Using Social Media to Rearrange the Deck Chairs
I met Michael Krigsman because I was cold.
I had flown to Boston in December and to paraphrase Tony Bennett, I left my coat in San Francisco. I Twittered about how most parts of me were chilled to the bone. Mike showed up at my hotel presenting me with a bright blue down filled ski jacket, which he insisted I keep. We had a drink and talked and became instant friends.
That did not mean we would always agree. Back in January, he interviewed me for his Naked IT podcast-blog series on ZDNet and we discovered we had a decidedly different views of the role of IT in the social media future of the enterprise.
Topically, he is a most worthy adversary, a well-recognized expert on enterprise-related IT issues. In addition to being author of the respected ZDNet blog IT Failures: Rearranging the Deck Chairs, he is CEO of Asuret, Inc., a software and consulting company dedicated to reducing software implementation failures. Michael is also CEO of Cambridge Publications, which specializes in developing tools and processes for software implementations and related business practice automation projects. He has worked with more than 100 companies on IT-related matter including this project's sponsor, SAP.
Mike gave me my turn to describe my minimalist view of IT's role on social media related issues. This is his turn to respond. On close examination, I still disagree, but on fewer matter than I thought would be the case.
1. You are best known as the "IT Project Failures" guy. So tell me, what are the leading causes of those failures? Do you think social media could somehow reduce those failures? How so or why not?
IT failures are generally caused by management errors in human, rather than technical systems. Poor judgment, dysfunctional organizational politics, and bad planning are far more likely to cause a major project failure than a database failure, for example. The high profile failures that hit the newspapers, or that I blog about, generally arise as the culmination of many bad decisions strung together over time.
Large software implementations typically involve three parties: the customer, the software vendor, and the consulting services supplier. Considering this complexity, and the sometimes-conflicting agendas that result, the high rate of IT project failures becomes less surprising.
Can social media reduce project failures? To the extent social media improves an organization’s communication and decision-making abilities, it will also improve project success rates. Social media is not a magic bullet, but represents an organization’s commitment to streamline communication, share knowledge, and work more effectively as a team. These are characteristics of both healthy organizations and successful IT projects.
2. As you know, I have a minimalist view of IT's role in social media adoption. Back in January, you seemed to disagree. Please express your perspective and explain why I am seeing it wrong.
When an individual downloads and uses Twitter or Skype (assuming the corporate firewall doesn’t prevent it), IT does not generally play a role. But suppose a big company wants its employees to adopt Twitter in a large-scale manner, and really use social media in day-to-day activities across the organization? Although technical management and IT infrastructure planning present their own challenges, merely making software available does not mean users will actually adopt it.
More significantly, the organization must define “rules of engagement” that encourage users to embed social media in their day-to-day work. From this perspective, planning the diffusion of social media through an organization is little different from planning a traditional enterprise software implementation. Without proper change management, training, documentation and so on, social media becomes yet another under-utilized tool sitting on a server. The annals of IT failures are filled with cases of software that was purchased, deployed, and never fully used. Social media is not immune.
Coordinated deployments of social media across a large enterprise look and behave like any other enterprise software implementation. In both cases, IT and the business are essential partners in making the deployment successful. As with IT failures in general, the success of social media deployments depend more on human, rather than technical, systems and planning.
3. You’ve said social media can “flatten” IT. What do you mean by that?
There’s no doubt that individual users can circumvent IT far more easily with social media than with larger enterprise software. If an individual wants Twitter, for example, he or she can just install it, which is obviously not the case with large enterprise systems such as SAP. Social media puts power into the hands of individuals and that power ultimately comes at the expense of centralized IT departments.
In my Naked IT interviews with Ed Yourdon (author of 27 books and 550 articles, many covering IT processes that can lead to failure) and JP Rangaswami (who functions more or less as CIO of British Telecom), they each described the history of IT as “protector” of centralized computing resources. Social media is a force in the opposite direction.
4. Is this flattening good or bad for large enterprises?
In the short-term, this flattening can create disruption and confusion which are hardly positive qualities. At the same time, IT needs to change and if social media can help bring positive movement, then it’s ultimately beneficial.
It’s time for IT to leave the ivory tower and become part of the decision-making culture of the business. The entire notion of IT as being somehow separate, or having independent goals from, the non-technical parts of an enterprise is absolutely ridiculous.
I don’t want to paint this as being entirely the fault of IT – many senior business executives don’t fully understand how IT processes function, nor do they completely grasp the ramifications that technical decisions can have on non-technical business strategies. To the extent social media empowers users, and helps non-technical senior executives recognize the impact of technology on their business, it becomes a powerful positive change agent.
5. What role do you see for IT management in corporate adoption of social media tools and programs?
IT should be an equal partner supporting the acquisition, adoption, and diffusion of social media through an organization. Strategic business computing decisions, including social media issues, should reflect the involvement of three groups: end-users, business management, and technical management. In my opinion, IT should partner with, but not drive, social media programs. To the extent that social media programs are business-based, meaning their core function is providing non-technical benefits to users, then sponsorship should lie in the business domain. In this respect, social media is a business initiative like any other, and should be treated as such.
6. Is it your perception that social media poses a threat to enterprise security? How would you say IT should deal with that threat?
In my opinion, social media has the power to bypass many well-established enterprise security systems and IT is right to be concerned. On the other hand, some argue that existing technical security protocols are sufficient and that social media is really no different from other software already deployed in the enterprise.
From an information risk standpoint, however, I believe organizations must create policies that reflect the reality of social media. Remember, these tools are all about information sharing. If the enterprise does not want information to be shared, whether due to privacy, competitive, or regulatory concerns, then appropriate policies should be instituted.
As software evolves, information sharing policies must also evolve. When I blogged that “Twitter is dangerous” lots of people came out swinging. I suspect some of those who argued were primarily concerned about possible chilling effects on social media, rather than looking at the issue on its merits.
7. Do you see a strategic importance to social media in the enterprise? Do you believe it is an efficient way for customers and companies to come closer together? Why would IT oppose that?
Any tools, techniques, or processes that dramatically improve communication and information sharing will be strategic to the enterprise. It’s not about tools, per se, but about helping people work together more efficiently, and more intelligently, to accomplish meaningful results more easily.
Your book, Naked Conversations, argued that removing intermediaries between an enterprise and it constituents benefits both parties. When direct communication between groups increases, both sides tend to move closer together, assuming a desire to remain in relationship. It’s the same with businesses and their customers, employees, investors and so on. Is closer communication between these groups strategic? I think so.
On the other hand, if IT tries to interfere with new methods of communication between enterprise groups, then it will be doomed to fail. There’s virtue in going with the flow, especially when the flow is inevitable. It should be a partner in helping the enterprise adopt improved tools and work processes. For IT to succeed, it must engage users in dialog and support their desire to improve communications and information sharing.
8. What should IT do when they discover users behind the firewall using unauthorized social media tools for business purposes?
Geez, I suppose there are times when turning a blind eye is the right thing to do.
9. Flash forward five years. What role do you see for social media in the enterprise? What role do you see for IT in dealing with it five years forward?
In five years, social media will be more common through the enterprise. If the past is any guide to the future, IT will still be struggling, trying to protect its territory against an onslaught of democratizing tools and work processes.
On the other hand, some IT managers will have recognized the power they hold to shape and influence how business itself functions. For those wise CIOs, there will unparalleled opportunity to impact major business decisions at the highest strategic level. Those will be good days indeed for smart CIOs.
10. Additional Comments?
Shel, you asked tough questions. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in your survey.