ROI and ESN and IBM's Social Business Journey

When IBM's Ed Brill gave the INFORM 2015 opening keynote address he revealed the lessons IBM itself has learned through the implementation and use of its collaboration software. 

Where is the ROI?

The oft-asked question when collaboration software is discussed, or when it is reviewed post-hoc, is "where is the ROI"? We know that if an organisation has allowed an "organic adoption" approach then proving an ROI is extremely difficult - for example if Yammer has been picked up and adopted by a variety of individuals on a "general" basis of improving "communication" or "collaboration". The reason that it is difficult is because by definition with organic adoption no plans and no baselines were established and no initial metrics developed which related to business outcomes being sought. 

Typically in the case of organic adoption of a collaboration platform the ROI question is attacked by accumulating success stories and assigning them a value. Nothing wrong with that, just that it is more a "wing and a prayer" approach to enterprise social network justification. It relies on luck in having identified enough "wins" before the ROI comes under scrutiny by the CIO or CFO or other decision makers.

Ed Brill IBM Social Business JourneyWhere is it best to start?

A more systematic approach is to find real business needs and baseline them and then review performance against the baseline metrics and targets.

Ed Brill reflected on IBM's experience in doing this within IBM, and revealed some insights into which business processes are likely to give the best ROI performance initially. Meaning, that if you choose the wrong types of applications then you will make it harder for yourself to get the ROI over the line in the early days. 

What Ed showed is that IBM has found that collaboration use cases build around the following areas proved more capable of sustaining a positive ROI than the business processes in the second group:

  • Innovation
  • Speed & Agility
  • Efficiency
  • Employee Engagement
  • Improved Client Experience and Growth

The second group are areas when collaboration has proven valuable but where it is harder to build the ROI case:

  • Sense of Belonging
  • Improved Flow
  • Reputation and Eminence
  • Progression.

Social business journey lessons learned

So the learnings from the IBM social business journey are:

  1. Seek the ROI case from the first group of business processes, which have clearer metrics and are more vertical in nature;
  2. In this first group use repeatable use case frameworks, which IBM calls Social Business Patterns, to help analyse the nitty-gritty of the process;
  3. Implement aspects of the second group of objectives, which are important horizontal use cases, but don't promote these as the key outcomes to support the initial investment.

What we would add is that within the first group of processes it is the quality of the business process mining, the metrics, and the value maps which will make or break the ROI, and the credibility of the solution.


Walter Adamson 

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