The call from Pradeep Nair — Director of Software Group, IBM India P Ltd, Mumbai ( — is simple: “Go Social!” Embrace your network of people — employees, customers, suppliers, partners, influencers — to deliver business value, he urges, during a recent interaction with Business Line .

‘Three key tenets,' according to Pradeep, are: “Engaged: Connecting people — whether customer, partners, suppliers or employees as a network to deliver value. Transparent: Removing unnecessary boundaries inside and outside the organisation to allow your people and culture to reflect your brand and your values. Nimble: Leveraging these networks to speed up business, gain real-time insight and make quicker and better decisions.” Our conversation continues over email.

Excerpts from the interview.

Why has it become relevant for businesses to pay attention to social tools?

Because they can. And more importantly, because they have to. It's what their customers are doing.

As per a Nielsen study done last year, over 14 million people are socially active online in India. 70 per cent of all social networking users in India access a social networking site every day. One in two people, across all age groups have interacted with a brand on a social networking site in the last one year. 57 per cent have registered at least one product in the last 12 months. 77 per cent have visited a product website after reading a review on social media site; 52 per cent of those who read online reviews about a product bought it.

Also, 37 per cent of heavy social media users in India fall under the age group of 21-30 years; and the most likely age group to click on an ad on social networking site is 31-40 years. These are prime demographics; and Indian enterprises see this.

As per the IBM CEO study last year, 95 per cent of standout organisations will focus on getting closer to customers over the next 5 years. Leveraging social media offers completely new avenues of reaching out to your customers.

As per the IBM CHRO study, 57 per cent of organisations surveyed are likely to allow people to use social and collaborative tools to enhance productivity.

What are the top concerns of enterprises in usingthese tools?

With an emerging area like social software, it is natural that some companies will face adoption challenges. The results from IDC's Social Business Survey (commissioned by IBM) identify that the top three challenges associated with using enterprise social software are: (1) getting people to participate; (2) measuring the impact on business goals; and (3) finding the time to use another tool. Other concerns include security, governance, and privacy.

How can enterprise concerns be addressed? Examples.

To help our Indian clients overcome these concerns on their journey to becoming social businesses, here's our recommended AGENDA:

Align organisational goals and culture. It all starts at the top. It needs senior management to embrace the change.

Gain friends through social trust. When an employee leverages social tools to solve customer problems, the brand tends to gain a huge uplift. Imagine the network effect of this when a large proportion of employees and brand partners engage in this manner; it builds a community around the brand.

Engage through experiences. Share testimonials of consumers, for example. Show how to use through videos clips rather just have a product manual.

Network your business process. Ensure you build people-centric collaboration rather than a document- or process-centric system. People who are involved in the entire business process right from creating, producing, selling, servicing, supplying, buying, influencing, stocking etc. are all networked for seamless access to information.

Design recovery. With transparency comes risk. So we need to have robust social media policy, education, and governance for employees to share, re-purpose, review information accessed through social media tools within and outside the enterprise.

Analyse your data. The transformation to a social business will result to multi-fold increase in information flow; you need to be able to derive insight from it. That's where social analytics comes in.

Please highlight a few cases of leveraging of social tools by enterprises?

Asian Paints

Asian Paints, India's largest paint company and ranked among the top ten decorative coatings companies in the world, needed to provide their employees and dealers a collaboration platform to connect with each other better to generate more ideas, increase supply chain efficiency and enable dealers to engage and service their premium customers. They are rolling out IBM Connections across their network – they see these tools as key to breaking down organisational silos – “bringing together manufacturing and marketing.”

Federal Bank:

Federal Bank has been growing rapidly. They wanted better collaboration across various departments in their head office and bank branches. Using IBM Connections, they expect to improve the information flow across the bank. They see these tools improving transparency, and helping the bank become more nimble to compete.

On the newer skills required in the enterprises to make the best use of social tools?

For users within enterprises that are already familiar with the web, there are no new skills they need to acquire to use social tools like IBM Connections. The user interface is browser-based and employs concepts that are familiar to consumers of social media like Facebook or LinkedIn.

The skill requirements are primarily on the management and governance side – in many ways, it's a new world out there, and firms need to acquire skills to leverage the information generated when their employees start to leverage these tools – skills, for instance, in analytics and security.

And also the alternative business models being adopted for the purpose?

A social business leverages the web as a significant business model. It sees its network as a system, taps into the collaborative potential of these networks, and applies social analytics to these networks to learn from interactions and associations and take action. Customers are leading the conversations that define brands. As social networking tools become more pervasive, so too does information about a company's brand.

About 25 per cent of search results for the world's 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content - consumers now wield unprecedented power over how brands are perceived.

And consumers' peers have more influence than ever over their buying decisions. 78 per cent of consumers trust peer recommendations, but only 14 per cent trust advertisements. Meanwhile, your competitors are tapping into these conversations, too; they are crowd-sourcing ideas to bring new solutions to market.

Social business is an idea whose time has come.