Gartner: Organizations face five major challenges on social software

05 Jun 2008

Many organizations are struggling to justify investments in social software and identify where to start or what business areas to address, according to Gartner Inc. Gartner said that social software techniques and technologies are becoming crucial in supporting and strengthening collaboration and nonroutine work in businesses and warned against dismissing them as a fad or a threat to general productivity.

'Some enterprises have achieved substantial results with social software, and many enterprises are now experimenting with the technology,' said Anthony Bradley, research director at Gartner. 'The demand from workers is escalating and they can and are turning to the consumer Internet if their corporate technology provider isn't offering a solution. Organizations need to exploit this growing consumer literacy for business purposes and prepare a social software strategy with a realistic understanding of the associated challenges, risks and benefits.'

Based on extensive discussions and experiences with clients, Gartner has identified five major challenges that organizations face when pursuing social software applications as well as advice to help businesses respond to them:

Challenge 1 - Delivering Business Value

Many organizations are keen to explore the potential of social software in their enterprises but are confused by the ever-growing hype surrounding Web 2.0. Gartner said that all organizations should at least be at the stage where they are investigating social software, even if the explorations are likely to result in a 'wait and see' strategy. A wait and see strategy should not be an 'ignore and it will pass' strategy and should include monitoring relevant changes in the industry that will trigger next step actions.

Challenge 2 - Overcoming Cultural Barriers

Almost every organization will face some cultural obstacles to the use of social software. Organizations face the difficulty of motivating a large enough portion of the community to progress beyond observers to active content contributors. Gartner has advised enterprises to invest the time and resources required to understand, design, grow and nurture social software implementations rather than simply installing a social software tool and expecting a community to automatically assemble and flourish.

Challenge 3 - Ensuring Privacy

Data security breaches and the privacy missteps of FaceBook, MySpace and YouTube have concerned many businesses and are often stated as impediments to social software initiatives. However, these social applications are advertising driven and intended to be open to the general public, whereas most enterprise applications of social software will and should address more-constrained social circles with defined and implementable privacy measures.

Challenge 4 - Governing Participant Behaviors

Social applications such as all social structures (good or bad) will contain bad behavior, which needs to be anticipated and addressed in application design and social mediation. Good governance of social sites hinges on good policies and enforcement by the participants rather than elaborate rules automation implementation. Gartner advises organizations to balance the benefits of mass collaboration with the risks of bad behavior, including security breaches.

Challenge 5 - Managing Personal and Professional Time

The traditional workday is in transition. Many organizations are not yet equipped for a virtual workplace, and virtual workday scenarios and are concerned with managing productivity in this more loosely structured work environment. Organizations will need to constantly challenge the way they evaluate employee productivity and promote work/life balance as social software becomes more pervasive in the business environment.

'The severity of these five challenges will vary significantly from one organization to the next, as does their impact on decisions concerning whether, when and how to proceed with social software,' Mr. Bradley said. 'There are no absolutes, for each potential social application organization must balance the business benefits over the risks of overcoming these challenges.'

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