Challenges & Opportunities for Enterprise Social Networking (#ESN) in Financial Services

Article by Ari Brown, Techstra Solutions

Michael Brown manages a global enterprise social network (ESN) for an international financial services organization.

Q: What were the goals or objectives of deploying an ESN?
A:  The primary goal we had for our ESN is the same today as it was when we launched over seven years ago – to shrink the time it takes to get an answer to a business or technical question by leveraging the vast skills and knowledge of the organization. To be successful, we must remove corporate silos, geographical barriers, and flatten the organization. Think about how you make any large purchase decision today – a car, an appliance, even a vacation. You could go to the library and pour through consumer reports, magazines, travel guides, etc. But in far less time, you can get input from experts – some of whom you may never know or meet – simply by posting a question on Facebook, Amazon, or other boards.  This is the power of social collaboration. The same experience can be recreated inside your corporate walls. By simply surfacing questions and answers by experts in an ESN, a company can solve complex business or technical issues in real time. This resource creates incredible value to the company at both a strategic and operational level.

Q: How are people using the ESN within your company? Has it changed over time?
At first, as people became accustomed to the platform, we saw people gravitate to large, global communities of practice – something still very common in an ESN. Today, we’re seeing groups leverage the crowdsourcing and social innovation features of our platform.  Leadership in banking today is about technology and innovation – mobile banking and payments, cryptocurrency, ‘big data,’ and artificial or augmented intelligence. The ability to innovate and develop products and solutions quickly is a competitive advantage. ESNs provide the ideal platform to expedite the collection while vetting ideas from a large number of leaders and experts – particularly in a globally dispersed organization.

Q: You also mentioned that there are still challenges you face.  Can you elaborate?
There are a few industries – financial services included – that make deploying and running an ESN challenging.  Healthcare and pharmaceuticals are others.  Governing bodies and rules and regulations within these ‘regulated’ industries create unique challenges for an ESN.  In our industry, for example, certain individuals are prohibited from communicating through these channels with others unless their conversation can be surveilled in real-time and captured for compliance purposes. These regulations create operational and technical challenges, but they are not insurmountable. That is why we have an open and ongoing dialogue with our legal and compliance teams. We work together to understand specific requirements and create solutions that meet the goals of each party.

Q:  Do you believe you’ve met the goals or objectives you set out to achieve when you launched?
A: In simple terms, absolutely. There’s no question that the folks who participate on a regular basis in our ESN have found value. It is far easier to provide anecdotal evidence than to provide quantifiable data – though we have done both over the years.

It has been fascinating to see the connections made between employees around the globe who, were it not for the ESN, may never have had the opportunity to ‘meet,’ share their knowledge, or co-create a solution. When you see that collaboration take place (it is visible within an activity stream) organically over the course of a few minutes or hours, it’s quite powerful.

Q: What do you see as the future for ESNs at organizations such as yours?
A: The proof that an ESN in a large global organization has positive return has been well established. The ability to find experts, innovate with colleagues in real time, and flatten the large corporate hierarchy has tremendous appeal. We’ve seen success story upon success story.  I believe our ESN will continue to grow and thrive as it penetrates deeper into the fabric of our organization and becomes the way we work and the place where work gets done.

The biggest change I expect to see is around ESN technology. I expect the consolidation of ESN platform vendors and the push to more powerful mobile applications will continue. In addition, most companies are migrating more of their systems to the cloud. Collaboration and innovations are no exception. Organizations are working closely with their internal legal and compliance teams to understand how to protect data, work within guidelines, and deploy cloud solutions. Vendors such as Microsoft and Google are creating more and more compelling and secure reasons to move there, too.  This will lead to the death of on premise ESN solutions.


The Journey to Digital Transformation

CEO Blog Post

Article by Ari Brown, Techstra Solutions


Jennifer Honig is the Chief Executive Officer of Techstra Solutions, LLC. Jennifer received her MBA from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, and has over 25 years of experience in the areas of marketing and consulting.

How does your experience inform the decisions you make in your role of CEO at Techstra Solutions?

JH:  At Techstra Solutions our company has continued to evolve and solidify over time. We focus on digital transformation and the merging of digital strategy, operational impact, technology and talent. Our clients have enthusiastically embraced our holistic, 360-degree approach to business transformation. I know my experience has informed the decisions I have made along the way in order for us to arrive at this point.

I have worked in both large global companies and start-ups. They have enabled me to tackle my role as CEO from two distinct vantage points. In large companies, I learned to manage complexity and navigate the organizational structure to get things done. Socializing and building consensus for change is key.

A startup begins as a dream that turns into a vision, and each person contributes and is connected to its success. In a startup, you must jump into multiple roles, make educated guesses, and rely on your networks to make things happen. They have limited resources initially, and every decision must be a calculated one.

My amazing network of friends and family have helped me along the way. Taking their counsel was critical. But that is not enough. Becoming a successful company requires that I surround myself with a team that is proactive, makes good decisions and understands tradeoffs. A great CEO once said to me, “I like that you challenge me. Ultimately, I know we will arrive at an optimal solution because you were not afraid to question things or take a different perspective. I also know that once the discussion is over, we will be aligned and walk out the door with the same agenda.” The second part of his comment is as important as the first.

I am lucky to have Nancy Gill, Chief Disruption Officer for Techstra Solutions, as a part of the team to help shape our vision and bring it to life. She has years of experience in Human Resources and understands transformation from a leadership and people standpoint. It balances my own experiences. She is just one of many people in our organization that I learn from every day and who ultimately make our clients successful, and us also by default.


You authored a white paper about the opportunities that crowdsourcing can bring to an organization. In what ways do you think crowdsourcing can be effective, and what are some simple steps executives can take initially to get crowdsourcing started?

JH: Crowdsourcing is a very effective way to capture ideas and to solve problems. Great ideas are no longer relegated to an R&D center. Crowdsourcing enables you to tap ideas resident within your organization to realize business value – whether it’s on new products and services, or expansion on services already provided. By leveraging crowdsourcing as a critical component of a company’s DNA, the company taps into the collective resources and knowledgebase of the organization. It provides great ROI.


How do you get started with crowdsourcing? 

Getting crowdsourcing started in an organization is a four-step process.

Step 1: It takes a leader who understands crowdsourcing and the opportunity as well as the business value it creates for their organization. They must know that it needs to be an integrated program in the organization and is resourced properly.

Step 2: Have a crowdsourcing tool that enables the functionality of Crowdsourcing. Enterprise Social Network Vendors (Jive, IBM Connections) and niche players (Spigit) have software that facilitates the process of crowdsourcing and the management of the crowdsourcing process.

Step 3: Make it a priority within the corporation – visible at the highest levels – so that people understand that their time spent participating in the program is valuable to the CEO and executives.

Step 4: Implement ideas! Ideas must progress and be implemented after people have spent time investing their energy in their development. The process must be transparent so participants understand how their ideas are evaluated and the thresholds for progression to the next stage.


You’re a co-host of the weekly #ESNchat on twitter,  how has interacting with enterprise social networking (ESN) voices all around the world influenced the way you manage your ESNs right now?

JH: I learn something from our ESNchat participants every week. Participants are from all over the world; some are social business leaders, some consultants and some are just interested in ESNs. They each bring a unique perspective to the topic.

We talk about everything from leading edge topics such as virtual reality, chatbots and machine learning to the tactical – communication plans and executive leadership within an ESN. The depth and breadth of the topic is crucial. Companies that look at social business as one-dimensional have a very limited view of the opportunity. Community leaders who understand the complexity of ESNs want to learn from others and are more successful as a result.

Within a single organization, there may be only a few resources. They don’t have access to the type of thought leaders that are found on ESNchat. The chat enables people to talk through best practices and different approaches as well as make connections. My online relationships have expanded well beyond the hour we spend together each week.

(#ESNchat is Thursday at 2 ET on Twitter.)


What should leaders focus on right now?

 JH: Digital transformation is not a buzzword; it’s reality. And if you’re going to implement change, you need to focus on all the complexities that come with digital transformation.

As a leader, you have a responsibility for leading the company through this time of transition. You must empower the organization to become more agile in the way they serve customers and in the way they work. Many organizations resist change, and even try to kill it. We focus on preparing teams to continually adapt. In addition, initiatives have to be resourced properly to be successful.

A great example is what’s going on in retail – online shopping is surpassing brick and mortar. People want the instant gratification of finding a product easily, at a great price, and having it delivered quickly. This translates into other industries. Your customers expect to work and deal with you and your products the same way. This changes the pace of business and what is required for you to be competitive. The more the entire organization is able become agile and adaptable, the more successful it will be.

Last, but certainly not least – read, read, and read more – things are changing rapidly and you need to be on top of the latest trends. I spend a lot of time reading on many diverse topics. It is critical to make connections, to see patterns emerging in what you read and apply it to your work.


What is the one skill critical for success in a time of transformation?

JH: In this day and age, communication is king. Effective leaders clearly and effectively communicate in multiple channels: social media, writing, presentations, videos, etc. – internally and externally, and frequently. In a time when transparency is expected, how and what you communicate is vital, not only for your personal brand, but also for that of your company.

Nancy Gill, an HR Powerhouse, joins Techstra Solutions as the Chief Disruption Officer

Techstra Solutions is proud to announce that Nancy Gill has joined as Chief Disruption Officer.  In order for companies to advance in their journey towards “Being Digital,” they must address the impact that this change has on their workforce. For the past few months, we have been working with companies to develop solutions around talent portfolio management, employee experience, and lifecycle. Managing the gap between the realities of today and the promise of tomorrow is critical. Nancy brings the depth of understanding and the experience necessary to help companies navigate this time of transition.

“Nancy has never settled for the status quo and doesn’t let the past serve as a guide to the future. In a time of company and industry disruption, Nancy’s ability to chart a new path forward, enables companies to accelerate their transformation efforts by attracting and retaining the best talent,” Jennifer Honig, Founder Techstra Solutions.

Nancy is a leader in disruptive human capital management. She is a proven executive with 30+ years of experience in HR, talent management, culture change and executive coaching. She is passionate about redefining the way work gets done and is happiest when she is helping business leaders drive strategy and positive change in their organizations. Key roles include: HR Executive for the Investment Bank at JPMorgan Chase and the National Football League.

“I looked to her for help as I developed my plan for leading the new organization. I can always count on her to give me a thoughtful point-of-view and no one comes close when it comes to giving me direct feedback. She has a keen sense of organizational dynamics and extraordinary judgment when it comes to people. She develops relationships at all levels and cares deeply about all members of the team. Colleagues often remark that ‘she puts the human back in human resources.’ She is a pro in every sense of the word,” Jes Staley, CEO Barclays.

In a time of fierce competition for talent with coveted digital skill sets, companies must ignite the culture change and breakthrough thinking required for success in today’s dynamic business environment. The impact must be felt throughout the organization and specifically within Human Resources. Techstra Solutions’ Talent Management offering was designed to support all elements of the employee experience and lifecycle during this time of transition and opportunity. For more information –

What Value is Created by Crowdsourcing Innovation?

What value is created by crowdsourcing innovation? That is the question we sought to answer. What followed was an 18-month journey that I am proud to share the results. Our quest was to define business value as a way of supporting leaders who intrinsically knew that their crowdsourcing innovation programs had substantial benefit to the organization, but were challenged to articulate it in a manner that garnered executive support, organizational priority, and much needed resources. If we were able to answer the question above, we believed that crowdsourcing innovation leaders would be able to realize their programs’ full potential and in turn, create powerful strategic assets for their companies. The goal of our research (#crowdsourcinginnovation2016) – benchmark crowdsourcing innovation best practices and begin to quantify and qualify the value of community as it relates to this process. 

What did the research reveal?

The value of crowdsourcing innovation generated three types of benefits:

  • Amplification of Member Voice
    • Ideation and challenge based innovation programs highlight the value of member voice, expand the diversity of ideas, and deepen customer/employee relationships.
  • Creation of an Innovation Culture
    • Crowdsourcing innovation programs weave innovation into their culture.
    • The process itself adds value and builds a knowledgebase.
  • Generation of Business Value (see image below)
    • Crowdsourcing creates a strategic asset for the corporation.
    • Programs generate hard value: revenue, speed innovation, improve the customer experience, and reduce costs. They can also can add “soft value,” in the areas of culture, agility or responsiveness, collaboration and retention.


Source: Techstra Solutions

In addition:

  • Taking a community-oriented approach to a crowdsourcing innovation program is a key differentiator. It maximizes the opportunity due to its generative ability over time.
  • Ideation and challenged-based innovation programs generate similar types of business value even though they may differ over business goals.
  • And so much more…

In our Crowdsourcing Innovation to Create Business Value white paper you will find business value articulated across multiple dimensions, best practices, pitfalls to avoid, and 10 key questions to ask prior to launching an ideation or challenge-based community. Download the research now.

The team consisted of some of the most amazing people I know. They never stopped charting a path forward –  Sam Creek, CA Technologies, Max Ebnother, Intel; Tracy Maurer, UBM, Aaliyah Miller, Aetna; Lori Harrison-Smith, Steelcase; and Russ Whitchurch, Adobe. In addition, this research was conducted in partnership with the Community Roundtable – Rachel Happe, Ted McEnroe, and Hillary Boucher.  Matt Crespi, a doctoral student from Carnegie Mellon University, served as a research advisor. Research participants included global and regional leaders in the financial services, technology and medical insurance industries. I can’t thank everyone enough for their ongoing commitment and support.

I look forward to your feedback and learning more to about your company’s approach to crowdsourcing innovation and the value it creates. In addition, join me tomorrow for #ESNchat, Thursday at 2ET on Twitter where we will be discussing the research in more detail.


Founder, Techstra Solutions