Collaboration has changed pretty dramatically since I entered the space (officially) back in 1997, when my little startup built our own proprietary instant messaging app, and then developed an early social graph technology for the purpose of automating project management activities. Most organizations have gone from locked down, process-driven corporate portals that provide a digital version of the “binders approach” to information sharing (where team and company knowledge was still largely paper-based), to a model where most of the intellectual property we create and work with on a daily basis is generally available within our organization (depending on your permissions). Not only that -- end users can pick their own devices on which to work, which apps to install, and which data sets are necessary to get their work accomplished. That data might come from a server underneath someone’s desk over in IT, from a building across the street, or from a hosting partner sitting half way around the world.
My point is — organizations have options. They can identify and build around the right set of features for their corporate culture, and better aligning their social and collaborative activities with business objectives.
The problems with most collaboration solutions, however, have little to do with the underlying technology. That is not to say that the technology is perfect, but in my experience, the real issues that businesses are facing with their collaboration platforms have more to do with the underlying business planning issues, as follows:
- Improving End User Adoption. The purpose of your collaboration platform is to enable end users to work more efficiently and effectively with each other. The key to getting users to adopt your platform is to lower the barriers to collaboration. The more rules you put in place, the less likely employees are to use the platform. You need to consider compliance and security issues, for sure — but you should design your system with the end user in mind, working closely with your “power users” to identify the system must-haves and to test key end user scenarios. The more you involved your end users, the more likely they are to accept the end result.
- Strengthening Governance. Yes, we’re still talking about governance. The more difficult it is to manage a platform, the less likely your leadership team will support the expansion of the platform. Be clear on what you need to measure (data retention, permissions, usage patterns), how these metrics are captured, and the management roles and responsibilities at each level (leadership, administrators, team leads, etc). Your initial governance model doesn’t need to be perfect, but include a solid change management process and your model will evolve and improve as you learn from the system activity.
- Providing More Transparency. One of the key benefits of a collaborative platform is in helping teams connect and share content and activities where before there had been data and work stream silos. How you manage your collaboration platform — from engineering activities, to risk management and compliance audits, to the overall change management and IT ticket prioritization — is essential to your ongoing success. People don’t like to be left in the dark. Share what is happening within the platform so that people have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t and share their feedback and experiences. What a crazy idea — use your collaboration platform to improve the quality and performance of your collaboration platform!
- Achieving Business Alignment. The tools you deploy should enable you to improve upon key business processes. Your platform should enable quicker, more detailed collaboration between co-workers, partners, and customers, allowing you to do more, and do it better and more accurately. This also goes back to end user adoption — the better and more clearly you can align how your platform works to how your business works, the happier your employees will be. Good collaboration streamlines business, through things like workflow and process automation, forms and wizards to walk you step-by-step through data entry and by putting social activities at the center of everything you do, so that your content has better context, and is more searchable, more findable.
- Moving to the Cloud. And finally, there is the question of where and how the cloud fits into your particular solution. You may not have to make a decision on how to move to the cloud today, but that day is coming soon. The very features your end users are salivating over may be accessible only through web-based tools, requiring you to integrate or, at the very least, to surface them through your on premises environment. Start planning for this now and have fewer headaches later. Understand what can be moved to the cloud, while allowing you to move some costs from CAPEX to OPEX budgets, but keep in mind your governance, compliance and security requirements.
Your collaboration platform is the hub of how your information workers connect, share, and get work done. Planning is the key to success -- and having a strategy for each of the above issues will help ensure your collaboration environment is solid, how it meets (or beats) your end user requirements, and how it will support your growing needs.