What a difference a few years makes in the perception of social media and other emerging technologies that are wildly popular among consumers though not yet mainstream in many enterprises. Three years ago I wrote a post titled "IT's role in creating rogues," in which I said IT had a role in creating "rogue" users of technologies by not being responsive enough to their needs. (To be fair to some IT organizations, they may be forced to spend much of their time keeping legacy systems going and/or putting out fires, leaving little time for anything else.)
In that post, I pointed out:
It's easy to judge IT's general opinion of users who bring consumer technologies into the workplace by the most common names assigned to those folks: "rogue" or "shadow" users.
The implication, I said, was these users were "sneaks who willfully circumvent IT, with no concern over how it might affect security or other broad corporate concerns."
Though a few early advocates of social technologies in the workplace took exception to these terms, they were widely accepted and used in the technology industry trade press. Much of the advice dispensed to IT at the time involved how to head rogue users off at the pass. Business executives too seemed to view social technologies and their users with more than a little distrust.
But as more companies derive benefits from their use of social technologies, attitudes toward social media are beginning to shift. Writing on his blog, Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler describes how Peter Hambling, CIO of Lloyd's of London went to his board of directors to make the case for using Facebook for customer communications. Lloyd's is obviously a big and traditional business, not one of the scrappy startups still most often associated with use of Enterprise 2.0 technologies.
Hambling provides a good example of getting high-level approval and support for social technologies, something that not every company does. Schadler notes a Forrester survey of more than 4,000 U.S. information workers found that 37 percent are using do-it-yourself technologies such as LinkedIn, Google Docs, Facebook and YouTube without IT's permission.
Schadler and Josh Bernoff, co-authors of the book "Empowered," don't call these "covert innovators" rogues. They call them HEROes -- highly empowered and resourceful operatives. Long before social media was a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg's eye, employees were looking for better ways to do their jobs and not always with an official corporate blessing. As Schadler says:
Incremental innovation and process improvements have always come from those closest to the problem. It's the basis of kaizen, a system where employees continually improve manufacturing processes. It's also a founding principle of Six Sigma - tap employees' relentless, incremental quality improvements.
While some IT organizations offer tacit approval by taking a "don't ask, don't tell" approach, that is bound to create some bumps in the road along the way to successful adoption of social technologies. Writing on Forbes, Dan Woods lists lack of executive sponsorship as one of 10 corporate social media mistakes. In reading through the list -- stopping change management too soon, not setting clear expectations with executives and failing to establish specific goals are among the other mistakes -- a big theme that emerges is of companies taking a mostly unstructured approach to social technologies.
I guess that's not surprising considering that, in so many cases, social technologies are left largely to the users with IT assuming a peripheral role at best. I attribute this to lots of different factors, but I think there's fear from both users and IT that too much interference will somehow queer the deal and hurt use of social technologies. The key is finding an approach lightweight enough to be a help rather than a hindrance.
As Schadler writes:
It's all well and good to have employees solving customer problems. But chaos and rogue (me: there's that word again) behavior is not OK. So to identify the employee initiatives that are worth pursuing and figure out how to make them safe and enterprise-grade, your IT organization needs to get involved.
Identifying and then facilitating appropriate uses of social technologies is a good way for IT to demonstrate real business value (and not incidentally for it to improve its relationship with business users). As Schadler writes, some companies like Lloyd's are developing what he calls the HERO Compact. Three groups, HEROes, IT and managers, are involved in these compacts. Their responsibilities:
I've already mentioned how Lloyd's CIO' Peter Hambling made a case for social technologies directly to his board of directors. Some other key illustrations of how Lloyd's uses this kind of a compact: Hambling works closely with Marcus Aldrick, the company's chief information security officer. IT staff works side-by-side with business employees. Teams of IT and business employees work together on social solutions. IT built applications that use an interactive map to help business employees better understand some of the risks associated with social technologies.