Want ROI? Here are 5 places to look for measurable savings

In benchmarking social business programs, I recently met with a company that started their effort more than 3 years ago. Now, more than 20,000 people at their firm were actively using one of the leading collaboration platforms. “That’s great!” I said. “How much value has that generated?”

The project owner paused.

“Well,” she said, “people seem to like it.”

The ROI of your social business effort should be obvious

These people weren’t stupid. They were smart and generous and genuinely wanted to drive change. It’s just that they were never forced to think through the business value of what they were doing. Or, perhaps worse, they didn’t think it was possible - that social business efforts were somehow different.

Well, social business effort aren't different. And the good news is that most large companies are so complex and wasteful that, once you start really looking, you’ll see money everywhere.

Here are 5 of my favorites places to find measurable value.

1. Problem resolution times

Larger firms have many people who perform similar jobs but are poorly connected. When you have a problem at work, can you easily tap into the expertise you need?

One of the first social business practices I recommend is to form role-based communities of practice. They make it easy for people in similar jobs to share learning and post problems they’re having.

Community members are eager to help since doing so shapes their reputation among peers, providing greater visibility and access to opportunities. Community managers curate community wins (where members help each other to solve problem more quickly) and, after an independent vetting process, track reductions in problem resolution times. Savings are measured in staff-days as well as losses avoided.

2. Unneeded assets

Firms pay for resources that people no longer need or want but don’t know it. The firm typically has the data - who uses what software, hardware, real estate, market data, phone services, etc. - but it’s all locked up in different golden sources.

Social business platforms make it possible to display all of that data together as part of an employee’s profile and then act on it so you can crowdsource data quality. The savings associated with this one idea could dwarf the spend on your entire social business project.

3. Help desks

How many calls and emails does your IT help desk receive? Your HR department? Your facilities group? These numbers can run well over 100,000 every month.

Yet it's rare that you need to call a help desk at home. You help yourself.

Social platforms enable increases in self-service by making knowledge bases available as searchable on-line forums. Better yet, they let users rate the usefulness of an answer or add content themselves. So you can measure forum usage while you also  measure the reduction the burden on your help desk for common problems

4. Website customization

The typical intranet is an insidious mess. Content is poorly structured, poorly maintained, and poorly measured. And it's still costly.

Everyone wants a website, and so internal communications and teams of all sizes spend time and money to create their own. Most standard offerings aren’t compelling - especially if they’re not using a global, modern platform - so money is spent (in hundreds of small slices) to customize the user interface or add functionality. Across a large firm, it can easily be in the millions.

The best social platforms provide a compelling intranet experience largely out of the box. By providing well-designed site templates and reining in development, you can measure a dramatic reduction in customization costs and in time to implement new sites (now largely self-service) while you provide a truly interactive web experience.

5. Project management overhead

There’s a cottage industry of people who periodically collect project status, compile it into Excel or Powerpoint, and email the compiled results to a select audience. This work, typically the purview of your local Project Management Office, is almost all waste.

You can eliminate the bulk of it with well-designed, curated project pages on your social business platform, and let anyone interested in a project subscribe to updates in real-time. You can measure how many artifacts you eliminate - and the associated cost in terms of time, email, and other overhead  - and reduce or redeploy project management resources.

Aim higher (while keeping the investment low)

Is this all that social business can offer? These 5, admittedly mundane, sources of savings?

Your social business effort can and should go beyond capturing administrative saving to truly transform core business processes. But those may take longer to realize or be harder to attribute quantifiable savings. (Was that new sales enablement effort really the cause of additional revenue?)

You help your ROI case by keeping costs low and targeting measurable waste in your firm. Delivering quantifiable savings - and relating the stories of inefficiency behind them - will buy you credibility, time, and more funding so you can go after even bigger gains.