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What’s the Best Way to Implement Collaboration Tools?

It seems lately we’ve all been beaten over the head with messages talking about the importance of collaboration. While collaboration is certainly a hot button for most companies today, I’d argue that the major pain point for organizations comes not software selection, but rather the implementation of those tools. How many times have you been witness to the roll-out of a new tool only for it to quickly become shelf software?

According to an article by Pankaj Taneja of the collaboration company, HyperOffice, the problem with this new generation of social collaboration tools is that they mean different things to different people. For example, to a marketer social collaboration tools could mean using popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter. To a support and sales manager, they could mean using tools to improve lead nurturing and customer service – something akin to a social CRM. To an executive it could refer to the broader business philosophy where social design and technology are used to bring together employees, customers and other stakeholders in a seamless collaborative environment. With the vast number of varying definitions, it’s not a wonder that getting everyone on the same page and actually using a social collaboration tool is so difficult. That said there seems to be three very unique ways that social collaboration tools are currently being implemented.

Social Collaboration as a Solitary Child

One approach is to implement social business software as a self-sufficient enterprise social network with minimal integration with other corporate applications. According to Taneja, the idea here is that by creating a virtual gathering spot, where employees freely and informally exchange information it’s expected to unlock trapped organizational knowledge. Under this philosophy socializing “is a goal worth pursuing in itself” and that by pursuing this, productivity will be created as a byproduct.

While this theory may sounds like a good starting point for organizations, it is a tactic chalk full of impediments. For example, the type of socialization referred to above is very difficult to track and measure, making ROI almost impossible. Another obvious obstacle is that it is unrealistic to expect employees to participate in a social network that is completely isolated from other applications. Instead, it is likely that it will quickly become just another tool and will never be used much.

Social Collaboration Amongst Friends

Under the idea of social collaboration amongst friends, collaboration tools are seen as a vehicle to assist overall corporate communication and collaboration. Traditional tools like email, project management, document management, intranet spaces, and scheduling tools have been developed with their primary focus being on accomplishing work. Integration with these tools shifts emphasis from socialization as an end to getting the job done.

The big failure of these traditional tools is a lack of integration with social tools into the collaborative workflow. Once successfully integrated these tools result in a synergic, symbiotic relationship. According to Taneja, “Employees are also more likely to put the new tools to use because they are now part of their workflow.” Additionally, social tools help combat the tendency of traditional collaboration software tools to create silos (workspaces, folders, etc…) by posting things in a transparent activity stream or to fellow collaborators’ walls.

Social Collaboration as Mr. Popular

Here, it’s best to think of social collaboration tools as being the center of all information flows in the organization and employees’ primary way of consuming enterprise information. Under this strategy, social tools are linked to all enterprise applications like ERP, CRM, messaging, collaboration, billing, and accounting through APIs. Additionally, all changes are pushed to employees social walls. This approach puts tremendous confidence in the power of social business as a means of organizing enterprise information. Organizations that take this approach may be seen as “social centric organizations” that have a deep belief in the positive and
transformational effects of social technologies.

What’s it all mean

So we’ve seen three different approaches to rolling out social technologies, but what’s the best one? The solitary child approach is unlikely to be of much benefit. It may spur some information exchange, but it’s unlikely to be of much value. Similarly the Mr. Popular take may well be the way of the future, but most organizations prefer to wait and witness examples of success before embarking on such an extreme approach. The best entry point of social collaboration tools in business seems to be the “group of friends.” Communication, collaboration and social tools have a natural affinity which brings business the value of socializing, but makes it subordinate to task completion.

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