ESN: Don’t Let History Repeat Itself with Social Tools

Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) have become commonplace in organizations, creating networks based on a need and identifying experts who can solve a problem. ESNs can overcome barriers of location, language and time zone.

Between the well documented benefits and the rise of C-level engagement, this should be the latest phase of a digital revolution. Yet short sightedness prevents organizations from achieving the full potential of these tools, largely due to a failure of thinking beyond the tactical.

Gartner’s positive predictions in 2010 for social tools in the workplace was tempered by 2013 to a declaration that 80 percent of social business efforts would not achieve their intended benefits by 2015. Since then, not just Gartner, but most analysts have fallen quiet on the prediction front.

With many active champions of the benefits of an engaged, collaborative workforce, this should be a time of mass success stories, but Gartner’s 80 percent prediction is proving realistic for many. Why are we failing to reap the rewards of these social tools and what can we do about it?

History Repeating Itself with your ESN

Early intranets were a collection of tactical, often disjointed tools, loosely integrated to enable enterprise efficiencies, but rarely achieving any long-term, strategic goals.

They met immediate needs, but quickly grew cumbersome and outdated due to unmanageable demands on skills, resource and time. Each time an organization introduced a new tool to resolve a tactical need, it increased the potential of new risks, ranging from integration and skills, through to governance and adoption.

In many ways ESNs resemble early intranets: a portfolio of disjointed tools brought in to satisfy tactical requirements. With the added risk of small user groups finding their own tools to meet a need, your ESN landscape risks becoming heavily fragmented, changing the way networks of comfort collaborate rather than creating hugely beneficial networks of need.

While one group works together to quickly solve a problem on Yammer for example, another group might be trying to solve the same issue elsewhere within your enterprise. Where does this knowledge go? Who can find it? How do we identify these groups and get them working together? For many businesses the answer is: we can’t.

Are we in danger of repeating the same mistakes made with early intranets? By implementing large numbers of tools, do they create the very silos they were brought in to break down?

ESN: What’s Old is New Again

A new generation of modern intranets are enabling communities of need, generating both governed and user-generated knowledge in a central and easily accessible manner. They aren’t somewhere you go to just read a policy, they are the first place you go to solve a problem.

With a host of far-reaching intranet options out there, which seamlessly integrate into an all-in-one solution, you can mitigate many of the risks covered above. But companies remain trapped in a cycle of bolting on new tools to traditional models rather than looking to update or even understand the source of the problem.

The Answer?

Your collaboration solution should support your job, not become your job.

If you have a wealth of resources, time and skills at your disposal, you can probably continue with a portfolio of tools that grow alongside your needs. However if you are – like most of us – short of time and resources, that approach is surely a path to limited success.

Understand your business’s needs, not just today but for the future, then look at the resources available to you. If you want to make success far more assured, reduce your risk – that’s just common sense.

Don’t introduce a dizzying array of disparate tools that take more time to manage than the time they save. Understand your strategic objectives and find the tool that makes achieving them easy.

We should stop talking about ESNs, or even social intranets, and just talk about modern intranets and how they can be the vehicle for our strategic and employee needs.