Is your organisation embracing digital service delivery and the benefits on offer from a business model that is open, transparent and collaborative? This article builds on my presentation at the Housing Technology 2013 conference in February, titled ‘Social business: the role of technology as an enabler to drive business transformation’, and looks at the IT team’s role in the businesses of tomorrow and why learning from social media might help the housing sector deliver against some of the current challenges.
Wikipedia tells me that, “a business is an organisation involved in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers.” It also states, “businesses are predominant in capitalist economies, where most of them are privately owned and administered to earn profit to increase the wealth of their owners.” The same site also tells me that social media “refers to the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.”
SocialBusiness.org says, “a social business is a company dedicated to solving a social issue. The company strives to make a profit, although all profits are re-invested to further the social benefit. By using business principles and strategies, it creates a sustainable business model to eradicate the social issue. Social issues are those that relate to poverty, health, education and human rights.”
So, if we look at what a social business means in the digital sense, it should combine the ability to be commercially successful and collaborate internally and externally to co-create services that deliver some sort of social transformation. If we accept this is the case, then what is the role of the IT team?
My view is that a successful IT team should be focused on balancing the utility of ‘keeping the lights on’ with the innovation of thought-leadership and enabling business improvement through the effective application of technology. In practical terms, this means a focus on best-of-breed business applications, not IT infrastructure; it means an awareness of collaboration toolsets and an operating model that embeds business partnering at its core.
This outward focus is a change of emphasis for many traditional corporate IT teams whose focus is on delivering a highly-available IT infrastructure and, furthermore, the skills needed to be a ‘trusted advisor’ are very different from the traditional technology-based roles. Business analysis, relationship management, enterprise architecture and supplier management are all skills needed in a progressive IT team and, depending on your infrastructure/system delivery model, these may replace some of the more traditional roles.
A digital business needs its IT team to be flexible and responsive to requirements. It needs a technical team who use their in-depth understanding of business and technology to enable change without using the challenges of information security, data protection or infrastructure complexity as blockers to innovation, which saps business confidence in the ability of the IT team. Yes, there are many legitimate hurdles to sharing data, cloud delivery and social media usage, but businesses want their IT teams to help overcome these challenges and help move the business forward. Without strong alignment, confidence and trust between the IT team and their stakeholders, a digital social business cannot be successful.
As stated earlier, a social business in the digital sense is one that collaborates and shares information across its people and networks, and I suggest that this business model has many benefits for the housing sector. Building communities, empowering residents and engaging in the co-creation of services can all be enhanced with collaboration tools such as community micro-sites to share local knowledge, blogs that enable conversations rather than pushed out newsletters and online forums to engage in service feedback. The value for money and green agendas can be supported by embedding collaboration tools across organisations. Webinars, video conferencing, instant messaging and portals all help the effective sharing of information and have the potential to enable more efficient working. If deployed and used in the right way, social tools can drive employee engagement, giving employees a chance to join in a conversation about things that matter, work in a flexible manner and collaborate with colleagues.
However, there is a big ‘but…’. Digital exclusion is a huge obstacle in developing a successful digital social business. To be successful, employees, residents and stakeholders need to have the skills, equipment and access to consume and create digital content. Equally important is having the confidence and interest in participating in digital service delivery. Replacing paper with online forms and estate visits with blogs requires a significant change of culture and skills and is not appropriate for all. Nonetheless, its use in the right areas could create more capacity to help in those areas that need it most and start to empower people to really drive social transformation.
David Leach is director of technology and transformation at Orbit Group.