The focus of these benefits depends on the challenges that the organization faces -- whether it's about connecting a large, distributed workforce to create efficiencies or about igniting innovation by allowing employees' ideas to surface through the cracks of the everyday routine. As a result, we've seen an explosion of new software products focused on social collaboration (or "social business"), some from established software vendors such as IBM, Salesforce.com, Oracle and TIBCO, and others from new "pure play" vendors such as Jive, Yammer (now owned by Microsoft), Igloo and Telligent. And now we are reaching the point where it's hard to distinguish them based on their core "social" features because they've become pretty standardized.
So how do you decide which social business software is best for you? Of course it will depend on what problems you're trying to solve, but the key is always going to be to what extent the technology fits into your existing business. Yes, in the long run you might be hoping to change your company's culture, but the first challenge is getting people to adopt your new solution -- and you will quickly learn that it is hard getting the majority of people to adopt.
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One of the common traps that businesses fall into when deploying social collaboration tools is to think we "just collaborate." We don't. We collaborate in the context of a business activity, process or task; we engage with other people to get something done. However, many social collaboration platforms are deployed as standalone environments, forcing staff to step outside their usual technology environment -- be that the CRM, ERP or email application -- in order to come to grips with the new platform.
Some people will jump at the opportunity to stretch, particularly if they are naturally drawn to social technologies, or have been looking for a better way to collaborate. But many won't jump, and convincing them to change their habits can be a real battle.
So you need to take social technology to where your employees are comfortable, integrating it with their business applications or email so they can take advantage of its benefits without much upheaval. Make the change more incremental, and not a complete shift that will inevitably trigger that human instinct to resist change. Allow collaborative discussion to take place in the context of, for example, a sales opportunity or a business report, so that the process can be enhanced in situ, keeping all the related information together.
It's worth noting the importance of social tool integration with email. As much as social technologies aim to provide a better alternative to email for certain tasks, the reality is that email is a hard habit to break. It makes more sense to enhance the email application to enable social collaboration, rather than face the challenge of pulling your staff out of email altogether. As for today's social collaboration technologies, some allow you to integrate with applications better than others. It's great that we are now seeing social tools pulling data in from business applications, integrating applications data alongside people's posts in the activity stream.
But fewer allow integration in the opposite direction, embedding social collaboration in the business applications themselves. Jive Software, for example, is particularly strong here, and Salesforce.com's Chatter is inherently integrated with Salesforce's CRM application. But this is an area where more work is needed from vendors to help smooth that transition for end users and become embedded into people's everyday business processes.
So when choosing your social collaboration vendor, you need to make sure the technology offers the social features you need and expect, and that you can work with the vendor to shape your social collaboration strategy going forward. But don't underestimate the importance of context when getting people to adopt the new technology: sometimes it just makes more sense to "take the mountain to Mohammed," as it were.
Think about how you can integrate social collaboration tools with your existing business processes, and challenge the vendors to help you do this in a manageable and cost-effective way. It'll make your adoption journey so much smoother.
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