What do CIOs Think About Social Media?

The internal IT department, headed by the CIO, no longer acts as the gatekeeper for all new technology coming into the enterprise. IT may stand at the gate to the castle, but SaaS and social media startups are swimming across the moat. Internal IT can still set fire to the moat and otherwise make life difficult. But how do you make this a win/win relationship, so that they welcome your entry? Start by understanding how IT is thinking about social media.

Although we will make some generalizations about CIOs in this post, we recognize that there is a huge continuum from progressive to traditional.

Generally CIOs love technology and innovation. It is why they went into technology. Nor do CIOs want to control everything, they know it is impossible and life is too short. Most see that Social Media technology has positive potential. But they do have legitimate concerns. Specifically, social media startups that want to tap enterprise budgets need to deal with 5 big worries:

1. Unpredictable scaling issues. Twitter failure is OK when we are just twittering about our cats, but would be totally unacceptable if this was an enterprise app. The viral nature of adoption is a concern for people who have to ensure that the lights are on and the trains run on time. If you are asking people to do serious business on your service, you have to be solid on the reliability and performance scores.

2. Security against IP loss. This is a legitimate concern. The impact can be major. The fact is that it is no longer possible to “bolt the stable door” as the horse has already escaped. It is virtually impossible to stop an employee, either foolishly or maliciously, sending digital data that should not be sent. Just make sure that your service does not make this worse and has some reasonable controls.

3. Integration. This is the big “well what about….” objection. Just touting open Internet standards is not enough. You need to show how to build adapters to internal legacy systems that don’t work to those standards. Without integration you cannot answer the next one. Building adapters is tedious work. But once you have a library of them, they become a barrier to entry.

4. Loss of productivity. Services for consumers do not need to answer the productivity question. We do this stuff for fun and in our free time. But when that time creeps into the 9-5 workday, it is a legitimate concern for those who pay the salaries.

5. Accidental brand damage. People who grew up with social media know that the brand cannot be be protected other than by great products and services. Anything bad that happens will get out there. However this scares the bejesus out of traditional Enterprise managers. It is also a legitimate concern that if you give a lot of powerful social media tools to people who don’t know how to use them wisely, there will be a lot of collateral damage. Like physicians you need to show that your service will “do no harm”.

These are all negative, objection issues. Clearly there needs to be a compelling positive reason. We will focus on that in a future post. First step is making sure these objections don’t stop you on the way in.

If you want to listen directly to one CIO who is thinking hard about this, see this podcast by Intel CIO John “JJ” Johnson on social media in the enterprise.

What have you experienced? As a vendor, have you found and handled these or other issues? As a customer, have Social Media start-ups shown a good understanding of these issues? What other issues are critical?

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