Study: Social Networks Not on Many Enterprises' Radar

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Despite the waves of hype over the past several years, social-networking technologies aren't on the corporate agenda at 59 percent of large companies around the world, according to a study.

But officials at companies that are using various social software programs say the tools can provide some tangible value, assuming they are implemented correctly.

The Microsoft integrator Avanade hired Coleman Parkes Research to do the study. The firm interviewed 541 executives at companies in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

While nearly two-thirds of respondents have no immediate plans to implement social-networking tools, 77 percent acknowledged that social networking will enter the business "undetected if not proactively managed."

Top barriers to adoption include security, fear of unproven technologies and the potential drain on worker productivity, according to the study.

That apparently hasn't been the case at Sabre Holdings, the parent company of Travelocity. The company has developed a social-networking tool called SabreTown, said John Samuel, a senior vice president who manages the company's product incubation unit.

"We got interested in how social networks could be helpful in sharing expertise," Samuel said. "In travel and travel planning, that's an important topic."

Also, the company's workforce had become much more far-flung than in the past. "It was becoming more and more difficult to stay connected and even know what the colleagues you deal with each day look like."

SabreTown revolves around a question-and-answer format, he said. "You come on and can ask a question of the community. Behind the scenes we have a little magic that attempts to match the question with the people who can most likely answer it. We find 60 percent of our questions are answered within an hour of when they're posted."

Adoption has been strong; 60 to 70 percent of the company's workers use the tool at least once a month, according to Samuel.

Sabre, which is now looking to license the technology to other companies, made sure to build in a number of governance measures.

"You use the same sign-in as you use to sign in to the rest of your system," Samuel said. "Every addition of content to the site has your name on it, your real name. There is no hiding."

There's also a feature that allows content to be marked "shady," thereby prompting an administrative review.

"I believe you can do things and set up [social software] in such a way that you can calm the reservations people have about it," Samuel said.

Standard Chartered Bank, a global bank based in London, is piloting software made by WorkLight, which adds a security layer to Facebook, said John Meakin, group head of information security.

The WorkLight software is installed on the customer's server and integrated with corporate authentication and access control systems. Employees install a separate WorkLight application on their Facebook account and log into it. The interface looks like Facebook, but the information viewed through it is provided by their employer's server, and can't be viewed by non-employees.

It made no sense to invest in one of the many other social-networking platforms in the market, because the bank's workers were already used to Facebook, Meakin said: "We felt we could positively end up discouraging the kind of collaboration we want if we blocked Facebook but said, 'here's something that's a poor equivalent of that, use this.'"

Small organizations are experimenting with social software as well.

IBIS, a Microsoft integrator in Norcross, Georgia, is using a program called Xobni, which ties into Outlook and generates a variety of statistics and details about a user's relationships with e-mail senders, said Dwight Specht, chief operating officer. Workers there are avid bloggers as well, he said.

"The way our company operates culturally, the more tools people use to keep in touch, the better for us," he said.

But the benefits IBIS has seen, while real, are not yet overwhelming, he said.

"I think it helps us work a little more efficiently," he said. "It's helped our productivity, but it hasn't been a transformational technology for us yet."

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