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Exclusive Research: The Social Business Technology Horizon

(Editor's note: Slides are interactive in links within this story. Click here to go directly to slide presentation.)

Business executives are half again as likely to have made long-term use of social business technologies as their IT executive counterparts, according to a new study conducted by Saugatuck Research in partnership with Information Management magazine.

The finding is one just topline entry point to Saugatuck's latest comprehensive research into the use of social and collaborative technologies released jointly today.

"Social Business Technology" refers to software used on-premise or as a service (via a public or private cloud) for the purpose of enabling personal, business-centered interaction within and among companies, enabling knowledge workers to collaborate on projects and tasks and engaging with customers. A non-exhaustive list of categories includes enterprise social networks, public social media, wikis, blogs, forums, Web conferencing and document collaboration.

The results were compiled from 224 completed surveys collected in July and August by Saugatuck Technology and included input from Information Management readers. The summary findings are supported interactively with slide links in this story; methodology is found at the end of this article.

Nearly 60 percent of business executives report using social business technologies for two years or longer, in sharp contrast to almost 40 percent of IT executives who reported the same. The higher business use suggests that social tools are operating unmanaged or outside the purview of IT, something that's not an unusual sociological phenomenon, according to Saugatuck SVP and head of research Bruce Guptil.

"Consumerization has made it typical for users of new types of IT to sidestep internal purchasing and evaluation if they like it and can get it and go use it," Guptil says.

For early IT adopters, there's evidence going back decades that found IT executives are trained or more behaviorally comfortable with formal processes, says Mike West, Saugatuck VP and distinguished analyst, a primary researcher for the study. "Harvard Business Review looked at this in the 1950s and understood the approach that manages for efficiency and looks for payback models." (Guptil and West will provide more details in a contextual interview being released next week.)

The top business goals and activities in the findings are knowledge building/sharing, employee collaboration and marketing support. "Get it right inside the company first seems to be the current focus of social business IT approaches," West says. Hidden in these improvement goals is a shift on group work and preserving enterprise knowledge and expertise.

"Social" is beginning to equate with "improvement" for internal and external users, the study found. "Four or five of the top seven business benefits of social implementations fall into the category of making things better," Guptil says. "It's very top line and very internal user facing more than customer-facing at this point."  

Web conferencing and document collaboration are presently the most-used social business technologies and solution types, followed by public social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), blogs, wikis, and enterprise social networks (Salesforce Chatter, Yammer). The relatively high ranking of public social media is noteworthy but not surprising, Guptil says, given the business focus in marketing and customer-facing business goals.

The analysts also say low rankings for innovation management and location-based technologies are a reflection of low market maturity, even though such topics are popular in media attention to social technologies. "As fast as things are happening, we haven't even reached adolescence," Guptil says. "With universal browser applications and devices, we see a pretty short term focus [and] the vast majority of social business IT used today is in a point solution that's not integrated into other things yet."

Sales and marketing, followed by IT and customer service/support and IT management were the functional areas with the greatest activity and adoption. West and Guptil found it interesting that manufacturing, distribution and logistic roles haven't become very aware of social business technology for process and quality management, which they would appear to be especially suited for.

Respondents also said the greatest potential payback by the end of 2014 would be found in sales/marketing, customer service/support IT and inter-enterprise initiatives. Fewer than one half saw a high degree of potential payback in areas of HR, manufacturing/distribution/logistics or finance three years from now.

As such, the top perceived gains of social business technologies skewed over a range of general benefits including knowledge sharing, collaboration and mobility and also performance goals of customer acquisition and marketing support. Even though the subject of "gain" can be hard to quantify, the results indicate that there is a wide perception that benefits are to be found in a variety of social technology usages.    

At the same time, IT is frustrated by requests for integrated tools at a time when their budgets and relevance are questioned, as Guptil found, indicating a need for priority setting. "IT leaders are going to say, sure, give me an unlimited budget and I can deliver."

Two-thirds of respondents said social business IT has delivered some improvement toward goals topped by knowledge building/sharing, employee collaboration and marketing activities. Enterprise executives are seeing and reporting operational and/or cost improvements through social business IT, the study found. This indicates interest and spending on the technologies could increase rapidly.

Security, governance and process integration topped the concerns of users, and "ownership" was a concern the analysts say reflected a community controlled and operated environment. "Poor organizational buy-in" was also a surprising concern, given the reporting and business improvement potential of social business IT.  

Just more than half of social business technologies in use at organizations are externally hosted. Forty-four percent were hosted in captive data centers, reflecting the use of tools like enterprise messaging, conferencing, collaboration and calendars. Increasingly hybridized environments (37 percent) indicate further mainstreaming of social business technologies as internal security and integration hurdles allow.

Finally, the top "providers" of social business technologies were divided between emergent Web and established enterprise software vendors. Of the latter, "Microsoft and also IBM have been pushing in this field and are probably the first of what we call 'master brands' to have been adopted in any scale at all," says West.

Guptil says the slide shows there is a clear break between "screenshare vendors" and tech-oriented providers. ” It's not about who IS most powerful, but who's seen that way over the next few years. It's very likely a lot of master brands will acquire startups for their platform-based products. But, the names that are up there, Google, Facebook, these are the social brand names that are consumer-facing and right now it's about desktop success."

Given the difficulty of unseating a Twitter or LinkedIn, the next frontier of acquisitions is sure to be highly contested and highly hyped, Saugatuck analysts say. And recent moves into the information management software space by HP and others were plainly influenced by social and collaborative trends.

Saugatuck concludes that the time frame for adoption will take a few years or more but will be generally and irresistibly driven by demand. "You couldn't get more visible about how things are changing if you wrote it in the sky in neon letters," West says. "The social business IT evolution is showing us how the very organizational theories and management of IT are changing right in front of us."


- In July and August, 2011, Saugatuck Technology conducted a global survey focused on the business use of Social Business Technologies in partnership with Information Management magazine.
- In total, the survey yielded 224 completed responses – 68 percent from North American, 24 percent from Europe and the Middle East, and 8 percent from Asia/Pac.
- Respondents 70 percent of the survey had a title of Director or higher, with 61 percent of working in a business function (sales, marketing, finance, HR, operations) vs. 39 percent in IT.
- 47 percent of the survey respondents worked for companies with greater than 1,000 employees.
- While the survey had a slightly higher rate of respondents from High Tech and Business / Professional Services companies, it achieved a solid distribution across Financial Services, Healthcare, Retail/CPG, Manufacturing, Public Sector and Telecom, among other industries.

By Region
North America 68%
EMEA 24%
Asia/Pac 8%
Total 100 %

By Function
Business 61%
IT 39%
Total 100%

By Employee Size
<100 28%
100-199 25%
1,000-4,999 13%
5,000+ 34%
Total 100%

By Title
VP 13%
Director 27%
Manager 21%
Other 9%
Total 100%

By Industry
Bus/Prof Svcs 20%
Manufacturing 6%
Public Sector 5%
High Tech 25%
Fin. Svcs 15%
Healthcare/Pharma 10%
Retail/Dist./CPG 8%
Telecom 3%
Other: 8%
Total 100%

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