10 Insights into the Evolution of Collaboration

clip_image001Since launching this blog back in 2004 as a way to catalog and deconstruct the various social collaboration tools and solutions entering the market, it has been fascinating to witness the evolution of collaboration, in general, and to see patterns in consumer and corporate collaboration behaviors – and how much is often blamed on the technology, when the fact is that most collaboration success and failures stems from human factors. The problems people experience – including adoption and engagement issues – are generally independent of the platforms they use. When you stand back and observe all of your personal and professional collaboration networks and systems, you’ll begin to see these patterns. I certainly have, and have drawn some interesting insights. I think there is a lot to learn here.

While all of my takeaways are not captured here, these are ten of the themes that I’ve seen repeatedly:

  1. Social is all about finding the right "fit"
    While it may be easier for an IT team to conduct an RFP and select a single device or laptop, or approve a particular piece of software, the likelihood of that one-sided decision meeting the needs of every team or individual in your company is slim to none. Within the social collaboration space, its not about single-vendor solutions or single platforms, but about finding the tools and capabilities that fit the way you do your business, and about what makes you productive.
     
  2. Different departments seem to be managing different collaboration platforms altogether
    Different teams often come to different conclusions as to the best technology fit for needs. I ran across one company that used SharePoint on one team, and IBM Connections on another. How each team approached collaboration was very different, and, interestingly, their management team gave them great leeway in the solutions they could select, even though the integration of these systems would inevitably cause the organization great pain.
     
  3. Mobile really is the next "big thing"
    Yes, yes…we’ve all heard this – and its really happening. There is a ton of data showing how fast the mobile market is outpacing PC and tablet growth, and a rapidly growing collection of partner solutions. 
     
  4. The EDU sector is adopting social collaboration at an incredible pace
    I’ve had numerous conversations with people from the education sector, most of whom had serious concerns about monitoring and controlling these environments to ensure that they are being used safely and properly, and yet this sector is leading the way on the technology adoption curve. 
     
  5. The words ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Social’ are often used interchangeably
    Collaboration is generally thought to be about sharing content and ideas through various tools and methods, usually generating some kind of structured output, such as a project or a document. Social, on the other hand, is often thought of as communication through various tools in an unstructured way. The reality is that the words are redundant: all collaboration is, by nature, social. And if you’re participating in a social activity, you are collaborating. Now we just need to come up with better words to describe these activities.
     
  6. Big Data is getting even bigger
    More and more companies are recognizing the need to capture, retain, and utilize all data — much of it being generated from social collaboration tools, like Yammer, and unstructured data through embedded devices, such as GPS and transactional data from a point of sale (POS) system. Companies that are able to capture, store, and utilize this data effectively will have a distinct competitive advantage over those who cannot. We are quickly moving into an analytics-driven world (if we aren’t already there).
     
  7. Enterprise collaboration has begun to mature
    The technology itself has been around for a decade or more, however most large enterprises are fairly new to the game. Even so, there are starting to be models of complex organizations using networking science – and many of the tools and capabilities developed for consumer use, like Twitter – from which we can learn. 
     
  8. Innovate quickly, learn from it, innovate again
    I often think back to a presentation given by Yammer co-founder Adam Pisoni at the E2 Conference a couple years back when he shared that they key to success in the social collaboration space is rapid build and release, which had allowed Yammer to quickly experiment, test with consumers, and then roll out quickly, with two releases per week. I think we can all agree that the move by companies like Microsoft into more agile development models has increased the rate of innovation.
     
  9. Employees are better at self monitoring than we thought
    When left on their own, employees generally do the right thing. With proper end user education and oversight, there are surprisingly few posts or actions that break collaboration policies and need to be removed. Communities are not perfect, but they generally do a decent job at self-policing their members. Crazy stuff.
     
  10. The power of social is not about the technology at all
    There are multiple examples where organizations thought they’d just be improving communication by rolling out social collaboration tools, but instead they found that the platform was changing the company culture by unlocking communication. Microsoft is a perfect example – where the acquisition of Yammer has heavily influenced the rate of change within the organization. As people connect and share ideas, process and products across the board improve, as do employee job satisfaction numbers.

There are definitely some valuable insights from the patterns found within our organizations. I’d be interested to hear any takeaways from your own organization that I’ve not covered here. Please feel free to drop me a line at cbuck@beezy.net and share your own insights. Thanks

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.