In the third part of his series of articles looking at the viability of social IT support, Maff Rigby of IT SmartDesk explains the final pieces which must be put in place before embarking on a project that could change your helpdesk forever.
In part one of this series, I introduced the concept of social IT support, while part two looked at the tough questions that must be asked to decide if social fits your service desk. In this third article, I look at the final things to consider before beginning what is surely a cultural and organisational shift.
There is no point pretending that social IT will work for all organisations – if the cultural fit isn’t right you could be in for a painful implementation project with very little to show at the end of it. So it’s worth thinking through the following criteria to see if your organisation is ready before starting to plan an implementation project:
For IT managers in highly regulated industries I can feel the shiver of fear at the thought of openly sharing any information within the Social IT environment. Social IT can still work within these industries – it just needs to be planned and thought through in much more detail. Remember – social IT is about giving customers a choice of how they seek support, choosing the correct communication channel that corresponds with the type of issue they raise. Conversely, a social IT implementation will require much less planning in an industry where there is little or no regulation and where information is freely exchanged and shared.
Trust and openness
Social IT depends on open and transparent communication, which in turn requires a great deal of trust within an organisation. Your employees will not openly discuss issues and problems if there is a fear of reprisal over any negative comments they make; healthy debate will not happen if people suspect their views and opinions are being judged in some way. The culture of the organisation must be one where people can openly share issues and concerns with the rest of the organisation. Lead by example, lead from the top, and do so with sincerity and the best of intentions. Your CEO should engage with the employees and ask for their open suggestions on how he or she can improve communication within the organisation. They should respond favourably to both the positive and negative feedback, and then be seen to take action to address the key points.
Size is not important
While the size of your organisation isn’t critical for the successful implementation of social IT, it will influence the way in which you manage and maintain your social IT platform. You need enough participants to give you the benefit of crowd-sourced knowledge sharing, whereas having too many participants potentially equates to information overload and confusion. The key to obtaining the correct balance can be achieved through a blend of community management (managing the interactions and personalities within the social IT community), well thought out workflows, and the right technology. As an example of how this is done well, check out how Stack Overflow manages its community-based Q&A platform: questions are answered by the community, who also rate both the question and the answers. Not only does this prevent blatant advertising posts, but also improves the quality of the knowledge. Reputation points are awarded for good quality contributions and can unlock extra privileges (e.g. additional voting rights or editing options), and deducted for poor quality contributions. The overall result is a very well managed knowledge base with very little noise. For an example of how not to do this well, look at how LinkedIn manages group discussions: posts are moderated by the group admin, who may not have the time to manage this task, especially in a busy group. This often leads to a large number of posts that are advertisements and self-promotion. There is also no way to assess the quality of the discussions, and often they either go completely off-piste into a rhetorical argument, or descend into an endless string of companies pushing their services on the person who asked the question in the first place. There are some really interesting and useful discussions on LinkedIn, but far too often they are hidden by the noise of these unruly discussions.
Age and structure of organisation
Social IT will thrive where the organisation is relatively young with a flat, non-hierarchical structure. These types of organisations are more likely to embrace an ‘edge of chaos’ culture where there is a fine balance between having a structured way of working while allowing the organisation enough space and freedom to allow innovation and ideas to emerge. These organisations will also be more familiar with the new and emerging technologies of social media platforms. Older, more established organisations that are much more hierarchical and structured in their ways of working will find Social IT more challenging (but not impossible) to adopt.
Social IT continues to be a much debated topic, and as always I welcome your feedback and thoughts. In the true spirit of social IT, please be honest, open and respectful – there won’t be any repercussions for any negative comments, and by contributing your knowledge you can help to shape this interesting and powerful movement.
Maff Rigby is the founder of IT SmartDesk.