Chantelle van Heerding, the Software Product Manager of e-Business Infrastructure Solutions, a South African company that distributes IBM products was in Nigeria for the introduction of a new product from IBM and Avance Systems.
Chantelle spoke with Street Journal’s WOLE ADEJUMO and SEUN EBIETOMIYE on how the product will change the way business is done, how it will enhance relationships by providing access to information and also how the employer-employee relationship will receive a boost when business gets social. Excerpts:
Can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?
I am Chantelle van Heerding, I work for e Business Infrastructure Solutions in South Africa, we are an IBM distributor, distributing software all the way into the African region. I am the Software Product Manager, so anything that has to do with software that is where I am involved.
This Social Business, what is it about?
Business gets social is basically about connecting people in your business, connecting them with each other, connecting them if you have a large business, your employees all over the world, and getting those ideas from everywhere across the business all the time.
There is a notion is some parts of the world, especially in Africa that business and social things don’t mix. How do you plan to strike a balance and convince people that business can indeed go social?
A lot of companies are concerned about keeping pleasure as pleasure and business as business. A large portion of this lies in trust; trust in the people that work for you. Giving them this social tool, you can spell out the rules but in the end, it’s up to them to follow the rules and the guidelines that you set for them, and then to reprimand them as you would a child, if they cross the boundary.
And it is hoped that they understand what it is for. Using Social Business in your company is to get your people together on a level that they were not able to get before. To share their ideas instantaneously as they have them and of course getting feedbacks You support the relationships with each other. At the end you get a workforce that is strong, that talks to each other and is better for the organisation.
Do you see the Social Business having any challenges?
The usual challenge is that it is a new product and a lot of people might be asking “what about the training? What about this and that?” And where the younger generation is concerned, all the guys know about Facebook and Twitter, so this is easy. You put it on and its there and we are ready to go.
But the upper level of management, there is of course that introduction that would be necessary. The main thing is to get them to understand what it can do for them. Otherwise, they are just going to dismiss it as its just one of those things that we are trying to see if it will work or not.
So they really need to see the benefits of this to get over that one challenge.
Another potential disadvantage is that employers might feel it will distract the employees. But measures can be put in place to make sure that they use it for what it is for. You give them a guideline and you show to them that I have this trust in you, show me that you can use that as you should.
With your road show, how do you think you can make the average man on the street will feel he has something to benefit from Social Business?
Though its about telling the business sector about this but the average man understands when we talk about telecommunications so, it is like can you imagine having this on your phone, connecting with people you work with and even with your family. You can create a group for tour family, your cousins, and your golf club. It’s all about talking to each other and having that access to each other and each other’s information anywhere across the globe, that is for people you give access to. This is business focus, so there is always something in it for every man.
Are you trying to say apart from the business community, each person using the platform has something to gain?
Yes and no. Many people will get access to each other but at the same time, here is an interesting one, we had a conference few months ago, it involved a company that we had connections with and every person in the company had access to a main page and we had a problem with the projector and we couldn’t get it to work, no matter what we did. And this poor man was disturbed, we didn’t know what to do anymore and the conference couldn’t continue. But he posted something on his Lotus connection saying “guys, this is what the issue is. Does anybody have any idea?” And because different people have access to that connection, it actually ended up coming to a guy from Australia who had nothing to do at all with the conference venue, he ended up having a picture of this error, realising that it was where he was, seeing the picture, he knew how to fix it and just said this is the solution, and they fixed it right there. So, quite frankly, it can go up from bottom level to top level, cross company. So, yes, it can benefit anybody anywhere anytime.
The software will definitely come in English, but not everybody speaks English. Don’t you think there will be a language barrier?
Every of our software from IBM comes in different languages. I mean we have French, Portuguese, Spanish, English, Afrikaans, Arabic, we make them available in different languages. So if you say this software, I want it in this language, you’ll get it.
In the next 18 to 24 months, where do you see Social Business?
Well, e-business Infrastructure Solutions is working with Avance and over the next year, we intend to launch a whole campaign. Not just a road show but several events. Many things will be done to raise awareness to enable people who might want to have live demos to work on it and see how it works.
In the next two years, we want business to go social, we want to see companies running it and see what they can do with it. So we are really going all out.
What has the response been like?
We have had a lot of feedbacks especially from the financial sector. They want to know what it can do for them, what it can do for their client base and what it can do for their employees. Quite frankly, it is going to be a long process but they are going to see the benefits A lof of big companies are interested. What we are doing is to try and make sure that we get over that age gap. If we can get over that and show them that look, your work force want it, they need it and if you don’t have it, they will go and work for the companies that have it, We will also be showing people generally what they can do with it.