5 things your CIO wants to get out of your collaboration platform

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I was standing at the back of the room at a recent partner event, listening to Microsoft COO Kevin Turner address a crowd of 65 people on all of the changes that have happened (and continue to happen) to Microsoft’s business in the past year. If you’ve never heard KT present, he is (in my view) Microsoft’s best cheerleader, and will leave partners inspired and thinking creatively about how to better work alongside the company. I’m looking forward to hearing from him again in early July at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner conference (WPC) taking place in Houston, in fact. At this special event, KT outlined the huge list of platforms and initiatives delivered in the last 12 to 18 months (Win8, soon to be Win8.1, SP2013, the App Store, etc) and the many more that will quickly be coming to a store, server, or cloud near you. It was clear from listening to him that Microsoft’s plan to adopt the "online-first" development and delivery model is in full-swing.

Some of the questions from the audience are clear evidence that this transition is being felt within the partner community. Primarily, some audience members expressed concern that the shift to Microsoft’s cloud-first delivery model is negatively impacting the partner ecosystem. There was some great dialog around this point, but, in my view, KT’s answer was fairly compelling: for ISVs and SIs who are struggling with the move to a cloud-based model, you should not think about your customer footprint today as shrinking due to Microsoft’s expansion into SaaS and services, but as a growth opportunity. KT mentioned a couple times the 2.9 billion devices that Microsoft is now targeting (PCs, tablets, smartphones, and embedded devices). he did recognize that the move to the cloud comes with tremendous change in product architectures and delivery methods, and in how customers are serviced, but he focused his comments on the potential upside — how the model brings with it huge opportunity across a multitude of devices.

Turner’s comments caused me to reflect on some of what I heard from CIOs presenting at an AIIM.org think-tank event earlier this month in Chicago. Consensus among those participating was that the shift toward the cloud is forcing companies to think much harder about their system architectures. This room full of CIOs, CMOs, and other business and academic leaders largely agreed one one thing — that most of our collaboration initiatives have not lived up to their promises. To be fair, the prevailing issues with any single platform or tool have less to do with the technology, and more to do with a lack of planning, a lack of governance, and a failure to understand how these technologies can help (or hinder) our businesses. But from the AIIM.org event's anecdotal feedback, it appears that companies are giving this change — and any new deployments or investments — much more scrutiny than in the past, which is a good thing. Organizations must not simply jump into the deep end of the pool with cloud, but think through each system, each solution, and determine whether the cloud will truly benefit that system or solution, whether they should remain on prem, or that some kind of hybrid solution is necessary – and then understand the management and governance impacts of that decision.

Is there a shift in how executives are looking toward the next wave of collaboration tools? Do they understand the root cause of previous failures? It got me thinking about what leaders really want from these platforms — and not in terms of meaningless platitudes and sales hype, but in common sense terms. I started to put together a list whilke in Chicago, and have included here some themes around what CEOs and CIOs want to get out of their broader collaboration initiatives:

They want to know that people are using the tools provided.
Looking at data around “adoption” is an insufficient indicator as to whether people are actually using the technology provided, or getting value from their tools. Executives are looking for deeper insight into what activities people are using successfully, which ones drive the most business benefit, and which ones they can reduce, improve, or remove if it means focusing on those areas that are most effective.

They want to know that their employees are being productive.
At the end of the day, productivity is the goal of all of our structured collaboration (like SharePoint) and unstructured collaboration (like Yammer or Chatter) efforts. They’ve spent massive amounts on these tools and platforms, and so its no surprise that they want to see that these financial investments are turning into more business output and streamlined processes. The tools and platforms should reduce barriers, and allow employees to do more.

They want to know that people are leveraging the collective knowledge of the company.
Beyond productivity, this is a much more specific question – are people leveraging the combined knowledge of the organization? CIOs want to know whether the technology is a limiting factor, or whether there are cultural habits which restrict how people share, and search for, content and expertise. This is one metric that is poorly reported in existing tools, but is essential in understanding how well people are actually collaborating.

They want to know that people feel connected.
This is more of a question of community. CIOs want to know whether the tools we use are bringing us closer together as a company, allowing geographically dispersed team members to actively participate in what is happening at headquarters, and to give everyone a voice.

They want to know that the tools they’re paying for will help their business grow.
Ultimately, the investments made need to directly tie to more business activity, more leads, more customers, more revenue. While many leaders recognize the qualitative benefits of collaboration, when budgets are under review and markets are uncertain, CIOs need to be able to point to hard numbers – and IT leaders need to be able to draw lines between specific technology initiatives and positive revenue performance.

Obviously, CIOs are asking many more questions than just these, but I wanted to at least share some of the ideas and trends that I am hearing as I participate more and more with executive leaders and learn more about how they are approaching enterprise collaboration, and, specifically, solutions in the cloud.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.