Often the IT group and the CIO are cast in a negative light when it comes to “corporate” and social media e.g blocking access to social sites, turning off or resisting Yammer etc. But it should be, and can be the opposite. The CIO can easily become an innovator and thought-leader in social business by repurposing skills and knowledge long held in enterprise IT.

In my presentation to the Australian Lotus User’s Group 2012 conference I gave some tips for IT Groups wanting to claim their stake in the implementation of social business. The conference title is a little anachronistic as the dominant theme now is social business and IBM Connections. And the audience is mainly IT folk, which is not necessarily where the social business challenge lies. In the implementation of social business the IT Group has potentially a lot to lose, as we’ve seen by “shadow social IT” in the form of Yammer. So how can the CIO Group hammer a rightful stake in the ground?

Shadow social IT

We’re in the era of shadow social IT, following on from the shadow IT era of apps such as Salesforce.com whose sales reps studiously avoided IT, and the era of cloud where even IT infrastructure purchases skirt around IT, and now social, as exemplified by Yammer. In fact if you accept the McKinsey definition of “social technologies” as in Tough Times, Social Technology and the Innovative CIO by Michael Hugos then shadow social IT is potentially massive.

The challenge for companies selling social platforms such as IBM with IBM Connect or Telligent with Telligent Community & Enterprise is to move out from IT and (a) sell social to the lines of business and (b) help implement social, while taking the CIO and IT with them. That’s necessarily a more complicated effort than bypassing IT and selling direct to end-users. And even more complicated again is the fact that the people currently using social media within a target customer may not the ones who understand the strategic impact of social business, nor have any idea of how to implement it. So engaging with those users is not going to help the big-picture thinking and discussions which are needed, in fact it may hinder because they current “social media” people feel threatened.

CIO Turn Off YammerPerhaps an even greater challenge is one faced by CIOs to overcome the image of the CIO/IT Group as the blocker or at least the brake of social within the enterprise.

So how can the CIO take a proactive role, and be a positive force in the transformation to social business?

Use some of the core CIO Group skills

The transformation to a social business is a complex journey, and in a complex organisation it requires a holistic approach and cross-functional planning and coordination. Social business, as a enterprise-wide endeavour, has to include thorough processes and structures for such things as strategy, change management, governance, architecture, cross-company and cross-functional communication and coordination, federated organisation, change control, pilot projects, and outsourcing selected areas.

Guess what, the Office of the CIO has been doing similar things for a very long time. For example the core functions of successful CIO organisations were codified in Marianne Broadbent’s The New CIO Leader: Setting the Agenda and Delivering Results (first author, HBS Press, 2005) and, for example IT Governance: How Top Performers Manage IT Decision Rights for Superior Results by Peter Weill & Jeanne Ross (2004).

Those core functions include strategy, governance, commercial & vendor management, architecture, business enhancement and technology advancement. Within those are the roles of managing supply and demand, cross-business planning and coordination, and understanding what is embedded into business units and what is central to the office of the CIO.

You can see that many of those same issues and requirements are part of the transformation to social business. For example Sandy Carter talks about a Digital Council for the enterprise, in her social business book Get Bold. That’s a version of a IT Steering Committee with perhaps broader scope. Cisco has a Social Media Center of Excellence, which as a company-wide approach to social business is not unlike a well-planned federated approach to IT planning and operations.

The CIO Group as leaders

When you think about it, few other parts of an enterprise have the broad cross-functional role, and the established management functions and procedures, which IT has. And a well functioning CIO Office has all the background and wherewithal to understand very quickly what kinds of processes and people and procedures and platforms will work effectively for social business in the enterprise.

CIOs who have the ability to extract, and abstract, that knowledge, and to embed it and perhaps uplift it a level, offer their enterprises a real head start in the complex journey towards social business transformation.

One of the keys to this abstraction and uplifting is firstly to engage with colleagues who are intimately familiar with the customer-facing aspects of the business e.g. sales, support, marketing, and then round out with business development, collaboration, and product innovation. The idea there would be to take a journey with those colleagues on how the established knowledge and processes of the CIO’s function can align with a holistic approach to social business.

Once that first journey is concluded, and ideas about processes, people and platforms clarified, then the business operations leaders need to be consulted and the operational details worked through. That means, as in the Cisco sense, what can be centralised, what decentralised, what outsourced, and how is it all managed and coordinated.

The opportunity for the pro-active CIO is to “leverage social media to extend your role in driving customer focus” as Len Peters recently said.


Using their expertise and long experience CIO’s and their functions can bring real value and real leadership to the social business transformation journey – provided they can escape the perception of blocking and can abstract and re-apply their core functional skills.

What is the most important role of the CIO in assisting the transformation to social business?

How different is that role depending on whether it is starting with a social business platform, or a point-solution for a business function?

Please comment below.