Message to old guard: Accept social business

Like BYOD, social networking tools can be valuable at work, and denying it will only hurt IT's ability to control its use

I've never been shy regarding my position on enterprise social networking tools: I don't like them. And my readers have not been shy about beating me up about it. I consider most of these tools to be time-wasters, not collaboration enhancers. I say that with all sincerity because I've seen the ugly side of tools like Yammer where folks post all sorts of foolish junk rather than using these tools for business. In many industries, the addition of Facebook-like enterprise social networking tools adds to the lack of productivity.

I know, I know -- how dare I want employees to go to work and be productive?! The reader comments for this story will no doubt crush me for that last statement. Of course everyone reading this post enjoys going to work and being productive, so my skepticism over enterprise social doesn't apply to you, just everyone else.

[ InfoWorld's Galen Gruman says that business social tech fails precisely because it tries to be social. | Stay atop key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

I recognize that many people disagree with me. For example, Microsoft recently released a report entitled "Bring your own service: Employees want social tools at work, despite company restrictions and hesitation" that shows half of all employees say "social tools at work help increase their productivity." The survey was done for Microsoft by a third-party research firm Ipsos, which polled nearly 10,000 information workers in 32 different countries. The highlights:

  • 46 percent say, "My productivity has greatly or somewhat increased because of my use of social tools."
  • 34 percent say, "My management underestimates the benefits of social tools in the workplace."
  • 37 percent say, "I could do my job better if my organization's management was more supportive of the use of social tools."

The report also shows that nearly 30 percent of employees have ignored IT policy and installed social tools on their work computers or work smartphones. On those numbers, I cannot help but feel personally frustrated as an IT administrator. What it means is that IT admins need to spend more time locking down devices to ensure policy is enforced because they cannot trust their people to abide by policies.

However, the survey also brought out compelling data that corporate decision makers need to consider. For example, 31 percent of employees said they would "be willing to spend my own money on a new tool if it made me more efficient at my job."

Much like the BYOD push has led to a whole new world (whether IT administrators like it or not), it's clear that employees are willing to bring their own services and their own devices. If so many employees are willing to violate company policy and/or pay for the services themselves, perhaps it's time to consider a better path going forward. Would you rather force your people to sneak around to be more productive, or would you prefer to embrace the changing workforce and help control it (as with BYOD)?

One comment in the survey really stood out to me: "Enterprise social is the new cornerstone of workplace collaboration that addresses the changing nature of work. Done right, it can drive significant business value by improving how employees connect, share information, and work across teams and geographies." The key phrase here is "done right."

Obviously, there are social tools worth considering. I just read on Twitter (ironic, I know) about the Worldwide Water Cooler, a hub for people everywhere to discuss workplace collaboration -- and the social tools to enable it. Sometimes those tools become so popular (like Yammer) that they get pulled into bigger tools like SharePoint.

The value of tools like SharePoint is that they give you the IT administrator a piece that can integrate easily into your existing environment while providing all the tools needed to ensure secured, controllable use of these tools.

When it comes to business social tools, it may that the best defense is a good offense. IT should stop opposing enterprise social (not necessarily embrace it) and instead control it so that it's done right. Perhaps it should even deploy it to assure that control.

I may not like the BYO notion for devices or services, but to avoid being labeled a dinosaur in the ever-changing workplace, it is time I raise the white flag and recognize that enterprise social tools are ones that many people believe they need to collaborate and communicate efficiently.

This story, "Message to old guard: Accept social business," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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