Companies warm up to social networks
Employers see benefits when office workers log on to Facebook and similar sites.
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Sites such as Facebook are not immune to harmful Malware widgets, observes Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, a firm that creates antivirus software for businesses. "If you click on the link, you infect your computer. So this is a way for malicious code to enter your organization."Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Cluley worries, too, about employees leaking proprietary information to others. One solution may be migration to "gated networks" such as Thomson Reuters' tightly guarded social network for the financial community, where rigorous identity verification procedures screen out unwanted visitors. It's also likely that offices will start creating their own fortressed hubs. For instance, Accenture, a management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing group with 180,000 employees, recently created its own matrix. The Facebook-like network includes the sorts of features one would find on YouTube (a video-sharing site), Wikipedia (an Accenture encyclopedia), De.licio.us (a social-bookmarking site for URLs), Ning (the ability to form subgroups to share information on a topic), and even a Twittr-like presence indicator that specifies whether you're interruptible. As Accenture Chief Information Officer Frank Modruson explains, "It has your bio. It has your picture, if you choose to share it. It has contact information. It has where you work in the organization, who you report to, skills, things of that nature. And the best part is you can free-text search it. So, you start being able to find skills and information that is hard to structurally design."
Case in point: An Accenture employee in London recently needed to find someone with digital-asset management experience, so he sent e-mails to colleagues, asking who to contact within the firm. But when he typed that search term into People Search, he found the right person within minutes. Two days later, he received replies to his e-mails recommending the same person.
The goal of the site, according to Mr. Modruson, is to break down barriers within the organization.
Accenture's system certainly puts the "work" back into social network, but how about the "social"?
Modruson's profile indicates that his interests include fly fishing, wine tasting, and volunteer firefighting, and he's been able to make connections with Accenture workers who share those pursuits. Common interests can forge new bonds in the workplace. But the biggest impact on internal communication – something that's also been observed at Serena Software – is the ability to use Web profiles to see what people on the other end of a phone line look like. It adds a personal element to professional interaction, according to users.
Smaller companies don't have their own social networks – yet. But Modruson and Challenger predict that social networks will become as integral to business as e-mail. And, if information truly is power, then expect social networks to topple established business hierarchies.
"You look at an org chart within a company and you see the distribution of power that should be," says Eran Barak, global head of marketing strategies at Thomson Reuters. "You look at the dynamics in the social networks [to] see the distribution of power that is. It reflects where information is flowing. Who is really driving things."