Enterprise Collaboration is really, really confusing…


Recently Facebook announced it was introducing a “Social Inbox” capability meant to leap ahead of Google and its Gmail platform.  Big news for sure, especially since the “Consumerization of Technology” has been driving enterprise collaboration for several years now. Should Facebook’s Social Inbox be successful and again transform the way people communicate and collaboration in the consumer space, it will show to IT Leaders how it could be done in the enterprise.  While Enterprise 2.0 practioners have been preaching about moving out of the inbox for a few years, there was no platform or company large enough to make a public statement to justify reaction.  This changed with Facebook’s announcement.

Why are You Confused?…

So why do I claim Enterprise Collaboration is really, really confusing..?  Simply, there are so many players, so many points of view, that IT leaders are not sure whom to believe, what to believe, and know that their choices of technology will not lead them down a 1-way street to obsolescence.   This latest news from Facebook will only serve to increase the debate and make an unclear situation even more cloudy.  In the Enterprise Collaboration space you have document collaboration, instant messaging, email, voicemail, video\web\audio conferencing, microblogging, mobile collaboration, project collaboration, and the list goes on and on.  In the ever-present IT challenge to simplify operations and reduce cost, how can the IT leaders know how to craft an Enterprise Collaboration Program meant to address the business’s challenges’ and requirements, yet provide for the Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability of the corporate intellectual property (IP).  In my experience many IT departments are too focused on technology (not their fault) so they fail to talk to the business to discover the pains the business users feel each day. This is the biggest mistake and can lead to abandonment of the platform because IT failed to ask the questions and listen to the answers.

Organizational Factors…

Another aspect feeding into the confusion is the lack of many companies, is the lack of a Chief Collaboration Officer (CBO), or a Senior VP level person working alongside with a Collaboration Architect (CA) and Enterprise Architect Practices (EA) who has the authority to work with IT, Global Marketing, and the business units to focus not just on the disparate Collaboration Technology, but on the culture of how the organization collaborates internally and externally.  The key for Enterprise Collaboration being part of the organization’s DNA, is to make it a company-wide mandate.   The core philosophy of the Enterprise Collaboration Program must provide ALL employees with the ability to participate.  Knowledge Producers and Knowledge Consumers exist in all parts of the company, not simply those with a PC, and it is the duty of the Enterprise Collaboration Program to be agnostic in how information is produced and consumed within the company to foster innovation and excellence in business processes, products, and services.  Here is where the confusion typically rears its head.  Many initiatives in today’s IT departments have collaboration\social features, and it is always easy to claim to simply use this or that product because “it already has collaboration built in..” This is a trap that IT does to itself all the time, and here is where the Chief Collaboration Officer can step in to bring some sanity to the discussion.  It is critical to obtain requirements and identify pain point BEFORE selecting the technology, or as one person recently told me; “…All you have is a solution looking for a problem…”

Want some Candy….

Almost every vendor has touted its “Social” or “Collaborative” features embedded within their products or services, and this has led to what I call “Social Overload” for Enterprise Architects and IT Leaders alike in knowing whom to listen to.  Here is where analysts like Forrester’s and Gartner’s can have value.  I like to turn to other companies to see how they are doing it.  Here your Global Collaboration Architect can reach out to his\her peers at other companies to discuss strategies and technologies from actual use cases and experience.   Look for example at SalesForce.com (SFDC).  They have good collaboration functionality, and with their new platform “Chatter”, have added social and community collaboration capabilities to their powerful platform.  But the problem is SFDC is a CRM platform, and not everyone in the company is using the CRM platform for communities of practice and employee engagement.  The same with SAP can be said as SAP has good collaboration functions, so why use SAP as the cornerstone of collaboration for the entire company?  The key is, did you gather requirements around collaboration or simply pick the tool because it was convenient?  I bet the latter!! 

Clear skies ahead…

So again, some tips to removing at least some of the confusion is to:

  • Interview and survey to identify the business’s pain points.
  • Gather detailed requirements before, during, and after technical decisions have been made.
  • Identify ONE OWNER for company-wide collaboration initiatives, who has authority to stop the insanity and provide leadership to the Senior Executives.
  • Make sure everyone in the company can participate in the “Producing and Consuming” activities.
  • DO NOT be a pawn of any one vendor, trust but verify.
  • Stop chasing the next upgrade.
  • Make sure whatever technology you select as the core of the Enterprise Collaboration Program, everyone can take part.

Collaboration is not a state of being but a journey that takes time to prepare and cultivate.

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