Developing Sound Collaboration Strategies

shutterstock_116923705When SharePoint 2007 was released, the platform was rapidly gaining adoption in the enterprise — while still very much viewed as a team-based document collaboration solution, it was about to make some major moves into the enterprise. Of course, while 2007 was a huge improvement over the 2003 version, competitors in the collaboration space were doing some interesting things, as well. Most of the feedback to Microsoft about what was missing from SharePoint centered around its lack of enterprise content management (ECM) capabilities. For many IT organizations, their requirements were quickly evolving.

Fast forward a couple years to the release of SharePoint 2010, and the feedback on the platform pivoted toward web content management (WCM), or the ability to publish across environments, or out to external-facing sites (both extranets and public-facing websites). SP2010 was a massive success by most measures, but even with this huge success, expectations outpaced what Microsoft was able to deliver. The company kept building and expanding the platform, adding key WCM and social capabilities that would later arrive as the 2013 release.

Of course, during this time, the requirements of the IT organization also evolved and shifted ahead of Microsoft’s delivery schedule. Social collaboration became a driving force for change within many organizations, and both mobile and cloud-based solutions began the process of moving from consumer-focused solutions into the enterprise. With this evolution, there has been a transition away from formal records management and a focus on the management of documents, and more toward a model that focuses on user-to-user communication and collaboration, as evidenced through the inclusion of real-time communication and basic team capabilities within just about every enterprise platform, from CRM and ERP systems to the public-facing website we most frequently visit.

I’m sure you’ve all read AIIM.org CEO John Mancini’s quote, identifying this evolution as moving from "systems of record" toward "systems of engagement." What many organizations are beginning to recognize is that even the best laid plans for structured content management often ignore one little fact — if your end users don’t adopt the platform, how well that system meets your defined business requirements is irrelevant. It’s like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with nobody around to hear it. If end users are not engaged, your collaboration strategy has failed. To best manage the evolution of collaboration, every organization should focus on three primary areas: your collaboration strategy, your governance model, and your change management capability.

Some of the fundamental issues behind the failures of many SharePoint deployments stem from an organizations’ inability to adequately manage the platform. If end users request changes, and your IT organization are unable or unwilling to make those changes in a timely manner, they will go elsewhere. Most end users go around their IT organizations not because they want to subvert the chain of command, but because they want to get their work accomplished — and if their requests do not receive a timely response, they go to where their requests can be met.

Interestingly, much of what drove the success of SharePoint in its early years was due to slow or non-responsive IT organizations. Requests came in for stronger document management and team collaboration solutions, and IT did not respond, so users went out and deployed a free version of SharePoint (first WSS, later Foundation), and then very quickly showed their teams (and their management tier) that they were able to provide a tremendous amount of productivity without the help of IT. As organizations began to depend on SharePoint, however, their needs for tighter alignment with key business processes and other systems of record increased. At some point, most organizations that find small pockets of SharePoint deployments around the company will decide to bring these rogue systems into compliance with company governance and compliance oversight. And as that happens, it is critical that IT organizations remember the need for control and autonomy and flexibility over sites and site collections at the team level, which is what drove SharePoint adoption in most cases.

The challenge for most companies is finding that balance between flexibility and control. Having a strategy in place for a growing, evolving SharePoint environment is just one piece of the plan, however. Your strategy should include details on how you align SharePoint with your business processes, how teams will access and use the platform, the lifecycles of critical content types and how they are stored as your content volume grows, and other key considerations. Having the governance policies in place (the boundaries of your system) is also important, but so is having the tools and processes in place to manage expected (and unexpected) changes.

As the SharePoint market has matured and many organizations have started to look to the cloud or to hybrid solutions to enable their organizations to more quickly adopt new services and solutions, it is only natural that the focus has moved from an IT-centric view of the world to more of a business focus. (That’s where the dollars have gone, anyway)

With organizations now more broadly recognizing the value of collaboration to the company (its not just a nice-to-have, but a business necessity), business stakeholders are now looking beyond simple adoption metrics (how many users log into the platform each month) and more closely at how their teams are using the platform. Much of what is driving the push toward social features is not so much about the compelling nature of these new models, but about trying to solve the end user adoption gap caused by an often  frustratingly slow response to end user change requests.

If your organization has been slow to respond to end user requests — from improvements to search, to the rapid deployment of new site structures to meet growing business needs –  individuals will look elsewhere. To some degree, the rise in social collaboration has more to do with failed governance and change management practices — and the poor alignment of SharePoint to business processes — than it has to do with functionality improvements. What is needed is a revamp of the overall SharePoint strategy, with governance and change management, allowing IT organizations to be much more responsive, working in partnership with end users. Companies need the ability to properly manage and modify the platform as the organization’s requirements grow and evolve.

As authors Anthony J. Bradley and Mark P. McDonald illustrate in their book The Social Organization (Harvard Business Review Press), there is no single set of features or preferred vendor list that distinguishes a "social organization" from others. It has more to do with how they approach problems, and their ability to reach deep into their toolkit to find the right tool, process, or methodology to solve each unique problem. It is recognition that no single tool or platform can solve all of your business problems or, within a large corporation, to meet the needs of various team or regional cultural nuances. Social organizations tend to have a sound collaboration strategy in place that helps teams to better commun
icate and collaborate, a well-defined governance strategy that protects and enables that collaboration, and a change management system to help the organization adapt and grow and evolve and the business dictates.

The question you need to ask yourself: do you have the tools and systems in place to enable your own social organization? If not, there’s no time like the present to put a plan in place.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and fractional-CMO for revealit.io, tyGraph, and Extranet User Manager.