Using Social Technologies to Streamline Internal IT Operations

Social technologies are now an essential tool for bolstering internal IT services and communications. We explain how to get started with this powerful, new approach to IT collaboration and support.

By Craig McDonogh, Director of Product Management, Service-now.com

Social media tools and practices are finding a new home in IT organizations, helping service desks, software development teams, planning committees, and individual staff members share all sorts of knowledge rapidly and naturally. As the consumerization of IT advances and as social media technology matures, a growing number of IT organizations are beginning to appreciate the power of a more social and collaborative approach to help IT experts and enterprise end users solve problems, provide training, distribute news, support project collaboration, and create a knowledge-rich IT environment.

Social media links people together in a way that makes information sharing efficient, painless, and an ordinary part of everyday activities. As such, it has the potential to cut time and costs by accelerating problem solving, shortening project duration, enhancing the decision making processes, improving insight on critical technologies and practices and reinforcing staff cohesiveness.

Best of all, unlike sophisticated IT support technologies, social technologies are already widely used by an emerging generation of workers who grew up on the Internet using Facebook and Twitter. Although the potential of social IT support is latent, it represents an untapped resource available to IT organizations that are willing to change.

Getting Started

Although a growing number of IT managers already understand that social media has the potential to advance internal IT knowledge exchange, many still aren’t sure how to get started or they fear the unknown. A logical first step is to study different types of social media tools and their relevant usage. Those not already using social media tools would do well to immerse themselves in the technology in order to gain an understanding of the basics behind the approach.

Start interacting with users of services such as Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube, Wordpress, or Yammer, and extrapolate use cases for providing better IT service. Watch how @zappos or @comcastcares interacts with customers on Twitter and look for ways to apply the same customer service practices to your service desk organization, or create a Yammer account (it is free, easy, and contained) and observe how users begin to use the service to collaborate and communicate. Follow up by exploring some of the IT-oriented social platforms such as Toolbox.com or the community forums of your tool vendors.

Pay particularly close attention to how these services help users share intelligence and become more productive and search for any underground usage of social media within your organization, asking questions to determine what works and why. As you expand your social media knowledge, you’ll be able to understand the types of tools most suited to your IT organization’s collaboration tasks as well as the technologies you may wish to avoid completely.

Using disparate social media services for IT can quickly grow into an IT service management nightmare itself. Many IT organizations are requesting (and some IT tool vendors are delivering) social technologies embedded directly into existing tools for IT service desk and IT service management. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications can deliver this functionality quickly and make integration with existing social media technologies virtually pain-free.

Modern Web-based SaaS applications provide users with the benefits of portability and straightforward integration via Web services. Also, most SaaS apps benefit from constant, agile development methodologies, keeping pace with industry changes.

As you work toward integrating social media into existing technologies and processes, you must maintain compatibility within existing user base practices and processes. Chats and social collaboration threads, for instance, should be easy to incorporate in change or incident records, as well as with specific projects.

Although it is easy to begin working with most social technologies, effective long-term use requires organizational buy-in and governance. An open mind is necessary as users learn new ways of communicating and sharing knowledge. Adoption can’t be forced. Users will gravitate to those use cases and technologies that are familiar and ultimately promote more effective work and better customer engagement.

Technology is only a small part of a move to social IT. The bigger challenge is adoption of social apps by business users and larger IT groups.

As you begin rolling out social technology, don’t try to boil the ocean. Consider initially adding social capabilities to just a few projects to accustom users to new practices and concepts. If social IT is a good fit for the organization, it will succeed with some well-placed encouragement. Remember that social media is best used as a supplement to existing technologies and practices. Most enterprise IT organizations won’t be ready to move to a full social support model for some time.

Finally, don’t be afraid to make changes. With social media advancing at a rapid clip, it’s important to keep informed about new technologies and practices and to periodically consider how new tools can be used by your organization.

Applications

Although social technologies are still emerging, they are already widely used to support a variety of IT communication and collaboration tasks. In fact, IT organizations worldwide are continually finding innovative ways of integrating social apps into a range of processes and activities. Here are some examples:

Project Management: By serving as all-purpose collaboration tools, community-oriented social applications (such as Facebook and Web discussion boards) allow users to swap ideas, seek peer advice, and offer suggestions for task changes and improvements any time, anywhere. Project teams can also use popular social communication collaboration services such as instant messages, video chat, tweets, and community document storage services (such as Dropbox) to augment traditional information sharing tools.

Unlike the traditional technologies, social applications are available on multiple types of fixed and mobile platforms, allowing users to receive news, share intelligence, and meet project goals quickly and conveniently.

Meetings: Nobody likes meetings, especially meetings that are only partially relevant to the majority of the participants. IT committees, such as change advisory boards, development task forces, and project deployment teams hold frequent meetings. IT organizations may evaluate the effectiveness of these meetings and whether the meeting objectives can be effectively satisfied by using social technologies.

IT must build new communication channels and open meetings to additional participants. Web-based discussion boards and chat services can be used to encourage the free flow of ideas. With the right tools, the content shared via these media can be captured for future audits or associated with change records.

Meanwhile, Web conferencing technology helps users, no matter where they are located, to be fully seen and heard, view and submit documents, send messages to other participants in real time, and cast votes. Video hosting services such as YouTube allow meeting members, as well as other authorized individuals, to conveniently replay sessions after the event takes place.

Incident Resolution: Whenever an IT device or application fails, enterprise end users want fast action. Instant messaging enables frazzled users to immediately alert the service desk to a critical issue. During the incident resolution process, online chat and desktop sharing technologies allow service agents to work collaboratively with the end user to resolve problems without the need for expensive desk-side visits.

Self-Service: Many enterprise end users want to use their applications and devices more productively and efficiently yet are often reluctant to seek advice directly from IT staff members. Providing easy access through consumer-friendly Web portals to product documentation, FAQs, best practices documents, and other relevant IT content encourages users to help themselves. Blogs, microblogging, and podcasts can also be used to keep end users informed on technology change windows, event alerts, tips, and tricks. Productivity and efficiency gains through self service are well documented.

Knowledge Management: IT staff members, ranging from new hires to grizzled veterans, can share tribal knowledge via internal wikis, blogs, discussion boards, and other social media tools. Rewarding frequent knowledge contributors with recognition and perks is a great way to build team spirit.

Unleash the Potential of Social Media for IT

Social technology is used today by the vast majority of IT professionals in their personal lives, but is probably not used at work. The technology is available in modern IT tools, but IT acceptance and adoption is lagging. The question is not if social IT will be a reality but when. The user demand is pressing and the value proposition is clear, forcing the enterprise IT to be ready for the inevitability of more social IT support.

Craig McDonogh, Service-now.com director of product management, has more than 16 years of experience in both the real-world factory and the vendor field. Before coming to Service-now.com, Craig founded a company to provide utility computing to small businesses. Previously, Craig held various roles in the service management group including ITSM strategy, director of product management, and as head of Asia-Pacific marketing. You can contact the author at craig.mcdonogh@service-now.com