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4/5/2004
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Collaborative Stickiness, And What Drives Adoption of Collaborative Technologies

It's all about pain! There is a cost to transfer content from one collaborative tool to another, and sometimes the cost is so high, and the pain so great, you say, “OK, I guess I will stick with this old collaborative tool, because it is too painful to move!” Back when I worked in product management at Oracle, we knew this about databases. Give it to them for free; once they put some content in it, it is too hard or painful to get it out and into some other database tool. You got them! But how do you drive adoption? Will only the initial group to come in contact with the collaborative technology be the only group to use it? How do you ensure that it will spread throughout the organization?

Here at CS, we are always playing with new collaborative tools and technologies. We are analysts (and mostly geeks) and often get off on these technologies. But sometimes there is just so much pain involved you throw up your hands and decide it is not worth it.

Disappearing TCP/IP

I remember one case where were seeing a demo of some new collaborative software which worked over some sort of VPN. When I downloaded this (beta) real time collaboration tool as part of the vendor demo, it wiped out my TCP/IP protocol stack. I could not see my network, connect to the Internet, nothing. The vendor apologized, and of course the demo never proceeded. After trying to recover the protocol stack for an hour or two, and calling Microsoft Support, I eventually decided to roll back the system. I nice feature in XP Pro, that allows you to create a rollback point (which I do now before installing any new software), where it takes a snapshot of the systems for you, and when you roll back, it goes back to the system settings at the roll back point. All well and good, and I was able to roll back my system (the TCP/IP stack worked fine before installing the new software) and off I went with out losing too much time or work. In this case the collaborative vendor was at a loss, but fortunately, Microsoft had a great feature that allowed me to recover with minimal amounts of pain and loss.

The Pain of Content Migration

I had a recent experience and an ASP vendor of collaborative tools set up a new account for us so we could try their tools and new services first hand. After a few of the analysts here played with the tool, they said it was superior to the tool we were using, and we should move our content over to the new tool. So we divided up the work. One analyst moved the database/contact list and group calendar over. I got to move the documents and files over.

The first day I was assigned this task, I went through the files we had in the old tool, and look at what was current and created a file/folder structure in the new tool documents section that paralleled the structure in the old tool. So far so good! Then I started moving files, which consisted of downloading the file from the old collaborative tool, to my desktop and then uploading the file from my desktop into the new tool. Fortunately, it was drag-and-drop to move the files down to my desktop and up to the new tool (no I could not drag files, folders or documents directly from the old tool to the new one). Ok, so I spent an evening doing this and managed to get about 100 documents into the new tool.

I then talked to some members of the management team of the company with the new tool and they told me about web folders, and the ability to create them. Because this new tool supports WebDAV so well, it did make it a lot easier to move both the files and folders over to this new collaborative environment.

Soon after I talked with these folks, a support person called me and walked me through the creation of the web folders. I first tried dragging files to my desktop and then could drag them over to the appropriate folder. Since this was going so well, I got bold and dragged some folders (filled with files and documents) onto my desktop and then tried dragging the folders into the new tool. This did two things for me: 1, it was much faster, and 2, it preserved the folder hierarchy. That all went well until I started getting error messages saying that not all of the files in the folder had been copied.

OK, so now I was in limbo (a state that requires the most energy to stay in) some documents in the old tool and others in the new tool. I tried going back a step and just dragging and dropping one file from a folder on my desktop into the new tool. Same error message, so now I am really worried. In addition, I also tried to create new folders in the new tool, and drag some files into those. Everything went smoothly except the new folders did not show up when I went back to look at the hierarchy. When I tried to reload the files into those folders, the new tool told me that the files were already there… but I just could not see them. At this point I had exhausted my ingenuity and decided to yell for help!

I made another telephone call to support for the new tool vendor, to see if they had seen this kind of behavior before. However, before we could get a call back we began to see notices that we were out of space. The lesson we are learning from this is that nothing ever goes as smoothly or as easily as the vendor promises (or you expect). What might have been more graceful is that the tool would have let us know when we were within 10% of our storage limit and presented us with some options, rather than having us figure out what was going wrong by ourselves.

Now that we had found out what the (suspected) problem was, I called the marketing VP at the new collaborative tool vendor and got our space increased and I continued to move content over the next week.

Moving content is kind of like spring-cleaning. You look at everything very critically and say, “Do I really need that?” We decided to move whatever we did not need immediately onto our corporate server for storage.

Database Migration

The other analyst that moved the database over only had to exported it as a tab-delimited file and then imported it into the new tool in an existing DB structure for Sales activity tracking that was already available from the new vendor. He was given an interface to map the field names. Out of 850 records he had 10 records with errors. He went back into the original tab-delimited file and fixed e-mail address and other corrections in the records, and then re-imported the file successfully.

Strategies for Success

As the process of moving content wore on, the initial excitement and novelty of the new collaborative tool began to wear off. The other issue was to get everyone to move over to the new tool. One strategy was to make that the only place they could find the content to use. Checking the content on the new site and then deleting it from the old site did this. We hoped this would eventually force everyone on to the new tool if they wanted access to the content.

A second strategy was the “more functionality” appeal. To see if we could get some of the people here interested in using the new tool based on functions the old tool did not have. Like, it has a group calendar, or it will synch up with your PDA, etc.

Critical Factors for Adoption

Whatever the strategy it is unclear what the critical factors for adoption of collaborative technologies are. I believe about 10-20% of it is the technology, but the other 80-90% is people and process. Collaborative Strategies has recently launched into some new research looking at just this issue. Several of our analysts are currently interviewing both collaborative vendors and end-user organizations (both kinds: where the collaborative tool is being used in a group or department but did not spread throughout the organization, and companies where the collaborative tool is used throughout the organization). If you are either a vendor or end user and would like to be part of this study please contact me immediately ( davidc@collaborate.com )! All information will be kept private, and we will derive trends and best practices from the aggregate of interviews we do. Those participating will get an executive summary of the results of the survey.

David Coleman is the Founder and Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies. This column is his ideas and comments and do not necessarily represent the views of all of the analysts at Collaborative Strategies.

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