I recently heard John Hagel, Co-Chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, speak about the effective application of social software in organizations. Contrary to the knee jerk reaction by many companies to "check the social software block" by throwing up a Facebook page, and desperately seeking as many "Likes" as possible, Hagel suggests that there are much better ways to implement social software, and see tangible positive impacts in organizational efficiency, accelerated knowledge and stronger teams.
There are a few simple lessons that companies can start implementing today, to realize higher value in their investment of social software. His organizing principle - small moves, smartly made can set big things in motion - begins with the premise contrary to the blanket approach of the Facebook strategy, but recommends starting with a very narrowly defined problem to be solved. His research indicates that one of the best applications is in the area of exception handling (think call centers). Its estimated that 60-70% of a staff's time could be spent on managing exceptions - what Hagel calls the "Shadow Economy", because most companies don't want to admit to this high of percentage. However, this is a perfect application for the gains made through collaboration - and social software is a tool that can accelerate the resolution of exceptions by connecting the right people at the right time.
SAP's Developer Network (SDN) is a great example of how social collaboration can create extended value, way beyond just exception handling. SAP created the network to allow third party developers to help each other answer questions and resolve problems. Following Hagel's organizing principle, the network was narrowly focused, and well defined. And with that small move, big things were set in motion. Today, there are over 2 million developers in the network, and the average time for question resolution is 17 minutes! By using a social platform for developers to find the right person at the right time to manage their development "exceptions", suddenly, they were becoming much more productive.
But the benefit did not stop at the single resolution of a problem. As the community became more vibrant, SAP added a reputation system to recognize experts. As people's reputations were developed, experts were sought out in the community, and relationships formed through sustained conversations. As relationships were formed, so were global teams with shared interests. And as new global teams were formed, new products emerged.
So what's the lesson? Social software is going to be one of the most powerful tools in harnessing innovation to deliver game changing products & technologies. Companies that figure this out sooner than later will increase their competitive position. Start small, be smart, and expect big changes - in how you work, and in the results that you deliver.