Biggest Collaboration Challenge: Making It Central to Workflow

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Execs Weigh in on Collaboration

End users are looking to IT for tools that will help them increase productivity across what in many cases are sharply reduced work forces, but execs are expressing distrust of collaboration tools.

Earlier this month I wrote a post about how social knowledge isn't worth much if it isn't disseminated throughout an organization, making the point that businesses won't derive much value from data collected via social channels if they don't route it to folks who can actually use it to make business improvements, whether it's designing better products or providing better customer service. When I interviewed Ed Moran, Deloitte's director of Insights & Innovation in 2009, he told me some companies were establishing social centers of excellence to do this.


My sense is, many companies since then have made strides not only in communicating with consumers via social channels but also in compiling and distributing the information gleaned from those interactions throughout their organizations. Business improvements remain a challenge, though, because efforts to use social technologies to improve internal collaboration haven't kept up with efforts to use them to improve those external communications. I touched upon this in a post about internal communications silos, writing:

Companies may feel like they are having more conversations with their customers and potential customers than ever before. As they leverage social technologies to open new channels of communication, external information is flowing into the enterprise more freely. Yet internal communications at most companies haven't changed to accommodate this flow. Will companies derive any value from this information if it just ends up in the same old departmental silos?

Writing on her Beyond the Cube blog, Laurie Buczek, who identifies herself as an enterprise marketing manager for a Fortune 100 company (Intel, according to her LinkedIn profile), discusses her decision to return to external marketing after two-and-a-half years in a role that involved introducing social technologies to improve internal collaboration. She says:

... I left the Enterprise 2.0 program not because I lost passion for social collaboration, but because I realized that the effort had plateaued. The initiative has achieved quite a bit, but my vision & strategy still hasn't been fully reached. We didn't cross the chasm -- even after almost three years post deployment. ...

Executive buy-in, cultural change and immature social applications are among the factors cited by Buczek as inhibitors to internal social collaboration, but the biggest problem is a lack of integration into the enterprise apps used in daily workflows. Most folks still rely on email as their de facto collaboration tool, Buczek says. Plus, many enterprise adopters of collaboration tools favor outside tools like Facebook groups over internal tools because they are already so accustomed to working with them and see no compelling reason to change. Without this integration, Buczek says, people will stick with email and Facebook and enterprise collaboration could become "the bad sequel to Knowledge Management."


How can companies meet this challenge? Buczek doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but she offers several good recommendations:

  • Tie collaboration tools into email. While email is an unstructured mess, it remains a collaboration clearinghouse for most of us. It's no coincidence that social channels like Twitter and Facebook send alerts to our inboxes.
  • Use technology to help tie together multiple collaboration tools. Don't try to impose a single tool on employees. Instead consider using a content/collaboration aggregator to help workers manage both their internal and external message streams.
  • Make it mobile. Employees want to collaborate on the go. Make sure tools work well on multiple form factors, including smartphones and tablets. Employees will naturally migrate toward the collaboration tools that are most readily available across multiple devices. So make sure the collaboration tool you'd like them to use can be used on any device.
  • Make the intranet a collaboration hub. I've written about this idea several times, interviewing folks from the American Hospital Association about their intranet and earlier this month noting the importance of change management when introducing social elements to an intranet.
  • Keep profiles to a minimum. Give employees a single social profile to connect with others inside the company.