November 6, 2013

How Involved is IT With Your Social Networks?

Research suggests a gap exists between the social media IT thinks is

I follow posts within IDC’s Manufacturing community. One of their recent articles caught my attention – “Social in Manufacturing: Increasing Adoption, But Mixed Signals,” by Kimberly Knickle. The article reports that a recent survey of IT pros in manufacturing found that 33.4% of the respondents are investing in enterprise social networks (ESNs) to one degree or another. Efforts range from pilots and proof of concept trials, to full-blown production enterprise applications. What’s more, the IT professionals expect that number to rise to nearly 40% over the next year.

Interestingly, IDC found that “manufacturing is investing more than other industries in enterprise social networks.”

Surprised? So was I. Who knew manufacturing was such a social business?

The author suggested that social is inherently suited to manufacturing because it promotes “better decisions that cross existing lines in the organization, such as bringing analysis of field product performance to a social conversation that crosses engineering, manufacturing, and sourcing.”

But here’s where it gets really interesting. The article goes on to say that in an earlier survey done just a few months earlier, IDC found a much higher ESN adoption rate, when surveying among all respondent job titles. To quote IDC: “79% of companies have deployed a corporate sponsored enterprise social network (ESN).”

Why the different results? IDC explains that the earlier survey included business managers, whereas the more recent survey included only IT. This suggests that business managers are far more likely to know about ESN activities than their IT counterparts.

I can’t help thinking we’ve been here before, for those old enough to remember the PC revolution. PCs didn’t come into companies through IT, they came in through the business units. Eventually, IT took over PC acquisition and management, bringing order to the chaos. The lesson was learned, too, because IT has been pretty quick to take charge of new devices like smart phones and tablets.

Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear that a new information revolution is brewing inside of companies without, at least to some extent, IT’s knowledge or involvement.

As with PCs, business needs are driving the change. The reality is, the need to be social and collaborative is part of the growing transformation of manufacturing. It’s part of being global, of being more responsive, agile and responding faster to change, of staying in touch with your customers and the marketplace. Now we have quantitative evidence that those running and working in manufacturing operations understand this, and are investing in solutions.

Only IT doesn’t fully realize it yet. (One can’t help but be amused to learn about a communication gap with a social collaboration strategy between IT and the business users.)

As IDC concludes, “IT and the business need to work more closely to maximize what’s in place today and to get the most value out of those ESNs to come.”

I would put it more bluntly: Social networking is a reality for manufacturers. IT can take charge of it now, or play catch up later.

Gordon can be found on Google+.

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