Modern socioeconomic drivers are changing business. As employees embrace remote working and companies look to cut costs, more organisations are trying to find ways to enable employees to work remotely without compromising their ability to access resources, collaborate or communicate with colleagues.
These changes have led to the rise of “the social business,” meaning firms which have deployed digital platforms such as intranets and internal social networks to enable their staff to communicate and collaborate more effectively, wherever they are. This is a relatively new phenomenon, but already the benefits of this approach are becoming clear to some early adopters.
Recent research from Vanson Bourne showed that 45 per cent of companies already use social media within their organisations, proving that this trend is far from just another passing fancy. In fact there are numerous long term business drivers which are fuelling demand for social technology within the enterprise.
Part of the reason for the popularity of internal social tools is that they offer the ability to share and collaborate more quickly and easily, boosting productivity in the process. Many platforms enable collaboration on documents, improving interactions between colleagues working remotely and eliminating problems with version control. Feature-rich intranets can also offer a number of tools over and above other platforms, offering features such as instant messaging, document creation and real-time collaborative editing, presence notifications and content management.
The principle of sharing is at the heart of the social movement within businesses. It unlocks a more efficient use of resources and rids businesses of the evil of duplication of effort. With intranets and internal social networks, the time-consuming report which one person has created can be posted in clear view on the sharing platform, making it available to the wider business and saving colleagues from duplicating effort by creating their own versions.
Previously this document would probably have been hidden in a folder on the network but with intelligent information architecture, resources can be made more freely available throughout the business.
Social platforms enable resource sharing extremely effectively thanks to their visibility at all levels of an organisation, and the fact that they make key resources easy to store and find for all employees. Having an online store of all important resources enables employees to access these from wherever they are, and intuitive design means access and navigation can be made quicker and simpler than searching for files on a network.
Usability is also a key factor in the uptake of internal social networks and intranets. Consumer social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have gone a long way towards familiarising users with the concept, which has enabled corporate platforms to be deployed with minimal training costs. To be successful, enterprise platforms need to make use of the same intuitive controls as the social networks that have taken over the world outside work. If an intranet or internal social network is difficult to use there is a risk that if user uptake stalls, the investment will not achieve the projected return on investment.
There is an internal communications imperative here too. Vanson Bourne’s research found that 95 per cent of senior decision makers said that effective communication with employees was important to the success of their business strategy, and furthermore three quarters (74 per cent) agreed that an intranet was important or very important in achieving this.
Social vs. email
Much has been made in some quarters of the ability of internal social communications channels to cut down on the volume of email sent within organisations. Sending, receiving and storing email has significant cost and environmental implications for businesses: carbon footprint expert Mike Berners-Lee has calculated that one year of emails in an inbox produces the same amount of CO2e as a 200-mile car journey.
The impact on businesses and the environment is growing with the volume of email predicted to rise by 13 per cent for each of the next four years according to the Radicati Group. Certainly internal social networks and intranets have a role to play as an alternative to sending email inside organisations, but for external recipients the universality of email is hard to match.
Critical success factors
The fact that businesses are choosing to invest in these technologies at a time when there is still pressure on budgets shows that they believe these solutions will be important for the future and can provide real returns in the present. But their ability to do so depends on certain critical factors being met. For example, Vanson Bourne’s research discovered that two thirds of intranet projects went over time, and more than half exceeded their budget. When implementing a new intranet or internal social network it is worth selecting a provider who can offer a fixed cost for the project to prevent problems around overspend.
Getting buy-in from key stakeholders across the business is also crucial. This should be sought at the earliest possible phase so that they can contribute to planning and development, and this in turn will engage them with the project and encourage uptake when the project goes live.
Business is changing. Companies are all looking to cut costs and increase productivity, and intranets and internal social networks are proving themselves to be highly effective solutions to these challenges. Remote working is predicted to increase in the future, and the diversifying geographic spread of the workforce will mean that collaboration and sharing become even more important.
Plenty of companies have already taken the leap into social collaboration and working, effectively future-proofing their organisations in the process. Others are yet to make best use of the technology and still have some work to do. But in the years to come we are likely to see truly social businesses take off, as more companies realise the advantages of collaboration at all levels of a business.