Today at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston there were a number of interesting presentations and panel discussions. One of the “debates” that stuck in my mind was the one about ROI. For this audience I think the consensus was that measuring ROI is meaningless since social media is a game changer that cannot be sensibly measured.
Social networks are, the argument goes, under the same scrutiny that the telephone was decades ago – why would you want to put a telephone on every person’s desk? People would just use it to gossip and call family and friends and hinder “real work”.
When the IBM PC (PC clones and the Lisa/Macintosh a bit later) emerged in the early 1980’s a similar discussion took place – I know, I was there on the vendor side! Department managers often had the budget privilege (cost < $10,000) to purchase PCs as productivity tools without the approval of the IT department and soon PCs were everywhere because it helped people “get the work done”. Soon networking capabilities emerged facilitating email sharing of information and for a while IT lost control of computing.
It took the 1990s for IT departments to regain overall control of “data processing” within larger corporations. Central control of licensing and distribution of software and subsequent maintenance updates put the IT department back in control. In many corporations internet filters limited how employees could access the Worldwide Wide Web.
Social media tools have changed the rules about who controls personal and corporate data. For the most part they have been free – Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others – and have simply reflected how people communicated privately with friends and family and simply applied these tools to groups of people within corporations. They just appeared because people found them useful to “get the job done”. CIOs are challenged with controlling the information flow and integrating the new concepts into the legacy IT structure.
As Elizabeth Bennett writes about trends in the June 2009 issue of cioinsight.com:
FEELING THE FEAR – but doing it anyway.
CIOs are setting aside ROI as they boldly rush into the enterprise social media fray.
She gives examples… Dell is expanding projects across divisions and Cisco and Booz Allen Hamilton are graduating from individual tools and rolling out strategic companywide platforms. And the most successful projects have at least two things in common: They were built with a key business process in mind, and predicting their ROI was not part of the equation.
She talks about the culture wars and cultural barriers that impedes adoptions at many firms and wraps up by quoting Dell CIO Robin Johnson. Johnson says his role is to enable collaboration and exploit what’s available to improve idea generation and intellectual property – safely! But sometimes that posture is out of sync with the openness these tools foster, creating another kind of clash:” Those with an audit or controls mind-set are unpopular”.
Booz Allen Hamilton’s Walton Smith talks in the article about a new generation of system integration and is adamant about the level of care and attention needed to drive adoption and usage of these new tools with change management being a big part of the budget.
Cisco’s CIO Rebecca Jacoby is quoted: “You learn you way through it. It’s not comfortable to go through that cultural change, but it is unavoidable. You just roll with it.”
Fascinating reading and I am sure we will see robust tools and platforms emerge that will integrate with current corporate legacy systems and retain the ease-of-use that have made today’s social media tools so popular.
The issues of privacy, FRCP and eDiscovery will evolve within these emerging enterprise 2.0 platforms, as the culture war between openness and control goes on.
Until then “you just roll with it”.