Dreamforce 2011: Should IT love or loathe the ‘social enterprise’?

The 'social enterprise' might sound like a nice idea, but what does it mean for the IT department?

BT is a prime example of how a major business can get in trouble for tracking down customers. When the telecoms giant found customers online who mentioned the BT name and subsequently approached them, it came under fire from some corners.

In asking IT to enable the social enterprise, chief execs could be placing their own position on the line.

If companies using social monitoring software start to get a bad rap for tracking down users, IT, as is often the case with anything involving computers, could get the blame.

The dangers of letting workers loose

Letting workers share across social services also presents companies with security issues, as well as potentially corrosive in-house problems.

As vendors like Salesforce.com start to enable worker interaction with customers outside of the business, with features such as private groups within Chatter, IT will have to keep a close eye on what data is being shared. Such technologies provide evident boons for customer service, but they also open up another hole for intellectual property to disappear through. The insider threat is not disappearing.

This threat could manifest itself in another, more pernicious form too. CEO Marc Benioff repeatedly said the Arab Spring showed how social networks were empowering change. This could apply to the business world with a "Corporate Spring," where CEOs are deposed because they aren't serving customers well enough, according to Salesforce.com's chief.

The idea sounds fairly positive, but you can't ignore the fact that social media is empowering workers to hurt their employers, whether intentionally or not. To use an equally hyperbolic comparison as Benioff's, look at how Twitter and Facebook helped the London rioters mobilise. What if workers are collaborating over social networks in a way that is detrimental to the business?

As the insurance guy we spoke to said, Salesforce.com services "let sales guys share their stupid ideas."

"They can share stupid ideas in other ways, but in these systems it's permanent," he said.

Taking the analogy to another level, workers could start a mutiny via social media, possibly where one is not needed for positive business change.

In this way, in asking IT to enable the social enterprise, chief execs could be placing their own position on the line.

Don't deny the social enterprise

Outside of the evident problems for IT, the dawn of the social enterprise is not just a marketing slogan for Salesforce.com, it also carries some truth. Companies will move to more social models and IT will be asked to support that.

Rather than fighting it, IT would do well to show C-level executives how they can help create a truly social enterprise. By knowing about the right technology, be it Salesforce.com's or not, IT can place itself at the heart of a shift in business culture, rather than anger colleagues by saying no.

"The more frustration there is amongst workers the more CIOs will be forced to open up to become a social enterprise," said Stefan Ried, principal analyst at Forrester.

"There will be failures, there will be companies of course that do become social enterprises, whether with Salesforce.com or something else."

We are living in a more social decade, in a digital sense. IT managers will rightly be concerned about the rise of the social enterprise, but they can ensure its success too.

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