Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On Social Media IT Pros Often are the Luddites

A discussion was started on CIO Zone yesterday that makes my hair hurt.

Titled “CIO’s Are Getting Tougher on Social Media” the main article reported data from a Robert Half survey of IT management regarding the use of Enterprise 2.0 technologies: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, wikis, YouTube et al. The article says that even though Enterprise 2.0 was ubiquitous, its usage growing, fully 38% of CIOs are tightening their restrictions on social media personal or business usage, depending, in the workplace. Only 17% are loosening such restrictions leaving 45% to stand pat where they are. A bit more startling to me, the article states that “in October, Robert Half issued a survey in which 54 percent of more than 1,400 CIOs said their company doesn’t allow employees to visit social networking sites for any reason.”

The author expresses surprise, “after all, we can all remember a time when allowing staffers to use the Internet seemed like a crazy idea from security and productivity standpoints.” I found the inward-looking, functional resistance nature of many of the comments more surprising. Here’s the first one:

... But if it were solely up to me to dictate policy, I would block Facebook/Twitter but encourage use of LinkedIn and professional social networking sites such as CIOZone.

To me, Facebook is nearly exclusively used for personal use and people who are addicted to Facebook tend to squander huge chunks of their time on it. I very much doubt many people at most companies have a compelling business reason to use it on a regular basis. Maybe give access to an HR person for potential background checking-type things, but that's it.

You can’t make some stuff up. The above comment reads as though the writer has never interacted with anyone in sales, marketing or customer service and support. I’m fairly certain that the writer has had such interactions but the position taken denies it. He clearly doesn’t work at Best Buy and has never heard of Blue Shirt Nation. He can’t work inside Booz Allen with Walton Smith. He doesn’t work at Thomas Nelson Publications.

No business can responsibly be interacting with and engaging with its markets, especially customers, prospects and influencers, without Enterprise 2.0 technologies. People research products and buy products through the web. They interact about what works and what doesn't, what is good and what isn't, using social media (see David Meerman Scott’s Four Questions).

Thus, all parts of the organization that interacts with customers, prospects and influencers must use it, any and all of it that the community they deal with uses. This means just about everyone in your organization needs access to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, wikis, etc., etc.... except, maybe, the Luddites in IT.

Read the comment again. The writer is saying that the external social sites that he uses are fine but those that others use aren’t justified. It’s another way to say “I don’t know what other people do.”

Other comments are more sensible. An example, “you can't bury your head in the sand… you can't simply expect this thing called social media to go away. 40% of all professionals now use their profiles to email colleagues - soon email as we know it will be a thing of the past. For the professional side of social networking, reaching out to peers for industry discussions, problem solving and keeping abreast of business news, this site and others make complete sense. Forrester tells us time and time again that learning from peers in forum discussions and via video content is where it's at.”

Ed Zachary!

But the Luddites are there. “I believe that the security of the company must come before convenience” is a common sentiment. The problem is that this is not the choice. It’s security risk versus market participation risk. “Convenience” is not at issue.

Another view, “I still have a hard time justifying the use of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc. in a corporate setting unless someone is doing sanctified marketing or other corporate promotion.” “Sanctified?....” Frankly, this comment reads as though the writer feels inconvenienced by all that “marketing stuff.” He should read the company’s income statement.

Working on Step 2

A viewpoint to get behind is “there is also no doubt that the world has shifted in such a way that personal and business boundaries are blurring, with work spilling into personal time and vice versa… The ubiquitous presence of personal mobile devices capable of posting to social networks places the issue outside of an employer's ability to restrict access.”

This view is consistent with that of Microsoft’s CIO, Tony Scott. Recently interviewed by CIO Zone Scott said that its actually social media “in life” and that they were going to entirely invert their previous position on the consumerization of IT and orient their infrastructure to support the technology their employees bring to the firm rather than force their employees to fit into an IT-generated cookie cutter.

I don’t suggest for a second that security concerns are immaterial. The normal rules of engaging in inappropriate content should be enforced as should professional standards of protection against sites and services that create security and access exposures. That said I agree with Sam Curry of EMC’s RSA group (they do security). Sam will tell you that business is ultimately about Risk v. Reward, that Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) are no way to run a business, and that the task is to “ensure the right people have access to the right information over a trusted infrastructure.” “Trusted” is different from “entirely restrictive” and essentially not useful nor helpful.

It is clear, at least to me, that all parts of the organization that interact with customers, prospects and influencers must use Enterprise 2.0 technologies, must use “social media.” It is also clear that what is the best or appropriate tool to use for what business purpose is under rapid change. Your company doesn’t get to choose which ones the community-of-interests you deal with use. That is defined outside your enterprise and you must adapt to that definition, unless, maybe, you’re a technology Luddite inside IT.

This means just about everyone in your organization needs access to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, wikis, etc. You already have management authority to keep people working instead of fooling around, whether the technology is there or not, use it. Expect people to get their work done and provide them the tools to do so. Increasingly these are Enterprise 2.0 tools.


  1. Well, then let's help educate the IT folks! Here's a helpful whitepaper on the subject of blocking social media apps, it's called “To Block or Not. Is that the question?”

    It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, SharePoint, etc.)

    Blocking shouldn't have to be an "all or nothing" proposition, either.

  2. One of the paradoxical things about technological innovation is that those on the forefront of one phase of evolution are often the most resistant to the next phase. I remember a CIO in the early 80s (actually a VP of IS in those days) saying he didn't understand what was the big deal about spreadsheets—"his guys could whip up a 1-2-3 equivalent on the mainframe that could be accessed from a 3270 terminal". Fortunately for his organization, he was not provided the opportunity to try that. Even Einstein, who could develop relativity theory in the vacuum of a Swiss patent office, could never quite embrace quantum theory.

    One of Jack Welch's last ideas at GE was to force his product heads to think up ways in which innovations could destroy their businesses as they existed and then figure out whether they wanted to get in front of innovation by embracing it or devise a counterstrategy. Perhaps CEOs could demand something similar of their CIOs.

    Much IT innovation in the last three decades has come from whimsically-named companies (Apple?) offering products and services that initially seemed far afield from the concerns of people running a business (Facebook, Twitter et al). All of these were initially easy to dismiss. Despite the initial concept of the CIO as a visionary not embroiled in the quotidian tasks of keeping stuff up and running and secure, most CIOs are indeed so embroiled and lack the time and energy to pull back and ask themselves what, for example, Facebook could do for the bottom line.

    While I'm certainly not defending Luddism, it's both understandable and really nothing new among mandarins of established technologies. The solution will be the same as always—generational change. Hardcore PC resisters got pushed aside in the 80s, internet resisters in the 90s, and it will happen to Enterprise 2.0 resisters in the next few years.