I’m not sure if this is a trend yet, but I’ve had a couple of client enquiries recently, but not about social computing or social media explicitly – instead they want help with IT strategies more generally.

Considering that it would be very rare to implement social computing in a green field environment where no other technology doesn’t already exist, it makes sense that social computing should be considered on the basis of how it fits as part of the whole. This is a nice level to come in at, as the question then becomes more about using social computing to deliver business benefits and improvements, rather than what can we do with a wiki or blog.

However, unlike traditional IT approaches, social computing provides some flexibility in how your use it to either compliment, augment or revolutionise your IT approach:

  • A complimentary approach involves dropping in a targeted social computing-based solution to meet a business need that would otherwise require significant internal redevelopment and effort in order to achieve anything in the short term. These can often be provided as hosted solutions.
  • Augmenting means using new social computing based solutions to enhance existing systems and software – for example, adding a social computing layer over a legacy or some other rigid, but critical operational system. This social computing layer can actually be the catalyst for getting maximum value from those other systems.
  • Revolutionary of course implies we completely rewire the existing information system and move to a Web 2.0 and social computing based approach. For example, it could mean as radical as migrating to Google Apps or as innovative as replacing a major system currently running on software with traditional computing origins (like a Web Content Management System) with a social computing originated system (like a Wiki). It might also be about using more open source.

So even if you aren’t sold on the intrinsic business value of blogs and wikis etc, I think its seriously worth including social computing as part of your IT strategy tool box if any of these apply to your situation:

  • How you can meet emerging business needs more quickly;
  • How you can get more out of existing systems and software that you have in place; and
  • How you can save money.

But its even more important to include social computing into your IT strategy if your business has also given IT a mandate to solve problems such as:

  • Becoming a flat, agile organisation;
  • Improving innovation and speed to market;
  • Better customer service;
  • Reducing travel;
  • Knowledge management; and
  • Creating more effective remote workers.

Its easy for managers to dismiss opportunities to use a social computing to get more value out of IT because of personal myopia (“I don’t use Twitter, why would anyone else find it useful?”), but in fact you need to look again with a strategic eye – in other words, how can social computing help you business achieve its goals and what is the best way to apply it to our situation?

BTW For more on the business drivers at work, check out Jon’s post on Business 2.0.

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