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The CTO of Tata Consultancy Services describes how he learns from his organization’s collective intelligence.
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At USAA, the financial services group, social business is helping the company productively engage both its 26,000 employees as well as its customer base. Renee Horne, the vice president of social business for USAA, says that’s just part of the larger opportunity to make social tools a more holistic and integral part of the company.
Vala Afshar, chief marketing officer at Enterasys Networks Inc., in Andover, Massachusetts, says that social tools created an open, flatter culture where the best ideas, not people with the highest titles, are recognized. By adding Salesforce.com’s Chatter social network, Enterasys created closer connections with customers and a more positive work environment. It uses a system that translates machine language to tweets, so that its social network is now managed both by people and machines.
For KLM, social business arose as a spontaneous response to the Icelandic volcanic eruption that spewed ash into Europe’s airspace for days, halting all air travel and stranding thousands of passengers. Since the abrupt birth of the airlines’ social business strategy, e-commerce senior vice president Martijn van der Zee has made the company a model for using social in customer service.
Turning an organization into a social business — one that knows how to use new forms of collaboration and communication via social media — is a challenge for any operation, but it’s especially challenging for multinational, highly regulated companies. Boston-based financial services company State Street has become an industry model for how to use social business to make the business more innovative.
In an experiment with social media, researchers uncovered an interesting and unexpected outcome. When employees were asked if using an internal social network had helped them learn about coworkers’ skills, they all said “No” — yet their ability to identify coworkers who could help in collaborative projects had skyrocketed (as had their performance). How was this possible? The answer: employees had acquired information so incrementally, they were unaware that they’d learned something of value.
The American Red Cross has become an excellent example of how to use social media to connect people during the three cycles of disaster: preparedness, response and then recovery. Its digital volunteers help calm people in the middle of events, and its community mobilizers help coordinate services afterwards. “We want to blur that line about who’s a Red Crosser and who’s not, to say, ‘actually, this is up to all of us,’” says the organization’s Wendy Harman.
“The notion that we were going to crowdsource certain functions really was unheard of,” says Donna Cuomo of the nonprofit MITRE, a $1.4 billion nonprofit R&D organization. A social business tool it developed called Handshake is helping make that kind of virtual collaboration happen. In a Q&A, Dr. Cuomo and MITRE colleagues Laurie Damianos and Stan Drozdetski explain how Handshake has influenced business at MITRE and what challenges they’ve faced in its implementation.
“If you engage customers,” says V. Kumar, “they go and they get their friends” to try out a product, too. Kumar, of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, explains how companies can find their most influential online customers and enlist them to help promote their brands.
It has become accepted wisdom that weak ties — your acquaintances, distant colleagues — can provide more novel information than close ties. But new research by Marshall Van Alstyne, associate professor at Boston University and a visiting professor at MIT, suggests that in some cases strong ties are better.
Ron Utterbeck, the CIO for GE Corporate and the Advanced Manufacturing Software Technology Center in Michigan was vital in getting GE to implement its social network. The Facebook-like network built in-house is called GE Colab and links up the firm’s 115,000 employees from around the globe. The network has been breaking down corporate silos, helping problems get solved quicker, aiding employees better find internal experts, and making it easier to share files and documents in a meaningful context.
As Facebook becomes more mobile-centric, it’s also becoming adept at laying its customer data over brand data and third-party data to create uniquely customized experiences for its users. In a Q&A, Blake Chandlee, vice president of global partnerships at Facebook, details the power that comes from being able to overlay all that customer information. “Historically, we’ve never had the ability to have the scale of a mass media along with the personalization that digital provides,” says Chandlee.
The skill set for both companies and individuals of the future will be to embrace impermanence and continual reconfiguring, according to Benn Konsynski, a professor of information systems at Emory University. He says both organizations and employees need to prepare for the “the remix era” and “the certainty of unknown.” He sees “improvisation” as a personal and enterprise necessity in the 21st century.
Thanks to technology, business is evolving into an office-less enterprise that’s more mobile and fluid than the “desk jobs” of the past. In a Q&A, Steelcase vice president of Strategy, Research and New Business Innovation Sara Armbruster explains how Steelcase is approaching the challenge as a supplier, changing how they conceptualize the physical environs of the workplace. “In our view, technology is actually a form of culture, a manifestation of our culture and what we value,” she says.
Cars have made the transition from offline to fully networked, which makes them social vehicles, able to communicate about traffic patterns and weather. The next decade will see cars integrate more fully into consumers’ lives, says Audi’s Ricky Hudi, head of electronics at the fast-growing unit of Volkswagen. The goal for the industry: making upgradable cars, so that cars will no longer lag years behind consumer technology trends.
The data points employees generate about everything from how often they interrupt others to how many people they sit with at lunch tell surprisingly useful stories. Ben Waber, CEO and co-founder of Humanyze, describes how his company is providing the tools and analytics to interpret this social data, helping businesses identify the best collaborative practices of their most effective people.
Over-reliance on email as a communication tool is sapping people of their time and energy. Author, speaker and consultant Phil Simon says there are better ways — and many new and better tools — to do things. "As consumers, it’s never been easier. Hundreds of millions of us use Dropbox, Facebook, Snapchat, texting, Skype, and other tools to communicate with each other," says Simon. "Why do we resist change at work?" Embracing new tools, he argues, will result in better communication and far less wasted time.
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