Who’s Buying?

Restaurant check on trayI’ve spent millions of dollars on software over the years, both as a systems integrator and as a business owner. I know firsthand that the right software, when properly applied, can be crucial to an organization’s success.

I was reminded of this again recently while helping a large company build out an internal collaboration platform that is gradually replacing their existing intranet, when the project manager asked me why it seemed to take her company so long to “get” social media.

In talking it over, we saw that lots of people within the company had been advocating for social networking tools – it had just taken a while for them to figure how who should pay for it!

Sometimes it’s not that easy to rapidly navigate an enterprise-wide tool through a company’s budgetary process:

  • Utility – Social software is increasingly perceived as an enterprise-wide utility; people just expect it to be there, like water, electricity and lights. But before that happens, it can take time for a large company to agree that such a new capability is essential, and to assign responsibility – and a budget – for operating it.
  • Software – Social networking tools, whatever their transformative potential, are really just software. Consequently, it’s natural for companies to assign responsibility to the IT department. And while IT’s contribution is crucial, it’s the line-of-business champions who often determine whether or not social software really gets traction, because their business units are suffering from the pain points that social tools can help address.
  • Scale – As my colleague Michael Idinopulos points out, pilot projects don’t provide a solid basis for assessing enterprise collaboration tools, because the scale is wrong; these tools rely on network effects, so you need large numbers of users to realize optimal value.
  • Shared – Neither the IT department nor any other business unit wants budgetary responsibility for social media if that means that everyone else gets a free ride.

What can you do to help your organization find the budget to implement social collaboration tools?

  • Start at the top: cultivate champions among your executive team, not just for their proportional share of budget, but because their participation is crucial. Corporate social networks catch fire when C-level execs are daily contributors to the discourse.
  • Identify use cases with good prospects for return on investment, because you’ll need as much evidence as possible.
  • At the same time, keep the focus on strategic value, such as the fatal cost of being left behind as business transforms into rapid-fire sequences of digitally mediated social interactions.
  • Launch social media as widely as possible, and make the tools super easy to use (like internal versions of Facebook, Wikipedia, or Twitter).