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Social UC tools help remove productivity fears around 'social' tools

At Enterprise Connect 2014, a panel discussed how the combination of social and UC can help remove enterprise fears around 'social' tools.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tying the word social to enterprise social UC tools may actually be an inhibitor to adoption. Enterprises may be getting hung up on the idea of using business tools to promote non-work-related functions, but vendors have an opportunity to help organizations understand the value of adding social tools to their UC strategies and business strategies, said Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of COMMfusion LLC, during the enterprise social software session at Enterprise Connect 2014.

"I think there is a problem with the term social. … Maybe we need to take the term social out of social networking," said Pleasant, who moderated the panel. "But [social tools] are a business enabler, and it should be part of the collaboration experience."

How 'social' should your enterprise social UC strategy be?

Pleasant's social software sessions during past Enterprise Connect conferences have included several IT professionals sharing their deployment stories, but this year's panel featuring executives from IBM and Unify pointed to a social software market that, while initially hyped, has fallen stagnant. Without enterprise social tools tied to a bigger UC or collaboration strategy, some companies are struggling to see the business benefits of social UC, and they fear their employees will use these tools to waste time, she said.

I think there is a problem with the term social, and maybe we need to take [it] out of social networking.

Blair Pleasant,
president and principal analyst, COMMfusion LLC

"Social needs to be baked into workflows and business processes to really show [enterprises] the full value of these solutions," Pleasant said.

IBM was one of the early pioneers in the enterprise social space with its Lotus Notes platform, now known as IBM Connections. When presenting social software to enterprises in the past, many businesses didn't have a budget set aside for these tools, said Julie Reed, product manager of telephony, voice and video, and social communications for IBM.

"Enterprises didn't know what to do with or where to put these kinds of applications, but over the past few years, we have been seeing businesses give more weight to professional-networking types of apps," she said.

Culture may be more of a problem than the technology, but vendors can help their end users, as well as potential buyers, understand where social can initially fit -- usually within a line of business.

"It's really about looking at the problems we are trying to help businesses solve and how [social tools] might be able to get them there faster and more effectively," Reed said.

Combining real-time communications with social functionality can help adoption

While the main goal of social tools shouldn't be primarily to enhance relationships, a good product should be able to do both -- enhance business processes and improve employee relationships. The ability to find the right expertise and resources -- and not just employee cat photos -- is a big gap that enterprise social tools help fill. But social functionality has to be tied to real-time UC tools so employees have one place to go to get their work done -- a crucial element for adoption, Pleasant said.

"You can find the right people, but social tools don't really let you connect in real time. When we tie together social with UC, that's where we can instant message or launch a live voice or video call," she said.

Unify's collaboration tool, Project Ansible, officially named Ansible at Enterprise Connect, combines multiple information streams together -- including real-time UC functionality such as voice and video, with social features like activity streams -- into one WebRTC-enabled platform.

Jan Hickisch, vice president of global solutions marketing for Unify, pointed to the findings of a recent university study with Unify, which found that a group of employees took two days to complete an assigned work project when using only email and voice calls, while the second group using multiple communication channels, including social collaboration, took three hours to finish the same project. "The ability to move between communication channels on one platform might be a 'new way to work,' but it can make [businesses] more productive," Hickisch said.

Adoption won't take off by simply rolling out a new social UC platform to all users. A carefully selected group of users should make up the pilot program, IBM's Reed said. "You want to make sure you have a group of early adopters that have a reason to interact together and be able to use the social side of the tool," she said.

Vendors can remove some of the concerns associated with a new communications platform by helping their end users understand some initial best practices, Unify's Hickisch said. "By helping businesses understand these new ways to share information … and different communication channels, it will help [employees] become more engaged and take some of those fears away," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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