At IBM Connect, IT execs talk about betting on enterprise social

Executives from 3M, Taco Bell, Fluor and other companies have launched projects to improve collaboration and communication

By , IDG News Service |  Unified Communications, Social Networking

Unused intranets. Siloed departmental portals. Excessive email use.

Those are some of the problems that IT and business leaders at large organizations continue to face with their enterprise collaboration and communication platforms, although these systems have been around for more than 20 years.

However, with ESN (enterprise social networking) software, which attempts to adapt consumer social media capabilities for workplace settings, some companies are hoping to sharpen their collaboration systems and make it simpler and more effective for employees to work together.

At the IBM Connect conference this week, officials from a number of large organizations talked about their ongoing projects in this area, and about their goals for improved productivity, higher employee engagement and sharper innovation.

But not everyone is convinced that the ills affecting enterprise collaboration will be easily cured with ESN products, which let employees create profiles, microblog, set up wikis, participate in discussion forums, share documents, build online communities, and rate, tag and review content.

While IBM was holding its conference touting the benefits of enterprise social technologies, Gartner released a prediction that through 2015, a whopping 80% of social business efforts will fail to achieve their intended benefits, hampered by "inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology."

To avoid failure, organizations need to first identify how these enterprise social projects will enhance work practices, which requires a deep understanding -- and in many cases a transformation -- of the way people work and interact, according to Gartner.

Still, Gartner also said that by 2016, 50% of large organizations will have internal ESNs, of which 30% will be considered "as essential as email and telephones are today."

Alan Lepofsky, a Constellation Research analyst, is optimistic about the potential for ESN tools to significantly improve collaboration in workplaces.

Legacy collaboration systems from vendors like IBM Lotus, Microsoft and Novell weren't particularly friendly for end users, and were expensive and complex to install and maintain for IT departments, but ESN software attempts to mimic consumer social media services, with which users are familiar and comfortable, he said.

It also helps that most are Web-based and accessible via mobile devices, and that ESN tools are increasingly being integrated with line-of-business applications, like ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) products, shifting from being stand-alone to what Lepofsky calls "purposeful collaboration" tools.

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