IT and its role in Sourcing and Outsourcing – SIG CIO roundtable report – Part 3 Social Media

Encrusted in our lives

We all remember what we were doing the morning of 9-11-2001.
I was running, listening to the radio news in Mexico City, where I lived at the time. As soon as I heard the news of the attack, I ran back to my apartment, turned on my two TVs and tuned my home stereo to the news. Took a shower and headed to the office; I needed high-speed internet access. I wanted to know the whereabouts of my NYC-based colleagues and friends. I got a hold of them through AOL Instant Messaging; they were fine. I tried to get more news from, but these were limited. Just like every other major news organization, they had a minimized version of their website, which was highlighting just one or two facts at a time due to the overwhelming web traffic.

On Sunday, almost ten years later, as soon as I learned that President Obama was making a special announcement, I resorted again to the Internet, now through my Blackberry. Even before the official announcement, the rumor that US Special Forces had killed Bin-Laden was already spreading fast in Twitter. On Monday I learned that first was the tweet from Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director: “POTUS to address the nation tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time.” Then one particular tweet from Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for the former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, seemed to have initiated the speculation: “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.” Just like Twitter, other social media sites were flooded with Bin-Laden-related content. The New York Times' Jenna Wortham summarized it perfectly in her post: "Online, an Urge to Be a Part of the Bin Laden News".
Twitter also posted a graph showing the spike of the activity during the night.

The way people experience and consume information has changed dramatically in the last decade. We are not passive audiences anymore. We have the ability to learn from different sources in an instant. Provide context to the news through different opinions, obtain different kinds of content from a wide diversity of sources. But most importantly, today everyone also has the capability to be a broadcaster. 

This long introduction serves me well to illustrate a point that was a center topic during our CIO roundtable discussion back in April, during the SIG Summit. Every corporate guideline, limitation and policy should be designed around the fact that social media today is part of our lives.

Convergence of personal and corporate

IT is usually in charge of doing the unpopular job of closing or regulating access to social media. Services like Twitter, Facebook or YouTube are blocked for reasons that range from the purely technical, like preserving bandwidth, to more business-related, like prevention of data loss or fear of diminished productivity. Yet while social media can be controlled to a certain extent by opening or closing the data valves, it needs a broader approach.

Executives at the roundtable argued about the need to look at the fact that, for most knowledge workers, it is becoming very hard to draw a clear boundary between personal and job- related activities. Personal information is being accessed through the corporate PC, and corporate information is accessed from the personal smartphone or tablet PC. How do you regulate that? Will an organization evaluate the possibility of shutting down cell phone service in their premises? Most likely not.

These blurred boundaries reach a new dimension with social media. Individuals are now becoming the face of the organization, why? because people follow people, not organizations. Business icons like Bill Gates and Richard Branson surpass, by far, the number of twitter followers of their companies. But lesser known people, like Padmasree Warrior, CTO at Cisco, are also raising the social media bar; today she has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter, while the company's official account @CiscoSystems 'merely' surpasses 55 thousand followers.Recognizing this trend, some companies have taken the concept a step further: encourages employees to use twitter, and even has a section in their website to display their tweets. When can an organization be liable by what its employees say? When the company raises its visibility, thanks to the extracurricular activities of their associates, should they reward them?

An insurance industry executive at the session told the story about how they use Facebook to discover fraudulent claims: An individual claimed accident insurance and disability, while at the same time he posted videos of himself water skiing during the weekend on his Facebook wall.

The point made in the session was that social media cannot be viewed as a problem that needs to be solved by IT.  It goes way beyond its reach, and can bring benefits and threats to the organization. A holistic approach needs to be taken. A complete set of policies, regulations and legal frameworks need to be redesigned to accommodate this new reality.

Adoption started after Christmas

“Once the executives got their iPads on Christmas,” said one of the members of our session, referring to the starting point of most social media, and mobile computing strategies.

When a smart executive experiences first hand the ease of use, and the power of a well-designed mobile device, combined with social media apps like Flipboard, TweetDeck, Instapaper or Skype for iPad, they will realize the potential, and start engaging with IT to leverage the opportunities.

The potential is vast, and according to the members of our group, sometimes surpasses the ability of the organization to adopt all these technologies. Yet consensus seemed to be around the fact that the young generation, the Millenials, are natives to social media, and corporations need to be aware of that if they want to attract them.

This last item was of particular interest to most of us middle-age people in the room, because we are very sensitive about the fact that our kids, our nieces and nephews are not answering the phone, but boy are they good at updating their status on Facebook.

You can read the introduction of this series, as well as part two focused on innovation. Stay tuned for the fourth and final piece:

Part 4, Globalization: A shrinking world with cultural differences