By now, IT professionals know full-well they must work closely with department managers and business users, some of whom have tasted the autonomy of implementing rogue cloud, analytics, or big-data solutions.
And one tool designed to streamline and enable communication, as well as forge new and cement existing relationships, is already at your disposal as something you probably support, day in and day out: social media.
CIOs may regularly write a blog, tweet, or share items on the company's Facebook page, but it's valuable for the IT department as a whole, and you as individual IT professionals, to leverage this technology to increase corporate awareness of your capabilities, interests, and, well, that personal brand we hear so much about.
When you break it down, social media -- through closed Facebook groups, enterprise content management, or other tools -- is all about real-time collaboration between different people or teams. As the Harvard Business Review said last month: "Organizations' IT departments can use social media to communicate with the engineering department as it works on new products, often creating a tighter feedback loop than previously existed."
Technologists increasingly are using, not only supporting, social networks. Constellation Research's report, "Introducing The 43 Use Cases for Social Business," determined that about 70 percent of IT departments used social media in some capacity, with incident to resolution garnering the biggest impact.
Online Presence, Real-Life Value
Adding social media to the tools you use as an IT pro can build your visibility among business users, department heads, and corporate management.
Lower costs and faster resolution may provide immediate ROI, but there are other high-value uses. If you're not fully leveraging your corporate use of social media, you may be selling your opportunities short.
IT can work more closely with sales to find, customize, or write a mobile app for the company's sales reps; with the marketing team, to determine which additional social networking sites are of most value to the organization; with finance, to figure out which data can be destroyed, archived, and stored, and distribution, to pilot a new web-based GPS solution that integrates with the expense-reporting system. In fact, for every department, there are countless ways that social media interaction can eliminate many of the email and voicemail threads that plague IT professionals' busy lives.
Embracing social media gives IT a bigger opportunity to test different platforms. If marketing's interested in Tumblr, a joint initiative between the two departments may be in order. If sales thinks Pinterest will help them, perhaps a pro from each division can explore this option, connecting via social media according to their personal schedules.
It's not quite the same as using social media for internal communications, but NASA tapped the power of this technology last year when it debuted the crowdsourcing International Space Apps Challenge, which attracted more than 2,000 participants from around the world. Entrants tackled one of 71 challenges in one of four categories: open-source software; open hardware; platforms for citizen-science contributions; and data visualization. At the end of the contest, NASA received 100-plus contributions, seven of which won awards. You can envision a similar project taking off at many other tech-focused organizations, even if participation is restricted to employees.
There is an additional benefit to IT's expanded social media presence. Instead of being seen by some solely as a troubleshooter, someone they turn to only in times of crisis, your visibility increases and is shown in a positive, proactive light.
From offering insight into potential technology solutions to common business problems to sharing a joke, social networks offer us the chance to humanize ourselves beyond our office personas. That ability to convey our love of the Yankees, our hobby as a bassist in a band, or our fascination with Downton Abbey can be the foundation of relationships that extend far beyond, "My computer crashed," or, "Why I can't get on the VPN today?"
And that can only be a good thing for both our companies and our careers.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution