Facebook or face closing, CIOs told

Twitter, YouTube, Facebook are the bane of some business for privacy and security reasons.

But three Canadian experts told an audience of chief information officers Tuesday that organizations had better embrace these and other social media before competitors do. 

“For any company to survive in Canada, if not world-wide, it has got to have an element of social strategy in its DNA fabric,” Cindy Gordon, CEO of Helix Commerce International, a business collaboration consultancy told a CIO Canada Exchange seminar on innovation in Toronto.

“And,” she added, “you all have to move very, very quickly.”

Gordon’s words were echoed by Phil McBride, who leads the global IT innovation and project management group at soap and toothpaste manufacturer Proctor & Gamble Inc., and Ana Andreasian, director of technology at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

IT has made security objections to social media a crutch, Toronto-based McBride said, one that can be overcome with proper controls. “There are many strategies in risk mitigation that can be placed successfully to embrace the technology,” agreed Andreasian.

What does social media have to do with innovation? It’s a tremendous tool for capturing and spreading ideas both internally and from customers, the trio said.

For example, McBride said, Proctor & Gamble used to be possessive about its research and development. Then it realized it didn’t have a monopoly on creating products. So the international giant created a portal where inventors could submit their products or ideas. “That was a big shift,” McBride admitted.

But it leads to a contract with a small company for an inexpensive battery-powered spinning toothbrush at a time when competitors were selling ones for around $180. Leveraging its branding power, P&G got a jump on competitors.

Today it has 10,000 partnerships from the program by recognizing innovation can come from outside the company.

The next step was to extend the concept to its IT partners.

P&G uses social media in other ways both internally to generate ideas and spread information, and externally to connect to customers.

Innovation, McBride stressed, doesn’t happen on its own, but has to be fostered. “If we don’t understand the tools they (customers) use, and don’t use them ourselves to bring innovation, then we will never succeed as a consumer products company,” he said.

Sick Kids is one of 16 Canadian hospitals using social media to connect researchers, Andreasian said. But recently the institution has been extending it as far as the boardroom.

“We can’t change people,” she said of the fear some have of the tools, “but we can change the environment. We can motivate people, we can engage them, and then give them tools and they can bring up their ideas.”

However, she cautioned not to overwhelm staff with social media tools, which could result in information fatigue.

As for the inevitable privacy and security concerns, as a consultant to banks Gordon can tell stories. She’s seen financial institutions take as long as six months to craft policies taking into account the worries of multiple departments.

But, she said, CIOs have to understand and meet the needs of their organization. “You’re on a learning journey,” she advised. If the organization isn’t what she calls “community-centric,” take it slow. “Start where you know you can have success.”

For example, for one chief executive officer who didn’t want to write a blog, Gordon had him make audio messages to staff to take advantage of his verbal skills.

As for small or conservative organizations, Gordon says showing case studies through groups like the CIO Association of Canada, which co-sponsored Tuesday’s event, will help.  

“The best return on investment these days means building a network-centric business model around community around every aspect of your business ….If you don’t do it, quite frankly we’ll have a lot more [corporate] demise in Canada.”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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