Social media can be a powerful collaboration tool for businesses, so why aren't more CIOs leading forays into social networking technology? Mark Samuels reports.
The media consensus would have us believe that we are on the cusp of an information revolution, where everyone across the world is using Facebook to poke their peers and Twitter to tweet their views. As ever, an element of caution is required. Change is occurring but the revolution is patchy at best.
There might be 500 million Facebook users around the globe but that still leaves almost six and a half billion non-users. What lies behind such figures is a broader socio-economic change. The number of people using Facebook has doubled year-on-year and the up-and-coming cadre of younger employees expect to use social technologies in the workplace.
Such expectations create significant challenges for the executive team. The CIO, as the individual with responsibility for organisational IT, should be at the apex of that challenge. That, however, is not necessarily the case.
There are a limited number - particularly in the UK - of CIOs who are known for being strong advocates of social technology. One is Andrew Abboud, CIO at London's City University, a technology chief with a passion for expressing his views through his blog and his Twitter account.
Abboud is in a good position to consider the definition of the social CIO and to explain how IT leaders can use collaborative IT to create new opportunities. The first point, he says, is to recognise that collaborative tools do not transform IT leadership responsibilities.
"Collaborative technologies don't change the role of the CIO. They position the CIO who engages in them as a leader of a function that genuinely underpins important work and social interactions," says Abboud. CIOs simply must understand how collaborative technology can be used to sponsor relationship change.
Abboud says telepresence, or very high quality videoconferencing, reduces an organisation's cost base by reducing travel cost, wear and tear on people, and an organisation's carbon footprint. CIOs, he says, should select the right technology and partners - and promote usage.
When it comes to social media, Abboud says the tools help break down organisational silos by connecting people to people and by connecting people to knowledge. As enterprises work with an increasing range of external parties, he expects social tools to support the business processes that enable various parties to collaborate and share ideas.
Collaboration, however, is not just about the internal business process and Abboud believes CIOs need to understand how their customers engage in social media. In short, the social CIO must act as an advocate and collaborative champion.
"IT leaders need to educate executives in their organisations about the opportunities presented by these tools," says Abboud. Such opportunities are typically to do with understanding what customers think, managing online reputation and identifying marketing opportunities.
The CIO should also lead by example, using collaborative services within...
Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.