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IBM Connect 2016: Transforming Social Data into Business Insight

Susan Etlinger
IBM London

“You are custodian of the most valuable data in the enterprise - if you can harness it.” Marie Wallace, IBM

With all the focus on the social data of customers and consumers, it’s easy to overlook the wealth of social data within organizations: data about how employees interact, how others respond and how they are connected to others in their network.

Employee engagement, a topic on which Charlene Li has written extensively, is of enormous concern to business leaders: according to a 2015 study by Deloitte, “culture and engagement is the most important issue companies face around the world. 87 percent of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges, and 50 percent call the problem ‘very important.’”

But, according to research by Altimeter, only 41% of organizations believe they take a strategic approach to employee engagement, while only 43% believe they have an organizational culture of trust and empowerment. So I was interested to see the presentation by Marie Wallace, an analytics strategist at IBM, on “Transforming Social Data Into Business Insight.”

I first met Marie at TED@IBM in 2014, where she delivered an excellent talk called “Privacy by Design: Humanizing Analytics.” In this time of what we so inadequately call “digital transformation,” infusing the human into analytics, and the analytics into the human, is sorely needed.

This talk focused on a more hands-on topic: how we can use analytics to better understand the way our organizations function; specifically, the impact of employee engagement on the business. Says Wallace, “The shift to digital now makes the analysis of engagement networks possible.”

By looking at the organization’s network, Wallace says, we can better identify individuals who play key roles. Moreover, these analytics can highlight areas of organizational brittleness by showing how teams are connected, and which may be working in isolation or disconnected from other similar or related teams.*

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They can also highlight signals of potential attrition.

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A personal dashboard can show an individual’s level of digital engagement, reputation and to whom he or she is connected. What’s important here is that this dashboard be used for employees (rather than managers) to understand how to activate their own networks most effectively.

 

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Of course, there are many nuances to the data, and to how these types of analytics should be used, for reasons of fairness and trust as well as for insight. As Wallace points out, optimal behavior can be different for different employees (and different groups), and no single interaction is predictive of outcome.

But it’s also important to acknowledge that our behaviors and motivations as employees are different from our behaviors and motivations as consumers, so one size very clearly does not fit all.

I expect that as social and other digital analytics mature beyond marketing to other use cases in the enterprise, we will see more use cases that challenge even our most confident beliefs about social data. I actually think this is a good and needed step, as it signals that we are maturing in our understanding of digital environments, and how we can operate most successfully within them.

*All images courtesy Marie Wallace, IBM.