The rise of social networking within businesses

The rise of social networking within businesses
Written by Chan Chao Peh of The Edge Singapore

THE influence of social media and networking has been so tremendous in recent years that workplaces are increasingly adopting such tools in
the business environment, says a study by technology research firm IDC.  According to the IDC Enterprise Social Survey, 52% of organisations in
Asia-Pacific already have an enterprise social network in place while 23% plan to adopt one over the next 18 months. The study, which was commissioned by Microsoft, polled 352 respondents from across the region. Unsurprisingly, the key drivers behind this new wave are a young workforce, early adoption of gadgets and social media, as well as cultural trends such as relationship-focused business dealings.

Todd Cione, chief marketing and operations officer, Microsoft Asia, believes that enterprise social is already happening and has transformed the way businesses work. “Enterprise social is more than just social networks, it changes the way people work and makes them more productive. It is not just technology, collaborating within a company, having new features or blogging. It is about getting work done in a more agile manner together,” he says. Hersing Corp, which runs the ERA property agency franchise in Singapore, is investing in technology that will make it cheaper and easier for its employees to communicate and work with one another.

The company recently inked a deal with Microsoft Singapore to add 5,000 Office 365 subscriptions to its existing user base of some 200. This is one of the largest Office 365 account wins for Microsoft Singapore. Compared with the typical Microsoft Office suite of programs such as Word, Excel and Outlook that is installed in the users’ computers, Office 365 is a package of subscription and cloud-based services that lets users log in wherever they are as long as they have compatible devices.

“It allows them to be productive, in a very familiar way. There is no need to re-learn the best of breed of tools: the Microsoft Office,” says John Fernandes, Microsoft Singapore’s director of marketing and operations. To date, there are some 135,000 Office 365 users in Singapore.

Jack Chua, Hersing’s CEO, says the cost savings of up to US$300,000 (S$366,562) is just one of the many reasons for deploying Office 365. He especially likes its conferencing features such as Lync Online, which can improve communication within the company and among its property agents with its video conferencing capabilities.

He also likes the way Office 365 can easily group agents, who tend to work in teams — some specialise in industrial properties, others residential; they are also divided into regions and areas — so that they can receive the relevant messages. With Office 365, different teams can also be mobilised rapidly to handle different projects, he adds. Currently, even though all its agents have an ERA email account, the storage space of only 1GB is hardly enough for the pictures and presentation materials for new projects that they have to receive and disseminate to potential clients. The new Office 365 subscription comes with 25GB of storage for each account.

“All along, we have been quite IT savvy. We were the first here to start the listing system,” says Chua, whose string of qualifications includes a diploma in computer studies. The company name ERA stands for “Electronic Realty Associates” to describe the way the agency network used fax machines to transmit property data from one state to another. “As you can imagine, we are quite at the fore-front of technology.” ERA is a franchise that began in the US in 1971. ERA Singapore, which started operations in 1982, is one of the largest property agencies in town today, with commission revenue of some S$270 million last year, more than 5,000 agents and another 200 back office staff, supported by six full-time IT staff headed by David Seah, assistant vice-president of IT. Chua agrees that by moving into the subscription-based model, Hersing will not need to bother with regular hardware replacement and software upgrading issues. “If I just rely on my six IT boys, it can be quite taxing on them,” he says.

This story first appeared in The Edge Singapore weekly edition of Dec 3-9, 2012.

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