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Despite swelling social media budgets, more companies are shying away from tracking the financial benefits of social networking.

“They've realized that social media isn't a transactional engine or sales machine,” wrote Business Insider, “so they’re dropping half-baked indicators that gauge secondary effects, such as financial return.”ConfusedIT.png

But while business units turn their attention to softer benefits, such as market awareness, brand loyalty and customer relations, the IT department produces tangible returns on social media investments, including reduced support costs, increased employee productivity and accelerated time to innovation.

Take crowdsourcing. The notion of an omnipotent tech guru who can solve all our IT problems with mystical powers is long gone. When we need assistance today, we usually access a network of trusted peers. At, for example, you’d never buy a product without first reading the reviews. The 150 million opinions at TripAdvisor now dictate what comprises an exotic journey. And it’s Yelp’s rating system that guides us to gastronomic bliss.

To quote Chris Dancy, who Mashable calls the “Most Connected Man” in the world, “There are no such things as thought leaders. People will create an assisted reality. Created on-demand as you need it.”

Crowdsourcing knowledge and experiences helps us in many facets of our daily lives. IT makes sure we use it at work, too.

When my instant messenger stops archiving conversations, I’d normally pick up the phone and call the help desk. But with a social media network of co-workers and IT experts, I can search for help online. A quick query yields either a fix or a person I can chat with about my issue. This isn’t the same as knowledge management, mind you, where impenetrable articles written by engineers for engineers are hidden underneath esoteric terms like regulatory compliance and configuration management.

If employees can socialize technology issues rather than calling the help desk, which costs the company about $15 per engagement, IT saves millions of dollars.

But we can’t rely solely on social collaboration. What if my problem is unique or my request for help is ignored? IT automatically converts my posts into proper service requests and trouble tickets to be processed, prioritized and assigned by the service desk software.

Eliminating the long and complex forms that for too long were the face of corporate self-service, IT found a way to boost worker productivity. We spend about two days a month, according to Forrester Research, identifying issues, looking for solutions, filling out service requests and chasing progress reports. With formless self-service and real-time updates, we can focus on the actual tasks we’re paid to perform at work.

“We’re in the food business, not the manage-IT business,” a service desk manager at one of the nation’s largest food makers recently told me.

Giving back at least one of the two days we waste on so-called IT friction will result in massive man-hour savings across the entire business.

Social media also lets IT work smarter. Currently, IT engagements are on a one-to-one basis. Although my instant messenger problem is fixed, the help desk faces dozens of callers with identical requests. But solving my issue in public will inform the entire company about what’s going on and how employees can solve similar issues without involving the help desk.

This switch to a one-to-many model frees up time and resources CIOs can redeploy to innovation projects, including better support for remote workers, improved online customer service and dynamic DevOps cloud provisioning. For years, we’ve bandied about transforming IT and aligning it with the business.

But it takes something as disruptive as social media to make IT the next competitive business advantage.