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How Social Computing is Redefining Modern IT May 2, 2013

Posted by kirbyr in Modern IT.
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Social Computing means different things to different groups of people.  The average computer user would define social computing as social networking—websites such as Facebook or Twitter.  Companies use the term social computing to describe internal social sites, such as Microsoft’s SharePoint.  These sites allow employees to exchange information, either through sharing documents or data, participating in online discussions, or through IM type conversations.  Marketing departments would say social computing means pulling data off of social networking sites to use for making business decisions.  Below I discuss how these aspects of social computing are influencing modern information technology, as well as how other current trends relate to social computing.

IT has been slow to embrace social media because of the security risks: leaks from employees posting sensitive information or negative views, and potential malware attacks [1].  The first step for IT departments to take control of corporate social computing is to secure the environment in two steps: 1. Create policies for appropriate corporate usage of social networks. 2. Secure the social computing environment.  After this initial step, IT can partner with other departments to provide useful services.  Examples include filtering, structuring and storing data from social media sites for the marketing department to use in data mining, or creating an internal corporate social site to improve communication within the company.

Corporate social sites are meant to increase communication and collaboration, with the end result of higher profits through either cost savings from increased efficiency, or through increased sales.  A popular corporate solution, Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013 borrows features from social networking sites, such as tagging, likes, photos, following users, and newsfeeds [2].  Another new feature is reputations: employees can gain points by participating on the SharePoint site: liking items, answering questions, etc.  SharePoint 2013 connects into existing social sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn; your personal profile allows you to share posts and information from those sites.  The end result for SharePoint 2013 is that employees will be sharing a lot more information about themselves and their activities.  Will employees feel comfortable providing this information, and how does that translate into increase business profits?

Sentiment analysis is mining social media posts to determine how customers feel about a brand, product, or company decision.  This is an area where IT can have a real impact on business goals, by working with marketing departments to conduct sentiment analysis projects.  A current trend is that sentiment analysis projects must tie back to a business goal to have value [3].  You should have a plan for what to do with sentiment data before you start gathering it.  This ties into the big data trend as well.

Big data and social computing are intertwined: big data usually refers to the large datasets compiled from social media activity, such as a set of Twitter posts or Facebook likes.  A challenge with big data has been that companies do not use their datasets effectively to make business decisions [4].  Employees are not asking the right questions, and are using their social computing datasets incorrectly.   Below is a summary of how big data analysis projects work in most marketing departments [4]:

  1. Analyze data — preferably big data.
  2. ???
  3. Profit.

To make the leap from step 1 above to step 3, companies (and marketing departments) need to make a cultural shift to data-driven decision making.  Below are steps for the new process [4].

  1. Big data: collect and organize information, and develop hypotheses.
  2. Big testing: test out your hypotheses to prove cause and effect.
  3. Big experience: use your data and testing results to provide better customer experiences.

Companies often fail in step 2.  Employees are afraid to take a risk and be blamed for failures, so they test out non-consequential hypotheses (if they even engage in testing).  The big data trend uses datasets compiled from social computing, but these datasets are wasted if the right business questions are not asked at the beginning of the analysis process.

Corporate culture has a big impact on the effectiveness of social computing to aid a corporation.  The enterprise social computing platform Yammer gives companies the ability to improve communication and share vital company information [5].  Information is the most valuable business asset in today’s corporations, and employees who receive and share information feel more empowered [5].  Corporate leaders should show how they are making better decisions from information they receive at different company levels, and they should filter information down through the company.  A benefit to executives of using social computing is that social computing platforms such as Yammer can help them spread their corporate culture and goals throughout the organization.

Cloud computing can be used three different ways to implement virtualization within a company: public cloud as off-site backup; public cloud as disaster recovery site; or public cloud as bursting option [6].  Off-site backup and disaster recovery are easily understood, while bursting means using the public cloud as a backup for hosting applications during peak usage times.  All three of these options could be combined with corporate social computing.  In the case of a company SharePoint site, the public cloud could be used as: 1. An off-site backup for SharePoint data. 2. A complete back up site for disaster recovery; or 3. An application host to run the SharePoint site when company resources can’t handle the performance load.  Of the modern IT trends, I would say that cloud computing has the least influence on social computing.

Social computing and mobile computing are interconnected, with each driving the popularity of the other.  One consideration in mobile computing is choosing the development environment [7].  If you develop an app for one environment, you are excluding mobile users from all other environments.  Another consideration in developing mobile apps is to choose between making an actual app or providing a mobile website experience.  A mobile website would theoretically be useable by any mobile phone user, resulting in lower development costs.  A final consideration is that the mobile environment allows you to restrict what the end-user sees, as opposed to a traditional development environment.  These considerations should all be taken into account when developing mobile solutions for social computing, such as a company’s SharePoint site.

Social computing is redefining modern IT by expanding the ways users interact and communicate with each other, as well as incorporating new ideas from other modern IT trends of mobile computing, cloud computing, big data, analytics, and changes in corporate culture.  In particular, social computing allows for collaboration on corporate social sites, allows for collection of big data from social media sites, and brings new security challenges.

References

[1] Social Engineering, Julie Pitta, CA Technologies, “Defining Modern IT eBook,” 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.nimsoft.com/content/dam/nimsoft/documents/un-secure/ebook/Defining-Modern-IT-ebook1.pdf. [Accessed April 28, 2013]

[2] 10 Great Social Features for Microsoft SharePoint 2013, Jeff Bertolucci, InformationWeek.com http://www.informationweek.com/social-business/news/galleries/social_networking_private_platforms/10-great-social-features-for-microsoft-s/240008678 [Accessed April 28, 2013]

[3] Social Media and Sentiment: 5 Takeways from the Sentiment Analysis Symposium, Adam Helweh, online article available at http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/social-media-monitoring/social-and-sentiment-takeaways-from-the-sentiment-analysis-symposium/ [Accessed April 7, 2013]

[4] The big data bubble in marketing – but a bigger future, Scott Brinker, Chiefmartec.com, http://chiefmartec.com/2013/01/the-big-data-bubble-in-marketing/  [Accessed April 22, 2013]

[5] An Interview with Yammer: How Social is Changing Corporate Culture, Don Power, Sprout Insights, http://sproutsocial.com/insights/2012/05/enterprise-social-media-yammer/ [Accessed April 28, 2013]

[6] 3 Ways the Cloud Can Complement Virtualization, George Crump, InformationWeek Must Reads Cloud Computing, http://twimgs.com/informationweek/green/022813mrb/Must-Reads-Feb282013.pdf [Accessed April 28, 2013]

[7] Is Developing a Mobile App Worth the Cost? Aaron Maxwell, Mashable.com, http://mashable.com/2011/02/24/mobile-app-dev-cost/ [Accessed 4/2/2013]

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