Social Computing Value Case

June 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Social Computing is firmly on the CIO radar but CIO’s are asking `Where is the Value?’


No one could argue that Social Computing is still a nascent technical or social phenomenon. Its evolution can, after all, be traced back the creation of bulletin boards. According to a recent research report, The Value of Social Media Report, published by Econsultancy, 81 per cent of the companies it surveyed expect their social media budgets to increase over 2010.  Services such as Twitter and LinkedIn have become important platforms for businesses to build relationship with customers, generate feedback and market products.


The major technology providers all have established offerings now such as, for example: Microsoft’s newly launched Sharepoint 2010 which has a major investment in social computing; IBM’s Lotus connections integrated into multiple points of the IBM stack; and, Opentext with its acquisition of the Vignette Collaboration platform release 7.0. There are a host of specialist vendors out there too such as Jive, Telligent, Atlassian and Google.


The functional areas that Social Computing is comprised of can broadly be described as being the following:


  • Blogs – associated with corporate communications
  • WiKis – often used at project, department and divisional levels to build up information
  • Social Media – allowing end users to upload valuable lessons learnt
  • Forums / Discussion – enabling informal ways to build up self-help


Despite the seemingly numerous applications that Social Computing has in a corporate environment senior IT executives, continually under cost pressures, want to know what the return on investment is. As Stef Shoffren, of Avanade UK, commented during his presentation on `Social Computing in the Enterprise Comes of Age’ at the British Computer Society (BSC) that CIOs “want to know where is the true value?” He added: “to say, if you don’t start implementing [social media applications] you will not attract a new workforce into the company is not really a very compelling revenue case”.


The Social Computing Value Case


Borrowing from Stef Shoffren’s categorisation it seems sensible to assess the Social Computing value case from both the inside and the outside of the organisation’s firewall. i.e. supporting inward facing business processes and supporting outward facing business processes.


On the inside of the firewall the benefits of Social Computing can be attributed to the value of social community, ratings and commentary, and social unified communications.


The value of social community – relates to the knowledge locked up inside people’s heads. Providing the ability for people to describe their skills can help build a profile which is easily searchable. This enables the organisation to build more dynamic connections so its staff can easily find experts in the organisation.


Ratings and Commentary – such as tagging helps people find content and social bookmarking allows users to share, organise, search and manage resources.


Social & Unified Communications – feeds provide a way to deal with social overloads and provide up-to-second information on whom in a particular community, such as an on-line subject matter expert network, is immediately available on-line.


On the outside of the firewall it is easier to think about the use of social computing in the context of enabling new product development and design processes, customer service and customer fulfilment processes and those associated with the tactical marketing mix. The still emerging benefits of Social Computing centre on crowdsourcing and brand enhancement.


Crowdsourcing – the term crowdsourcing, coined by Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson in the June 2006 issue of Wired magazine, describes the web-based business model that harnesses the creative solutions of a distributed network of individuals through what amounts to an open call for proposals. The value to an organisation is immediately obvious. Some often cited benefits include, for example:


  • An organisation can tap a wider range of talent than might be present in its own organisation
  • Problems can be explored at comparatively little cost, and often very quickly
  • By listening to the crowd, organizations gain first-hand insight on their customers’ desires
  • The community may feel a brand-building kinship with the crowdsourcing organisation, which is the result of an earned sense of ownership through contribution and collaboration.


Brand Value Creation and Customer Acquisition – conversations are already taking place about an organisation’s corporate, product, service brands and if it can participate it can shape the outcomes. Above brand enhancement, social media provides a low cost, transparent and immediate way for organisations to reach their target markets. The question, as Steve Latham, of Spur Interactive, has pointed out is how an organisation sees the engagement process (visit, registration, participation, content creation and informing others) in terms of translating intent at each stage into a monetary value. He provides an extremely compelling case study of Sage Stores 500% ROI on its `back-to-school’ social networking site aimed at the underserved female teens markets.


Driving out the Organisation’s Social Media Strategy


Stef Shoffren, of Avanade UK, concluded his presentation by suggesting that “not a lot of Blue Chips had implemented social computing for a ROI – more for experimentation”. It would be extremely interesting to know on what grounds this conclusion is based on. Maybe the initial intent for the early adopter organisations is `experimentation’ not business case driven ROI which can be extremely hard to formalise for any emerging new technological innovation. Asking what the value of social computing is may not be the best question a CIO could ask. A better question might be; `given our organisations social media strategy, how can the IT function deliver the services to support it in the most cost effective way optimising existing platforms and new market offerings?’