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IBM Says 'It's Social Business or No Business'

By - Source: Toms IT Pro
James Alan Miller

James Alan Miller is Managing Editor of Tom's IT Pro. He is a veteran technology journalist with over seventeen years of experience creating and developing magazine and online content. Founding editor of numerous business and enterprise computing sites at the network, James headed up the After Hours section at PC Magazine, as well as hardware and software sections of various Windows publications.

IBM connects enterprise social networking and business processes with its "social business" portfolio.

Were IBM to revive the 65-year old musical Annie Get Your Gun, it might choose to rework the climatic song, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” to reflect its current social business philosophy. The curtains for Big Blue’s production would rise across the Internet rather than over a stage on The Great White Way, and social networking—not entertainment—would be the platform that leads the protagonists to success.

As with other companies serving enterprise customers, the mobile and the social have become important components across a wide range of IBM products and services. Most recently, IBM extended its flagship social business and collaboration product, Connections, to iOS, Android and BlackBerry smartphones and tablets.

Social businesses, to IBM, are those companies looking to leverage people-centric software to gain a competitive advantage by engaging with experts, employees and clients, enhancing communication and collaboration across a widespread network. "They understand that connecting people efficiently can deliver immediate results," said IBM Connections product manager Baan Slavens to Tom's IT Pro. "Social businesses are on the rise because they become more agile, more responsive, and more successful than others, and a mobile solution is key factor."

A well-placed tweet, Slavens noted, can be as important as a phone call.

"Social networking sites and communities are a huge draw for consumers, who use them to share and obtain valuable information,” Slavens said. “Moreover, these sites are an integral part of the way employees and customers interact, form relationships, make decisions, manage workloads and purchase goods.”

To truly drive social business success, organizations must rely on IT pros to weave social collaboration with traditional communications infrastructures. Mobile devices and social networking are individual, albeit vital, components of a wider social business and unified communications (UC) strategy.

"IT professionals certainly can (and often do) play a large part in social business scenarios. Their role hinges on understanding how employees communicate, and finding a means to grant workers the same 'anywhere, anytime' access which they've come to expect in their personal lives," Slavens said. "We live in the age of connectivity: Employees travel with tablets, tweet from their smartphones, and take calls from their BlackBerry devices. Why not capitalize on this opportunity? Savvy IT pros can implement a comprehensive UC strategy with a strong social element, and as a result deliver direct benefits back to their business."

By helping their companies become social, IT pros add immense value and provide concrete returns on investment, according to Slavens. Likewise, by unifying communications and collaboration, they can help teams assemble faster and answer questions more quickly—resulting in shorter sales cycles and higher levels of customer service.

For IBM, this is where its Connections platform fits into the picture.

IBM Connections isn't a social network in the mode of Twitter or Facebook. But it takes lessons learned from those (outward-looking) platforms and applies them to a social-networking component called Profiles that aims to enhance intercompany communication.

Additional collaborative features enable employees to develop working communities, wikis, forums and blogs, as well as search and share documents, media files, profiles, bookmarks, etc.

Although IT pros setup and load Connections onto an onsite server, they can greatly extend its capabilities by combining it with other IBM products and services—either also on–premise or in the Cloud.  So Connections, according to Slavens, ably integrates with IBM’s other core social business software, IBM Lotus Quickr (collaboration in the Cloud) and IBM Sametime (UC), as well its enterprise content management systems.

You can enhance data integrity through IBM Lotus Protector for Mail Security, which now offers virus protection for files uploaded through Connections Files, Communities, Wikis and Activities components. There is also Vantage for IBM Connections to help keep employees compliant with important regulatory and corporate requirements.

Speaking of compliance, as we outlined in our article on Controlling Social Media in the Office, creating and enforcing a set of official guidelines is a key action to controlling how effectively social media is used and whether or not it’s abused.  "Developing a comprehensive 'social' policy is an important aspect of becoming a social business," agreed Slavens.

Proper enterprise social networking tools “should provide the ability to find, reach and collaborate with experts within or outside of your own company, while also providing the policy and compliance management and security needed within the enterprise,” said Slavens. “IBM’s own social computing policies offer straightforward yet flexible guidelines for all employees to reference and abide by.”

Good advice whether or not Connections is your enterprise’s cup of social tea.

However your business chooses to go social—and what one can afford not to these days—it is important the platform(s) you select extends the high level of interactive communication employees’ experience in their lives outside the office, through online communities and mobile devices, to the workplace. This will encourage them to collaborate and become more productive, not just with each other but with business partners, as long as the proper social media policies are in place and enforced.