Do you remember? In 2011, Atos announced its much-noticed “Zero Email” initiative in which Atos’ CEO Thierry Breton compared email pollution of our working environment following the Internet revolution with environmental pollution following the industrial revolution. He affirmed to fight this email pollution: “Our ambition is to be a ‘zero email’ company within three years.”
In a briefing call with PAC analysts last week, Atos now also stressed its commitment to become a leader in Social IT for its clients. Atos had acquired blueKiwi – an enterprise social software solution – earlier this year. Now the release of “blueKiwi ZEN”, hosted on the Cloud platform Canopy was announced, positioning it as a central hub that can be connected to other social tools and process applications in the enterprise.
It is good to see that Atos’ E-Mail announcement turns out to be a starting point of a serious initiative rather than a marketing campaign. But the question remains whether a giant system integrator like Atos will be successful in pushing social collaboration forward within companies, while many others have failed to do so.
In fact, while Twitter, Facebook and others have infiltrated our private lives, adoption of social business in companies has remained comparably moderate – so far. While there are some very exciting examples, many of the ambitious projects of the past years have not been overly successful.
A common argument that we often hear from user companies is that collaboration and social business tools have been implemented, but few employees use them. “So there does not seem to be much value in it.” Well, I believe there is a whole bunch of reasons for the low adoption of social media tools in businesses so far, but it is surely not the lack of value.
The major reasons for low social business adoption in my view are:
- The lack of integration of these tools into everyday business applications and processes,
- The lack of understanding of the effects of social networking and collaboration on business performance, coupled with a lack of dedicated budgets for related projects, and
- The lack of cultural change support.
With its approach to Social Collaboration, Atos actually addresses these points:
Lack of integration
As long as social tools are rather stand-alone without integration into everyday business processes and applications, they are simply yet another channel to communicate and collaborate. They will make life for professional users just another bit more complex – rather than easier. They will increase information overflow rather than reducing it.
To address this, Atos follows a strongly process-driven approach towards social collaboration. For their own Zero E-Mail initiative, Atos internally looked into all processes that involved email and tried to move these into the social collaboration environment. Now they use these experiences to consult their customers accordingly: As part of their business process methodology, Atos will offer customers ways how to innovate business processes that today include email and how to integrate social functionality with business applications.
And here is also where a system integrator’s expertise comes into play: maximum business value of social tools will come from integration with legacy systems, integration with communication & collaboration solutions (UCC), integration with process applications such as CRM, ERP and with vertical applications.
Atos positions its own collaboration platform blueKiwi as an easy-to-use central hub that integrates with existing applications. Before being acquired by Atos, blueKiwi was burning cash at a rapid rate, as it was one enterprise social network among many others. Now blueKiwi forms Atos’ centerpiece block to build an enterprise-wide integration of streams and communications around it.
Lack of quantifiable value
This process-driven approach also makes it much easier for business managers to understand where social collaboration can fit and offer value. Atos will provide templates for the use of social collaboration for a whole number of business processes and, in addition, define social business concepts by industry. This will be important to convince companies that social collaboration needs to become part of the business process to increase efficiency.
In times of cost cutting, every IT investment needs a quick ROI and clear effect on efficiency and/or revenues. However, ROI and business cases are extremely difficult to demonstrate for collaboration solutions. If Atos can produce some solid metrics from its own or its clients’ implementation experiences this will surely help sell concepts and solutions for social collaboration. According to Atos, a first analysis of KPIs shows that email volume has decreased by 20% within Atos so far, and productivity gains can be quantified at around 20-30%.
Another major barrier to the successful adoption of social IT is that the cultural change needed is often underestimated to support a truly collaborative environment, where employees happily share ideas and knowledge across locations and lines of business. CxO endorsement is mandatory when you want to implement such a cultural change – and Thierry Breton’s commitment is surely an important success factor for Atos’ internal efforts.
Atos addresses this by implementing a “Social IT Change Management Program”. This very structured approach for projects with its clients aims to remove the cultural barriers to adoption.
My conclusion: Social Business Leaders, who really want to enforce social business rather than implementing some products in a trial-and-error strategy should consider complete offerings like those of Atos, which is complementary to existing solutions. The competence of a system integrator with experience in large IT projects that require substantial technical, business and change management expertise might help to finally make social IT successful. Another success factor is that the company is open to the cultural changes that comes with social collaboration.
Post by Nicole Dufft