Do you remember when your company took a bet on a fancy new document management system, proudly announced it across the organization, collected hundreds or even thousands of documents, only to face (years later) the migration problem when the platform you staked your career on turned out not to have been such a wise choice? How did you manage the migration of the documents to the new platform, or was it a case of turning one off, turning the other on, issuing an all-staff email and letting the users cope?
I'm sure the best IT shops managed to take across the raw documents, but did you also transfer the relationships between documents and the hierarchical (or network) folder structure? What about the meta data users had carefully crafted around each document? Did you retain links to the authors so that users could navigate to related content? Such matters are just the tip of the iceberg in many migration projects. Perhaps the original document system created connections between authors and their subject matter expertise. Did you throw that away in the migration, losing valuable knowledge?
Fortunately, document management systems have improved, structures are more standardized, and it is possible to do a decent job of migration. Stuff happens, new IT products emerge which you need to take advantage of. Migration is a fact of life and the cost of progress.
Jump forward to today's enterprise social networks and idea management tools. Think twice before betting on a social technology.
Have you heard the term: user-generated content? Well, that's what you are going to get (like it or not) if you install an enterprise social network and spin up a marketing campaign around it. Before you know it, your systems will be chock full of threaded discussions, group spaces, communities, blog posts, project spaces, tasks and actions.
It is not uncommon in large organizations that install social networks to see a proliferation of communities running into several thousand. These are deeply connected spaces. Each contributor has a profile, and each profile links them to 'followers', and 'followed', similar to the way that consumer services such as Facebook operate. Every time an employee posts, and someone else comments, a connection is made between them. Each is informed of updates to the other's content. The same is true of collaborative document editing through multiple versions. Likewise, as users join or leave specific spaces, their email notifications are modified. The social fabric is rich, interconnected and persistent. And don't forget that users will have been collecting badges, points and other 'recognition' indicators. Throw those away at your peril.
Such embedded social and collaborative contexts are not only invaluable to the organization, they also ingrain patterns of works and relationships - a kind of proxy workflow. They are, quite literally, where people work.
The rise of public and enterprise social networks has given rise to a field called social network analysis. It is a valuable technique in the hands of those responsible for organizational development, community and knowledge management. It is not unreasonable to believe that the use of such tools could permit an organization to deepen its understanding of how its people work, who the experts are, how change is occurring, and where the main centres of expertise lie.
As enterprise social networks develop over the coming years, expect 'big data' techniques to be applied behind the scenes. In some instances, the information may need to be anonymized for legal reasons. Text mining will also play a role. It is able to quickly surface embedded themes from bulk content, permitting analysis of the "Voice of the Employee". This has been shown to be effective in idea management systems, so why not social networks? Their concerns, needs, ideas and pointers to risks are all there, waiting to be uncovered as hidden or outlying indicators.
You may doubt the value of social network analysis and text analysis. You cannot deny that migrating an organization from one social network platform to another, could be a formidable task. There are few precedents, and no standards. The connection structures among users, groups, spaces, tasks, threads, content, all vary, product to product. A structural mapping may be possible, but the technical hurdle impractical.
Now imagine what would happen if you just turned off the old systems supporting the social networks, and announced the new system. All at once every interaction, connection, thread and notification among users would cease. Relationships built up and established over years would be eradicated in one simple swipe of the IT managers' pen. Ongoing projects may be disrupted. Knowledge centres and communities of interest would no longer exist. These could take months, more likely years, to re-form.
Computer-mediated collaboration in global corporations is now the norm. We work remotely, virtually, and in many connected spaces, and we do simultaneously across projects. Our enterprise collaboration tools are a reflection of our work. This ecosystem is materially different to the past landscape of email server migration, simple intranets, databases, forms and workflow. Social networks are an emergent phenomena. What builds over years becomes a mirror of your organization. Destroy that mirror, and a lot may be lost. Jump forward a decade of social maturation, and ill-advised actions could destroy a company.
In leading organizations, social networks are extending to clients. Take everything I said above, and think about the implications of shifting social platform where clients are engaged in the conversation and have already established links to your employees.
Migration of a social network is a complex topic. Think wisely before you choose a social network platform. Unlike application servers and databases which are mature and difficult to tell apart, competing enterprise collaboration platforms are very different. Migrating your virtual workplace from one platform to another may be a more complex than you imagine. That project could be the best test you have of whether your IT office is headed by a Chief Infrastructure Officer or by a Chief Information Officer.
Question: Is social digital, the new organizational knowledge capital? If it is, it needs a well crafted platform, and migration plan. Make sure its a plan of right kind. It may be more about how this important and organic asset, built up over time and added to daily, is protected and preserved and fostered, rather than the simpler task of ripping out one system, and bringing up another. The effort will be as much about business, as it is about IT.