Why Social Computing is Ideal for Collaboration

Social media is about ease, speed, and reach. We explore the benefits it can offer your organization, and why IT must not be afraid of it.

By Isabella Mark, Director, Global Solution Management, Unisys

It likely comes as little surprise to anyone that corporate employees are using social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter at work. In fact, according to recent Unisys-sponsored research, they’re currently using them for business purposes at up to twice the rate they did a year before.

What’s surprising, however, is that businesses themselves don’t fully understand the potential benefits of using these new social tools to enhance internal collaboration and customer service. Management may also not be fully aware of how the media are currently being used. For example, the Unisys research shows that 44 percent of corporate information workers (iWorkers) report using social networks and communities for customer communication, while only 28 percent of their employers believe that to be the case.

IT and business management can’t capitalize on what they don’t know about. This is a major missed opportunity.

What sets social computing apart is the ease it affords in creating, aggregating, and disseminating information as well as its viral networking capability, which extends the reach of people and content beyond established networks and traditional workplace boundaries.

The ability to self-organize networks or communities of interest that tap into the collective wisdom of a larger ecosystem allows enterprises to harness the power of collaboration. Because they are transparent, the communications do not increase overhead or administrative costs.

These inherent strengths of social computing make it an exceptional collaboration platform to achieve productivity gains, foster innovation, and increase value delivered to customers and other stakeholders.

Let’s take a closer look at some attributes that make social computing exceptionally effective for business collaboration.

Viral Networking

Although social computing offers ease in creating, disseminating, and sharing information, its inherent viral networking capability truly sets it apart. With social computing, one can extend the reach of people and content beyond established networks and traditional workplace boundaries. This unique capability allows people to tap into the intellectual capital of a larger ecosystem. To put it in practical terms, social computing enables you to ask a question and get help from people you do not know or who are outside your established network of friends and colleagues.

Collective Wisdom (Crowdsourcing)

Through social computing, one can harness people’s collaborative power and collective wisdom. There are many examples today of how organizations are leveraging social computing for crowdsourced support. For example, customers no longer rely on one or a few experts from the supplier’s organization. Increasingly, they rely on each other for advice and support. This is particularly relevant when they are seeking support for a multi-vendor IT solution or a solution that has a unique implementation. Through crowdsourced support, one can have a larger network of people who may have similar solution experience and can therefore offer useful tips and advice.

Transparency

Everyone can read your blog and everyone can join in the discussion. Through social computing, one can set up a community for the entire organization or for a project team. Conversations within the community are transparent to all members. This allows everyone in the organization or on the same project to keep in sync and know what everyone else is doing.

This addresses the very issue of Brook’s Law: “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.” This law posits that communication overhead increases exponentially as the number of people involved grows. In other word, doubling the number of people results in four times as many conversations to keep in sync. Social computing makes discussions and activity updates known to all members of the community, avoiding the dreaded increase in communication overhead.

Self-Organization

Traditionally, people are assigned to groups or projects based on their functional role or the organization to which they belong. Social computing enables people to self-organize networks or communities of interest based on subject matter, industry, expertise, or areas of focus, among other organizing factors. Through self-organization, one can participate in multiple select communities to share and collaborate with other like-minded individuals. They can learn and share best practices, contribute and vote on ideas, ask questions and get answers. An organizational taxonomy of content will emerge and evolve over time as members tag, rate, and comment on content. This will further facilitate connections, reduce communication overhead and administration costs, and allow people to tap into intellectual capital throughout the organization.

Content and Expert Discovery

Social computing significantly enhances and enriches searches for information relevant to individuals and their self-organized communities. At their simplest, search capabilities are largely based on matching key words, with results listed in priority order based on the closest match and, in some cases, frequency of use. By using social-computing techniques, people can tag the content with key words. Over time, these key words evolve into a taxonomy of content indices that allows one to find content easily. People can also "like” or rate a particular content.

These tags, ratings and likes add new context to the content and facilitate more effective search and discovery. In effect, one will discover content based on the relevance and the “likes” of their colleagues or friends, and chances are they will “like” the content and find it relevant because they share the same interests. The rich profiles and networking capabilities inherent in social computing allow people to easily locate and connect with experts based on their common profile. This in turn enables business organizations to be more agile in responding to rapidly shifting market trends and customer needs.

Expanding he Boundaries of Knowledge

Social computing is the next generation of business collaboration. Through viral networking, it extends the traditional one-to-one or one-to-few reach of individuals and communities, giving them access to a far larger pool of collective wisdom. It transforms a document-centric approach based on a shared repository holding all sorts of content placed there just in case someone else needs it to a people-centric approach using a shared workspace where anyone can ask question and get just-in-time answers.

Ultimately, social computing is about ease, speed, and reach. It liberates people from the strictures of centrally organized teams based on narrow business roles and empowers them to connect with liked-minded individuals to share, learn, and find new ways to work with partners, serve customers, and expand their company’s business.

Isabella Mark is the director of global solution management at Unisys. She is responsible for strategic planning and go-to-market execution for Unisys Social Computing solutions. You can contact the author at isabella.mark@unisys.com.

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