Enterprise social tools won’t win over CIOs until . . .

A venture capital firm’s poll of CIOs shows many IT leaders haven’t bought into the vision of collaboration tools that resemble Facebook and Twitter. Their verdict deserves analysis, not condemnation


Venture capitalists are notoriously reluctant to succumb to hype, but they’ve got nothing on the CIO community.

As All Things D recently reported, VC firm Sierra Ventures based in Palo Alto, Calif. recently surveyed dozens of senior IT executives about the IT products that mattered an those that they felt were largely based around empty promises. And despite all the buzz, enterprise social tools were called the most overhyped technology of 2013:

Their reasoning, as Al Campa, a partner at Sierra Ventures put it, was equally simple: “They don’t feel there’s any evidence for a return on investment or ROI,” he said. “It just didn’t move the needle for them when compared to other technologies they looked at.”

For pessimists like GigaOm’s Stowe Boyd, the Sierra Ventures poll is just more proof that CIOs are out of touch:

They aren’t getting a payback on social tools, but that’s because the company has to use social tools as the core infrastructure of a new ways of work, not as an add-on to 20th century operations. 

Give me a break. I suspect the rationale behind the CIOs’ attitude towards enterprise social media tools is much more basic. These are people who have spent years deploying tools to help facilitate collaboration, only to find them dormant or under-utilized. This includes intranets, of course, but also the earliest versions of unified communications products that either didn’t perform well or, in all fairness, might have been a little ahead of their time.

Only now are various channels like telephony, e-mail and video mature enough — and mobile-enabled — to be ready to offer users the benefits UC promised. It has also taken the movement of UC to the cloud, or UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS), for the costs of the technology to make sense to many CIOs.

Like it or not, enterprise social tools are, in fact, an add-on to 20th century operations, and no one’s going to rip out their telephone or e-mail servers to pop in an internal version of Twitter. Instead, only once more organizations marry UCaaS with a management strategy that encourages uptake will the addition of social tools have a sound business case.

In that sense, CIOs who remain wary about enterprise social tools are hardly acting as though they don’t understand business. As they evolve the network to make collaboration more effective across a range of products, they’re actually starting to sound a lot more like CEOs.

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