The Tweet Wagon

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The Tweet Wagon

V C Gopalratnam, CIO Cisco Globalisation and VP Information Technology, Cisco

As technology trends alter the way businesses and people communicate and operate the boundaries between work and personal lives have blurred. Today's workforce expects to access networks, applications and information anywhere, at any time, on any device - giving rise to a multi-screen environment. As a result, people are learning to have 'working moments' rather than 'working hours' - which can spill over into their 'personal time' as well. As workforces become more distributed and the consumerization of IT becomes a reality, organizations have to update appropriate policies and accommodate employee needs while balancing risk and security.
In essence therefore, employers need to increase their spending on technologies like video conferencing, web conferencing and IP telephony along with other social media applications. They must also learn to use them in the right way because employees and customers--not to mention competitors--are using these technologies already.  That however, is easier said than done. While recognizing the importance of collaboration tools to the future success of business, CIOs feel there are potential threats that need to be addressed.

CIO concerns:
As CIOs we all love technology and innovation. We recognize that social media and collaboration technology have positive potential. These are new methods that help us communicate faster and more effectively, while getting instant gratification for what is being communicated - because the turnaround time is shorter and the level of impact can be much larger. Companies can use social media to improve communication to and between employees, and also to interact with customers.
But we do have legitimate concerns. For example: Twitter failure is OK when we are just tweeting about our pets, but it would be totally unacceptable if it was an enterprise application business continuity is a major concern.
The other concern is regarding security against IP loss. The impact of social media can be major because information sharing can get indiscriminate with little or no concern about intellectual property rights and discretion. If one provides many powerful social media tools to people who don't know how to use them wisely, there will be a lot of collateral damage. That does not imply that we want to control everything. As CIOs we know that is impossible.
Actually the appropriate employee use of social media is really a supervisory issue more than a technology issue. It is about policies and best practices to be put in place to help people utilize these new communication vehicles in a more discriminate manner. In other words, the restrictions are not there from a technology perspective but rather from a governance perspective. I personally believe that a good acceptable-user policy can provide guidelines to employees on how to use social media without jeopardizing the company.

Employee pain points:
While employers agree to the benefits of collaboration, I know that there still exist policies prohibiting the use of social media applications. A recent Cisco commissioned study titled "Collaboration Nations," found that currently, employees have to deal with a variety of frustrations while using collaboration technologies in the workplace. These include restrictions set by IT managers on the types of technologies that can be used, a lack of integration among the applications, non-compatible formats (video, data, voice), and the limited number of collaboration tools at their disposal.
It is another matter that despite such restrictions, workers admit to changing the settings on their devices to gain access to prohibited applications. In the study, end users felt that elements of corporate culture can inhibit their ability to collaborate successfully and believe their companies' IT policies could be improved.

Way forward:
Both CIOs and employees have concerns regarding the use of social media and collaboration tools. They are justified in their concerns as well. However, ignoring social media won't make it go away. Employees will continue to use them for both personal and company purposes. The question is whether or not CIOs want to be involved in ensuring that they are used properly and making sure that a proper governance model exists to both protect and benefit the company.
I also believe that CIOs can't possibly understand how to use social media if they've never really used it. True IT leaders will get out in front before it's too late--if it isn't already. Sitting idly, CIOs will find themselves marginalized when it comes to the use of social media in the corporate world. Their role will become one of cleaning up the mess that "they let happen" while allowing a good opportunity slip away due to poor execution and governance.
While I understand that blogging and tweeting might not be everyone's 'cup of tea', I believe that actively participating online helps CIOs add our voice and thought leadership to public conversations happening about subjects important to the industry. There's so much we could be learning from each other.
Today software tools are available to enable companies find, monitor and proactively respond to customers and prospects communicating through public social media networks, public forums and blogging sites in real time. These tools help companies enhance relationships, address potential customers and product issues, generate proactive sales opportunities and manage brand perceptions.
Like it or hate it, the social computing trend is quickly crossing over from the consumer market to enterprises. Therefore, our future CIOs and IT leaders need to be embracing it to understand the impact on business processes and the potential value that collaboration and social media can bring to the enterprise. In essence therefore, maybe it is time that we tweet and grow business!

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