The Pathway to Productivity

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Productivity is King. That’s what we’re all striving for, isn’t it? Companies are finally beginning to move beyond the bland, meaningless language around “collaboration” platforms and solutions and investigate methods and tools and capabilities that will deliver measurable, meaningful productivity improvements. Another word that rings hollow in the minds of many CIOs is “social,” and yet many of the platforms and solutions they are investigating fall into this category. Many companies, whether considering further investment in their SharePoint environments or making plans to move to Office 365, are reviewing their social collaboration strategies – with the goal of helping their end users improve productivity.

SharePoint users, whether on prem or online, are trying to figure out where all the pieces in Microsoft’s social portfolio fit, and how to best take advantage of the natively supported social features in SharePoint (what’s left, anyway), or how extend all of it with the help of the Microsoft partner ecosystem. But many CIOs are concerned with the impacts these tools will have on security, support and maintenance costs, and end user productivity. These are all valid concerns, but making the connection between social tools and personal productivity might help sell them on the idea. While SharePoint and the Office 365 platform are not known for the strength of their social tools, Yammer continues to expand its footprint, the third-party ecosystem continues to grow, and Microsoft’s innovation around the Office Graph, Delve, the Video Portal, and the new GigJam highlight that there are an increasing number of options available for organizations looking to make social a central part of their productivity planning.

Enterprises need new ways to:

  • generate and take action on innovative ideas;
  • connect those ideas across the organization and beyond geographical divides;
  • deliver some form of semantic search capability that can understand what the users are looking for, and then to promulgate ideas and artifacts based on context; and to
  • collaborate in more powerful and meaningful ways across the enterprise.

At their core, all enterprise collaboration systems, web content management systems, and social networks serve the same fundamental purpose : the sharing of information between teams, and of providing new ways for them to connect. In the evolution of enterprise collaboration, social features are becoming the expected method for internal communication and team collaboration.

Productivity, however, is a two-sided coin: on one side is end user workload efficiency, but on the other side is administration efficacy. I would venture that most administrators do not fully understand the underlying metadata, taxonomy, and data governance issues within SharePoint that are associated with social computing solutions.  Managing social features within SharePoint should follow the same rules and best practices of the rest of the platform, requiring governance around permissions, usage and activity, storage, and ongoing auditing. The current mashup of social capabilities in the Office 365 stack does not always lend itself to this view. Security, administration, and compliance capabilities and controls are a regular part of the Office 365 roadmap, but in many respects the social collaboration activities within Yammer, SharePoint, Exchange, and Skype for Business are, in effect, individual silos – with a thin shared administrative layer. But beyond all of these admin and governance issues, the most difficult part of building any social collaboration and productivity strategy is translating end user requirements into achievable and measurable actions that, ultimately, align with your business objectives.

End users want the technology to fit the way they work (which is why so many gravitate toward the latest consumer-driven social tools), instead of requiring them to work a different way to fit the technology (what many enterprise applications usually require). The trick is to deliver what they want in a way that makes sense to the business, and can be tracked and measured by your key performance indicators. Oh yeah…. and within budget. Many companies are finding that SharePoint out-of-the-box can provide many of the core features their end users are looking for, but do not find Yammer to be the right solution to extend their social capabilities – because it sits outside of SharePoint. For those who require custom features for their social strategies, remember that SharePoint is a highly flexible and customizable platform, with a healthy ecosystem of partners and solution providers that can provide deep vertical expertise to meet those specific needs.

The key to tying social collaboration to productivity is to first understand the business gaps that it fills, and then to help your end users understand the context (specific use cases, business processes) in which to use the social features. Provide guidance, best practices, and working examples on how to align these tools with end user roles and responsibilities. Remember that it’s not about control, but about ensuring your system is manageable – because productivity is a balance between end user efficiency and administration efficacy.

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.