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Users slow to adopt enterprise social collaboration software

Enterprise social collaboration software can help employees and IT do their jobs, but companies struggle with getting workers to use the tools.

Many organizations are confused about how to get workers to use enterprise social collaboration software, but once companies figure it out, there can be huge benefits for employees and the IT department.

The statistics on social collaboration software adoption in large organizations are a conundrum. Recent Forrester research found widespread underutilization of the social tools that organizations have invested in, with 64% of companies reporting they realized few, if any, benefits from the investment. Worse, only 8% of employees actually use enterprise social collaboration software more than once a week.

On the other hand, a July 2012 survey by McKinsey & Co., a global enterprise consulting firm based in New York, insists that social networks can save organizations billions of dollars per year in time spent managing email, communicating internally and searching for information. Employees spend roughly one-third of their workweek simply dealing with email, and social collaboration software can help reduce that time by 20% to 25%, according to the analysis of 4,200 companies.

Both surveys demonstrate that while modern social and collaboration tools can be a huge benefit to productivity, most organizations don't really know how to encourage consistent adoption of those tools.

"We're getting there, but we still have a long way to go to build more work processes into [our platform]," said Jeff Ross, community manager at Humana Inc., a Louisville, Ky.-based health care company. "We're light years ahead of where we started, and I'm working with IT to grease the wheels, but they have plenty of other stuff to worry about, so it's understandable."

Humana, which has 40,000 employees working across all 50 states, has used VMware's Socialcast for about two years. In that time, its Socialcast implementation has grown to 20,000 registered users, with about half of them active in any given month.

To expand the health care company's social adoption even further, Ross said its community management team is working closely with the IT team to more tightly integrate with existing systems and applications and provide access on mobile devices.

Social at Humana isn't about replacing Microsoft's SharePoint or Outlook, but rather integrating the two as a value-added service. Putting enterprise social collaboration software, into existing employee workflows has been the one tried-and-true path for driving adoption, Ross said. 

"Why is Salesforce's Chatter so popular and used so much by employees?" asked Tony Byrne, an analyst at Real Story Group. "Because it's right there in the same tab as the CRM product that every sales employee uses every minute of every day. It's not because it's more secure or better or easier to use than other products."

While social has mainly been the province of internal employee collaboration or, in the case of the sales and marketing departments, for external use, IT staffers could one day also benefit from the organizational shift.

Enterprise social networking could easily benefit the help desk, but the ability to create structured data out of unstructured data that can be tracked, saved and audited when the need arises would also help IT, said Brad Shimmin, a social collaboration analyst at Current Analysis Inc.

All systems going social

That's just the beginning. As a result of adoption challenges presented by customers, many social platform vendors are taking a new approach to the technology beyond using it as an activity stream and communications platform.

The concept is to embed social DNA into the code of applications. It's the approach SAP, IBM, Tibco and VMware are all taking with their respective offerings, with the goal of eventually turning applications and systems into trusted and participating actors within an enterprise social network. Microsoft is also beginning to make headway with this approach by more closely integrating SharePoint, Yammer and Office 365.

For example, salespeople could follow a CRM system on Socialcast to receive updates about closing deals or other actionable events when they occur. Other possible applications could include email, calendars and news alerts for system updates or other relevant processes that look like they came from the system and not IT, Shimmin said.

This is probably a ways away from being reality, but the benefit would be enormous for IT departments. Instead of having to send out an alert when a system goes down, the system would be able to trigger an action on the social platform letting employees know that something is wrong, Shimmin said.

"The possibilities are endless," he said.

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