Social Collaboration: A Work In Progress - InformationWeek
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10:09 AM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Social Collaboration: A Work In Progress

Improving collaboration continues to top executive priority lists, so let's revisit whether they're "teasing out" the right tools and techniques.

And then there's The Hub's uber-benefit of driving enterprise-wide collaboration--breaking down departmental silos and promoting knowledge sharing among people who wouldn't otherwise interact with one another. My editorial colleagues and I have been exposed to some new people and fresh thinking on The Hub, even if we're not the most engaged participants.

For example, a month-old thread on The Hub about mobile applications lets participants see what's happening in other departments, ask pointed questions, grab ideas, and even change direction. In a global company such as ours, there's no way this collaboration would happen so organically otherwise.

At its worst, however, social collaboration can devolve into minutia. Too many cheerleaders aspiring to "guru" or "wizard" status. Too many congratulatory wishes, affirmations, and platitudes, all generating their own inbox-clogging email alerts (which users can turn off, but then they're pretty much out of the loop). A respondent to our recent Enterprise Social Networking Survey put it this way: "Social networking may work well, but not if it degenerates to the low density and high volume that email has."

Amen, brotha.

Meantime, the blunt conversations so important to doing business in real time get moved to email or IM or over the phone or in person. That's fine, as long as we all understand what enterprise social collaboration platforms do well (knowledge sharing, project management, team building, morale boosting) and how they can become a distraction (see previous paragraph). No single wiki, hub, portal, or forum can serve every corporate purpose. It's why unified communications is gaining so much momentum.

It's also the reason non-sanctioned social media platforms such as Yammer are so popular: They're off the corporate grid. Users feel free to speak their minds and get down to solving pressing problems without fear of a political backlash. Zoho, an Indian software-as-a-service provider, told me a few weeks ago about social freeware it has in beta called IT Pulse, specifically for IT organization collaboration, emphasizing that IT pros will have discussions on its platform they wouldn't feel comfortable having with the rest of the company.

One problem is that most CIOs don't want to support multiple collaboration platforms. And then there are those internal silos companies are looking to break down rather than erect. I'm not convinced there's much of a generational gap when it comes to embracing E2.0 tools. If some people do indeed "dread" modern-day collaboration, it isn't a Baby Boomer vs. Gen X or Gen Y thing, a type A vs. type B thing, or an extravert vs. introvert thing. It's a human thing. People are different; they collaborate differently.

Fostering social collaboration requires companies to constantly seek user feedback (my company recently conducted a survey of all employees). Which features are the most productive? For which kinds of work and communications is the platform most effective? Conversely, how is it being misused? What rules of engagement, if any, would users recommend?

The main job of the platform's steward, whether it's an IT director, community manager, or some other professional, isn't to be its promoter, though that comes with the turf. It's to plug in to user sentiments, positive and negative, and evolve the software and usage practices accordingly. Meantime, don't dismiss everyone who initially resists enterprise social collaboration as an outlier, Luddite, or malcontent. (I swear: I'm not.)

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User Rank: Apprentice
5/23/2012 | 4:49:17 AM
re: Social Collaboration: A Work In Progress
Hi Rob,

great article, thanks !

I have been in this E2.0 space for about 3 years now. My main role, in fact I am building a company dedicated to this entire subject, is helping companies with their adoption strategies and subsequent implementation of these strategies. These strategies are platform independent and so I work with platforms such as Jive and Quad. We have also developed a methodology around adoption called the Collaboration Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK), see

From what I have seen to-date I agree with everything you have said 100% and would like to add a few of my own insights.

1. The platform vendors such as Jive, Yammer and Cisco sell a set of blue sky benefits to the customer. these benefits can be realised but to actually achieve these benefits there is more to it than just rolling it out and telling everyone to use this wonderful new collaboration tool, which leads me on to point 2

2. The roll-out of these new tools needs to be treated as a change programme. You are asking people to change the way they work day-to-day. A few online pressos and videos won't do it. And, sorry to say this, but this requires investment in resources i.e. money & time.

3. The current approach for most companies to roll these tools out is to tell everyone it is like Facebook but for the enterprise. So you all know how FB works so this is similar, so go ahead and reap the rewards of collaboration.

This approach, if you have a reasonable number of people in your company, will probably have a few successes. Early adopters will give it a go and a couple of them will have a success story. i.e. emergent innovation. So when the person that promoted the whole idea of collaboration platforms is asked to justify the ROI they can reach out to everybody, find the odd success story, do some time/cost savings benefits anaylsis, extrapolate this out over 10 years and show how they have saved the company more than the GBP of the USA. Humour aside, there will be some success stories, some of them very real, but they are emergent and the company has no idea of the overall landscape of collaboration and where it would expect success to come from and thus how to allocate the appropriate resources at the right time to help this success be realised.

4. So we take a two pronged approach to collaboration. VIRAL (which is what I have described above) and MANAGED (supported by the CMBOK). This combines the emegrent innovation aspects but also puts a framework around the collaboration landscape so that the organisation can easily see what is happening across the organisation in terms of collaboration, they can build a change programme around this framework, and measure progress towards their goals. i.e. the best of both worlds.

So I am a strong supporter of these new platforms and I think fundamentally they are going to change the way we all work in the future, esp. as you see the integration of Unified Comms into these platforms (See Cisco QUAD as a case in point). However, companies need to realise that there is investment required to realise their full benefits.

Guy Thackray
Partner at CoTech International
User Rank: Apprentice
5/30/2012 | 8:37:04 PM
re: Social Collaboration: A Work In Progress
Time to take a page out of the W. Edwards Demming playbook and build governance that lets teams (securely) implement the collaboration tools they want to use (i.e. allow folks to impact systems that impact themselves). All to often the reason not to do this is "risk", but a project that nobody uses carries with it the opportunity cost of doing something else that would have worked (both time and capital). Yes, supporting multiple platforms, as you note isn't something CIOs want to do, but you can't collaborate unless you're using the tool/system/solution you want to use. Work in progress? More like time for IT management to set a policy (that works) and get out of the way. --Paul Calento
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