is useless’”.  Unless IT Departments want to ONLY regal themselves to managing network bandwidth, regulatory\compliance, governance, and other administrative duties, the CIO needs to find another model.

Before talking about this new model, lets look at an excellent example of how Consumerization effect is impacting CIOs and IT Departments.  In order to change this, there needs to be a fundamental transformation in how IT operates.  As the business is introduced to new technologies, adopted from the public space, IT can either remain the Operating Function of “NO”, or become the voice of possibilities,  by preparing itself for this phenomenon, and moving its Infrastructure and Security architectures to enabling mobility and Internet Applications, in effect putting the “Shadow-IT” into the light.

So how does IT go back on the “Offensive”? Providing that strategic edge to organizations when technology is no longer a competitive advantage?

…The competitive advantage is now in the desire and attitude of the CIO and IT department to become more agile, open to embrace new ideas, while providing the portfolio of services the business expects.

1. Change the IT culture inward and outward…The CIO and IT leadership must create an atmosphere of change, flexibility, and openness.  How the CIO does this is by communicating the business model IT works within, the financial\technology cost per user, and to encourage all IT staff to find ways to be innovative every day.   It sounds silly, but attitude and transparency can go a long way to build confidence and relationship with the business.

Accommodate the velocity of change the business embraces, and have a good IT-marketing plan to show the business your taking steps to be more creative and agile, which will go a long way as IT requests investment to build out the consumerization capabilities the business is asking

2. Communicate the mission… to the IT Staff and business stakeholder.  Hold town halls and meetings to clearly communicate the intention to embrace in manageable quantities Consumerization of Technology.  If outsourced, work with your outsourcing partners to ensure the IT business model can accommodate the benefits of consumerization, and if you need to make changes to the outsourcing contract, look for ways to improve the offering to the company.  If in-sourced, look for quick wins and simple ways to improve the offering of IT,  looking to improve collaboration and roadmap sharing within the IT teams.  COIT efforts must be embraced across the IT department.

Publish road-maps to the organization and stick to the timelines.

Transparency to the other CxO leadership would be a great way to showcase IT’s willingness to be open, accommodating, yet still provide the core services necessary for the business to operate.

Pick teams in the business who are the most ardent requesters of consumerization capabilities and use them as pilot subjects.  Have open discussions, respecting the security and capability aspect of the request.  Show examples of good and bad consumerization technologies, and how it affects the company.

3. Be technologically flexible…Virtualization is one way to offer a private cloud to the business.  Utilizing existing Storage Area Networks or attached storage which is underutilized can offer alternatives to external cloud offerings.  Perhaps have multiple levels of  SLA’s for enterprise applications, have flexible data center operational options to keep the costs down to the business, yet provide consumer-like functionality.  Provide Mobile Device Management Infrastructures to help the business with using consumer devices…

Remember, the business only sees technology as a utility, so IT needs to think from the business perspective…Being agnostic to specific technologies may help drive agility for IT departments and promote their “offensive-minded” capabilities.

When refreshing old technology, think Security coupled with Consumerization!

4. Review & Adjust Policies\Procedures…Review current usage policies and security models to provision for consumerization and BYOD models..Make adjustments where necessary…This does not mean to throw out security and risk management practices, but craft solutions for a balanced approach…Let’s face it, IT does not bend, then users will simply go to the Shadows…

Consumerization is a reality now!…

Forrester did a survey in Q3-2011[Consumerization Drives Smartphone Proliferation, by Ted Schadler], asking 1,663 technology workers, a series of questions specifically on consumerization mobility…and found some very interesting points:

Q. “How did you choose the primary smartphone you use for work?”

A. 48% of those surveyed chose their mobile device WITHOUT considering what their organization supports….23% had no choice…

Q. “Who paid for the primary smartphone you use for work?”

A. 48% said they paid for their own devices….41% said the company paid for the device…9% indicated a shared expense.

Q. “Who pays the monthly bill for the primary smartphone you use for work?”

A. 40% said they paid the monthly charges…46% indicated the company picked up the bill….14% said it was a shared expense.

– 58% of all Smartphone usage in the enterprise was NON-Blackberry devices.

So clearly, the consumerizational aspect is in the enterprise now!  The above survey is for mobile devices, and I think laptops should also be part of the BYOD discussion, as well as Private cloud offerings for enterprise applications.

How the CIO and IT departments prepare and craft their services to the business will be paramount to the resurgence of IT in the organization.  There is really no other choice however….Should CIOs and IT refuse to embrace this phenomenon, what is their future then?

No, I think Consumerization of IT is a gift for CIOs and IT departments, and now is the time to accept the challenge, and for IT to re-establish itself as a strategic enabler and becomes the “offensive-minded” differentiators to the business it used to be.