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Social' is in

Dahnesh Dilkhush , Director, Collaboration Business (ITeS & BFSI), Cisco India and SAARC

The way we work has undergone tremendous change over the years. Globalisation has enabled organisations to tap into talent pools world over and reach new markets. Technology has provided today's workforce with tools to interact in new ways and share knowledge. Consumer-based collaboration applications (Facebook) are being used for business interactions while various Web 2.0 technologies provide employees access and input to more information, content, and expertise. Mobility meanwhile has changed when, where, and how people work.

Today's employees are always connected and demand use of their own devices at work. The need to connect and use a device of choice is so ingrained into the workforce that the Cisco Connected World Technology Report indicates more than 40% of college students and young employeesÂ’ willingness to accept a lower-paying job with flexibility in device choice and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility.

Global internet traffic is expected to be 1.3 zettabytes by 2016. Combined with the proliferation of tablets, smartphones that use the internet, there will be nearly 18.9 billion network connections and 3.4 billion internet users. Gartner predicts that by 2014, social networking services will replace email as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communi- cations for 20% of business users. A report by Nielson indicates that social media in India will likely touch 45 million users by end of 2012.

Clearly collaboration has emerged as top priority for the workforce of today and the ability to extend the worker desktop to the mobile device has become a strategic differentiator for organisations. Traditional document- and text-centric technologies are no longer enough to drive innovation and productivity. Collaboration now encompasses video and voice capabilities while social networking bridges the divide between text and rich-media-centric tools.

Given the above, enterprises need to manage a number of complexities that pose new risks for security and compliance. With dispersed teams across the globe bringing in a less personal, more asynchronous way of working, organisations are challenged with managing information and content overload, maintaining accuracy and relevance, so employees connect with the right content and expertise, when they need it.

Social software appears to have eclipsed email as a preferred online activity and sparked an "age of participation," in which people/employees have more power. Organisations acknowledge the transformational power of social networking to increase knowledge sharing among the workforce, improve customer care initiatives and increase customer retention through external-facing platforms that invite participation. Many encourage their workers to chat, post and comment through social media channels.

However, social software capabilities alone are not sufficient to improve the efficiency of processes. Social software must integrate with existing communications and business systems, and provide end-users with an integrated experience that removes the latency and inefficiency inherent in switching between many silo'd applications. This desire for a solution that provides such an integrated user experience is driving a new class of applications called enterprise collaboration platforms (ECP).

ECPs provide out-of-box social networking capabilities, enable content management, come with enterprise-grade security, and offer instant, real-time communication besides close-to-instant access to people and information. All of these help teams to integrate and interactively solve problems faster. Information-sharing solutions ensure that rich, compelling content is cost-effectively developed, tailored to the communities of interest and distributed in real time.

In addition to encouraging more interactions, ECPs help retain the attention of team members, customers, partners, and analysts. Delivered over the existing networks and infrastructure, they help extract more value from previous investments, in-place technologies and business applications. More and more businesses today believe they can reduce overall business risk by providing IT-ready social networking managed via enterprise policy.

Take the case of this Indian product outsourcing company which deployed an ECP to facilitate communication in multiple ways among its employees across geographies and time zones. Designed with an interoperable and scalable architecture that converged communication tools, social software, enterprise content management systems and line-of-business applications, this enterprise social platform helped to break down organisational silos and facilitate group communication.

The solution integrated with existing systems, was available to all users (onsite, from home and while on travel) and enabled quick access to relevant knowledge when and where required. Using the solution, employees seamlessly collaborate with their peers across geographies; understand where expertise lies and how to use that for business benefit. They share knowledge by being part of communities of interest, post blogs, join discussions and review content posted across offices 'virtually.'

The comprehensive communication platform has helped the organisation improve its collaboration capabilities many times over. It has helped reduce collaboration platform infrastructure costs by 30%, reduce time for expertise location to two days from the earlier five and reduce the time spent on management and execution by 20%.

The best way to drive adoption and broad acceptance is through consistent communication that demonstrates how these solutions enable employees become more efficient. Articulating how these technologies will integrate into employee activities and workflows, and how business processes will change encourages participation. At the end, the success of collaboration, especially social collaboration will depend on the degree to which employees participate.

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