Optus' innovation directive

Social media and BYOD policies are no longer will-we won't-we discussions for Australian businesses. It's time for action.

Australian businesses have passed the tipping point. Using social media and setting up bring your own device (BYOD) policies are no longer will-we won't-we discussions. The debate is over. Get on with it.

"Over the last 12 months ... externally-facing social media has doubled," Scott Mason, Director of Fixed Products, Marketing and Strategy for Optus Business, told the media yesterday.

According to the company's newly-released Future of Business Report, which surveyed the IT, marketing and finance heads of 500 Australian companies with 200 or more employees, 39 per cent of firms now have externally-focused social media strategies compared with 19 per cent in 2011 -- even if they haven't implemented them yet.

(Given how few companies that size we have in Australia, the margin of error is between four and five percentage points.)

As we reported yesterday, customer expectations are the key driver, not competitive or bottom-line pressures. Customers and employees are now used to using social communication and collaboration tools in their personal life, and expect the same in business and the workplace.

"They're not seeing this as a sort of keep up with the Joneses move. They're genuinely interested in how they need to engage with customers," Mason said.

"Most of the time you'd expect the driver to be financial, bottom-line driven. What we saw this year, which surprised me, and delighted me to be totally honest, is the fact that the key driver, 73 per cent of respondents said it was to meet customers' expectations."

Mason repeated the standard social media advice about your business being discussed online whether you want to play in that arena or not. "Thousands of conversations happened about Optus Business last year in social media channels and we weren't part of any of it. It was just happening," he said.

The most rapid growth seems to be in internal social communication.

"The one that really surprised me was the internal Twitter," Mason said. Twitter-like tools like Yammer or Salesforce.com's Chatter are used in only 6 per cent of surveyed companies today, up from 4 per cent a year ago, 37 per cent expect to deploy such tools in the next 3 to 5 years.

"When I was standing here [last year] we were talking about 'Should we allow our employees to have access to Facebook in the office?'," he said.

"This year what we've seen is not only has that debate been won -- very few organisations are still trying to hold out on how they'll go about social networking because they're bringing their own devices -- but more importantly they're understanding that they need to be actually engaging their customers through social media channels."

Employees are demanding and expecting the new technology.

"The strategy is not just about what the IT department wants to do," Mason said. Last year the discussion was about whether the standard operating environment (SOE) was dying and whether BYOD should be allowed. That debate is over.

"I think now very few organisations honestly believe that they can keep BYOD devices out of their organisations. It's very much about how you can deploy it," Mason said. "That's why mobile security etc is such a hot topic item at the moment."

Compared with the usual OECD-plus-a-few counties, Australia is a mid-rank adopter of these technologies, according to Deloitte Access Economics director Ric Simes.

"Where it's to do with access or the latest technology or whatever at the individual level, that's where we're ahead. We have higher penetration rates for smartphones than the US, for example. If you look at more sophisticated uses, that's where we're behind. Our use of cloud, according to the stats, is probably half the level that is is in the UK," Simes said.

"Online retail is another one where we've been well behind, and there does seem to have been a sea change in the last 12 months or so there. But we're still behind. The question is how quickly that moves."

Given how well-placed Australia is economically, it'll be interesting to see whether we move ahead on these rankings. 

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