Can CIOs Quantify Enterprise 2.0 Collaboration Benefits?

Enterprise 2.0 collaboration platforms and tools provide organizations with new avenues for communication and information sharing. They can provide presence, messaging, video and community forums among other features with the promise of helping enterprises and their CIOs be more productive and efficient.

But it is possible to actually quantify the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 collaboration platforms? That’s one key question that arose during the Enterprise 2.0 conference this week, with an array of expert panelists providing some very different responses.

“For CIO metrics, it boils down to TCO [total cost of ownership] — you can’t measure return in dollars and cents unless your business has a dollars-and-cents impact,” Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research said. “All the CIO can really do is say, ‘This one is expensive and this one is cheap.’ That’s ultimately what IT’s job is: To deliver the solution the business wants at a cost the business will tolerate.”

Simply looking at cost isn’t how Cisco attempts to measure the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 collaboration technologies, however. Murali Sitaram, vice president and general manager for Cisco’s enterprise collaboration platform unit, said that while the conversations he has with CIOs do involve TCO, they are also asking about how to measure productivity.

Sitaram added that CIOs are trying to determine if Enterprise 2.0 benefits can be somehow measured as an increase in the output of employees and the rates at which products and services are created. Meanwhile, struggling to actually measure the ROI of Enterprise 2.0 technologies shouldn’t restrict enterprises from adopting the approach, according to JP Rangaswami, CIO of BT Design, a unit of British telecom giant BT.

“I’ve never seen a document describing the ROI of restrooms and urinals,” Rangaswami said. “There are some things you are going to install because they are important to have in an enterprise.”

Rangaswami added that despite the fact the he doesn’t think that CIOs must defend their use of Enterprise 2.0 technologies, he is aware of some real benefits that can be measured. In particular, he noted when that BT implemented the use of Twitter for customer care, their agents were able to solve 2.8 more cases per day. He added that customers also have reported higher levels of satisfaction as a result.

Enterprise CIOs can also benefit from public collaboration tools like Facebook and Twitter by trying to replicate them. Schadler said that what he’s seeing is both vendors and enterprises trying to replicate the best of the Web tools for internal enterprise consumption. Schadler added that developing a platform for collaboration — with multiple layers for additional functions that can be plugged in — is the approach that many enterprises are likely to take. Cisco’s new Quad collaboration platform is one such platform effort.

Moving to Enterprise 2.0 collaboration platforms also has its risks, however, in that CIOs can be faced with a loss of control.

“When you empower the edge, you have no idea what to expect,” Rangaswami said. “When people started with enterprise collaboration, the debate was that no value can be created unless people want to share. Now people have no choice but to share.”

But CIOs can also learn how to run their own organizations under the new paradigm by leveraging the Facebook model, the panelists suggested.

“My current paradigm for what a CIO’s responsibilities are is Facebook,” Rangaswami said. “Your first job is you manage a directory of people. The second item is that you make a catalog of information and services available, but you don’t actually provide the services yourself.”

Rangaswami added that, like the Facebook developer platform, CIOs need to provide an enabling platform for their enterprises: Different departments can build services, and individual end-users can choose the services they want rather than being told that their role and function requires them to consume a certain set of services.

At the same time, the embrace of enterprise collaboration tools has also led to a new position within IT organizations: Schadler noted that IT departments now need to have a collaboration program manager. That person is responsible for putting the collaboration tools in place and then adapting them to ensure they meet the needs of the enterprise users.

Despite all of the attention paid to Enterprise 2.0 and the potential benefits it enables, collaboration tools shouldn’t be a replacement for existing means of communication, Rangaswami warned.

“These are augmentation tools,” he said. “The goal is to reduce human latency.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.