Most business IT projects require a return on investment (ROI) to get approved (security is sometimes an exception). How can you calculate that with a nebulous and rapidly growing area such as enterprise social networking tools? One key strategy: make sure the tool is replacing a specific and identified business process, not just being introduced in an experimental fashion.
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Chris Howell, consultant for Australian IT services firm OBS, offers up four key recommendations for ensuring enterprise social projects can be justified. There shouldn't be any huge shocks here; while social networking might seem "trendy" in a market where cloud is still seen as innovative, the basic rules don't change no matter what actual software you use. "If you focus on the technology, it's going to fail," Howell told Lifehacker. "Look at what you're trying to improve."
The challenge isn't usually in technology costs anyway (licensing is generally a fixed amount). The difficulty is in assigning a dollar value to what you do with the software. Here are Howell's suggestions to help calculate that and drive adoption.
Rule 1: Replace an existing business process. The easiest way to ensure a new enterprise social tool is adopted (rather than simply trialled and discarded) is to match it to an existing business process, then make it the sole way to enforce that process. "You've got people who are doing their day-to-day jobs and they're very protective of stuff. They need to understand why there's a change. If you don't force them, they'll try the new thing, reject it and return to what they know."
For example: If people have been collaborating over email, make the enterprise social tool the default instead. That allows broader collaboration and ensures there's a central corporate record. (You can't eliminate email, but you can set rules so that it's largely used for external communications.)
Rule 2: There is no single metric. This follows from the first rule. If there's no single purpose to enterprise social networking software, there can't be a single metric involved in measuring it.
Rule 3: You can't necessarily learn from your peers. Most businesses use ERP in the same way, but communication-centric tools vary. Don't judge yourself exclusively by what rivals and similar businesses are doing. "Requirements vary based on the area within the business and the process being transformed," Howell said. "Each solution that leverages enterprise social needs to have a defined context and must not be based on broad objectives."
Rule 4: Don't be too ambitious with project scope. ""Start small, understand what it is you want to do, and build on that," Howell suggested.
Rule 5: Make sure middle management uses it. We're often told that C-level sponsorship is crucial to IT projects, but with social tools, it's the next layer down that will usually determine whether software is actually used.