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Enterprise 2.0: Finding the Middleground Between Line of Business and IT

January 26, 2010

When it comes to implementing social software inside large companies, industry analysts often ask me if line of business (LOB) heads serve as more preferable buyers and advocates for these technologies than IT managers and CIOs.

The answer to the question is complex, and it’s increasingly becoming more pragmatic: You must start with LOBs if you want a social software implementation that derives meaningful business value, but you need to involve IT if you want the technology woven into the fabric of your company’s long-term architecture.

Early on in the process, LOBs unquestionably make the best champions for enterprise social software because their pain points are so plain to see. They live them everyday. A sales team loses a deal when it didn’t communicate with the right people in marketing. An engineering group lets down an existing customer because they didn’t solve her problem or question fast enough. By not having a place to ask questions openly, share expertise, and find the best people and information to do their jobs, these employees missed out on key business opportunities. The detrimental effects of these broken communication and collaboration processes cause LOB heads to recognize the merits of social software faster than most. They become the best advocates to find social software that helps them solve these specific business challenges.

But IT becomes an important player, too, especially at large companies. Obviously, they help ensure best practices around administration and security. However, since some software as a service (SaaS) offerings have matured to the point that they can handle those functions just as well, the more important role IT will play comes in the effort to make older, traditional enterprise apps social — by integrating them with the LOB’s social software platform of choice.

This middleground approach of LOB champions, coupled with involvement from IT at the appropriate times, has unfortunately not been embraced widely in the Enterprise 2.0 market. Many have opted for one extreme or the other. On one hand, you have those who ignore IT by providing free apps that require a company to pay just to get control of the domain and accounts that their employees signed up for, and traded corporate data over, without permission. That is not a freemium model; it’s a SaaS sales by extortion model.

The other model is just as ugly and even more expensive: A traditional IT-centric roll out. Most often, this social software was built with developers rather than end-users in mind. They try to forcefit new technologies into an old collaboration model, while completely ignoring open Web standards that ensure these applications can hook into others in a vendor agnostic environment. Worse, since LOBs don’t drive the selection and implementation process, you risk deploying software that they will never use to solve their business challenges. As Gartner pointed out, 70 percent of these implementations fail, and it’s really no wonder why.

So my advice is to strive for the middleground. The risk is lower, and the benefits will be both immediate and long-lasting.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2010 2:27 am

    Hi Chris. I find there’s generally always a good mixture and fairly good working relationship between the business unit managers and IT for our members. I’d say it’s more the rule than the exception. Good research question next time ’round though.

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