Challenges & Opportunities for Enterprise Social Networking (#ESN) in Financial Services

Article by Ari Brown, Techstra Solutions

Michael Brown manages a global enterprise social network (ESN) for an international financial services organization.

Q: What were the goals or objectives of deploying an ESN?
A:  The primary goal we had for our ESN is the same today as it was when we launched over seven years ago – to shrink the time it takes to get an answer to a business or technical question by leveraging the vast skills and knowledge of the organization. To be successful, we must remove corporate silos, geographical barriers, and flatten the organization. Think about how you make any large purchase decision today – a car, an appliance, even a vacation. You could go to the library and pour through consumer reports, magazines, travel guides, etc. But in far less time, you can get input from experts – some of whom you may never know or meet – simply by posting a question on Facebook, Amazon, or other boards.  This is the power of social collaboration. The same experience can be recreated inside your corporate walls. By simply surfacing questions and answers by experts in an ESN, a company can solve complex business or technical issues in real time. This resource creates incredible value to the company at both a strategic and operational level.

Q: How are people using the ESN within your company? Has it changed over time?
At first, as people became accustomed to the platform, we saw people gravitate to large, global communities of practice – something still very common in an ESN. Today, we’re seeing groups leverage the crowdsourcing and social innovation features of our platform.  Leadership in banking today is about technology and innovation – mobile banking and payments, cryptocurrency, ‘big data,’ and artificial or augmented intelligence. The ability to innovate and develop products and solutions quickly is a competitive advantage. ESNs provide the ideal platform to expedite the collection while vetting ideas from a large number of leaders and experts – particularly in a globally dispersed organization.

Q: You also mentioned that there are still challenges you face.  Can you elaborate?
There are a few industries – financial services included – that make deploying and running an ESN challenging.  Healthcare and pharmaceuticals are others.  Governing bodies and rules and regulations within these ‘regulated’ industries create unique challenges for an ESN.  In our industry, for example, certain individuals are prohibited from communicating through these channels with others unless their conversation can be surveilled in real-time and captured for compliance purposes. These regulations create operational and technical challenges, but they are not insurmountable. That is why we have an open and ongoing dialogue with our legal and compliance teams. We work together to understand specific requirements and create solutions that meet the goals of each party.

Q:  Do you believe you’ve met the goals or objectives you set out to achieve when you launched?
A: In simple terms, absolutely. There’s no question that the folks who participate on a regular basis in our ESN have found value. It is far easier to provide anecdotal evidence than to provide quantifiable data – though we have done both over the years.

It has been fascinating to see the connections made between employees around the globe who, were it not for the ESN, may never have had the opportunity to ‘meet,’ share their knowledge, or co-create a solution. When you see that collaboration take place (it is visible within an activity stream) organically over the course of a few minutes or hours, it’s quite powerful.

Q: What do you see as the future for ESNs at organizations such as yours?
A: The proof that an ESN in a large global organization has positive return has been well established. The ability to find experts, innovate with colleagues in real time, and flatten the large corporate hierarchy has tremendous appeal. We’ve seen success story upon success story.  I believe our ESN will continue to grow and thrive as it penetrates deeper into the fabric of our organization and becomes the way we work and the place where work gets done.

The biggest change I expect to see is around ESN technology. I expect the consolidation of ESN platform vendors and the push to more powerful mobile applications will continue. In addition, most companies are migrating more of their systems to the cloud. Collaboration and innovations are no exception. Organizations are working closely with their internal legal and compliance teams to understand how to protect data, work within guidelines, and deploy cloud solutions. Vendors such as Microsoft and Google are creating more and more compelling and secure reasons to move there, too.  This will lead to the death of on premise ESN solutions.