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.

It's been almost two years since I wrote a column titled "Down To Business: Why Some People 'Dread' Collaboration," in which I cited a body of research that showed unsatisfactory user experiences with social networking and other Enterprise 2.0 technologies. The Corporate Executive Board's Shvetank Shah weighed in that part of the challenge in fostering collaboration is for organizations to acquire a better understanding of users' workflows and the outcomes they want to achieve and then "tease out" the appropriate technologies, rather than just thrust collaboration platforms upon them.

Improving collaboration continues to land on the strategic priority lists of CIOs and other company executives--39% of executives in our Global CIO survey said they plan a major technology implementation in this area this year, making it No. 1 among 14 projects. So it's worth revisiting whether they and their organizations are in fact teasing out the right tools and techniques.

The short answer is that no one's got enterprise collaboration all figured out yet, owing to the dizzying array of platforms (SharePoint, Google Sites, Drupal, Yammer, LotusLive, Chatter, Jive, Cisco Quad), various Web and video conferencing systems, and of course the legacy email, IM, and other platforms. Add to that the varying personal, cultural, and some even say generational preferences. And I think we still do too much thrusting and not enough teasing out.

[ Does social business translate into better business? Read more at How To Design A Social Business. ]

In an October 2011 InformationWeek survey that asked about enterprise use of social collaboration tools, 53% of the 452 IT pros who responded reported heavy or moderate use of online company directories (including those with profiles and photos) at their companies; 38% reported heavy or moderate use of team or company wikis; 30% of company discussion forums; and 28% of internal blogs. Those findings were little changed from a year earlier. But only 38% of the survey respondents characterized the overall success of their social collaboration tools as great or good. The rest rated them average (37%), fair (15%), or poor (10%).

The findings of a more recent survey, which we conducted in April, were more upbeat: 51% of the 405 respondents said they were either satisfied (41%) or very satisfied (10%) with their companies' social networking software. Only 32% were somewhat satisfied and 5% were unsatisfied. (The other 12% were still evaluating such software.)

So it appears that users are becoming more comfortable with their companies' social collaboration efforts. But pockets of discontent remain, our extensive reporting and research find. For some perspective, let's step back a bit.

In a thought-provoking blog post several years ago, current BrainYard columnist Venkatesh Rao made the case that the enterprise collaboration movement had lapsed into something of a "generational war" between advocates of social media tools and advocates of more structured knowledge management tools. Rao used as an example a tussle he had on a conference panel session with a middle-aged "architect of a major, moderately successful, stable, and decade-old KM effort."

"Where he advocated planning, I advocated ad hoc experimentation," Rao wrote. "Where he advocated charters to declare expected value, I advocated a 'you'll-know-it-when-you-see-it' approach to discovering value. Where he talked about convincing [subject matter experts], I argued that you should just watch for opinion leaders to emerge."

While Rao admitted to "setting the cat among the pigeons," his "us vs. them" POV is still common among social networking/Enterprise 2.0 advocates (even if you don't hear much about knowledge management these days). Long after I wrote the "Dread" column, in which I not only cited research but also related my personal frustrations with my company's wiki, I stumbled upon a series of rebuttals to my column--posted on the very same wiki by our community manager and a few of his fellow E2.0 professionals--in which I was portrayed as the stodgy traditionalist. (I chanced upon that thread while searching for something else; no one had offered me the opportunity to collaborate with the rebutallists.)

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They made some valid points, the simplest of which is that you can't please everyone. Perhaps I pined for a "drop-in replacement" for my existing collaboration tools (mostly email and IM), rather than accept something truly new and different and more effective, one commenter suggested.

One respondent to our recent Enterprise Social Networking Vendor Evaluation Survey agreed: "The most challenging aspect of social networking for the enterprise is understanding the technology as it pertains to optimizing existing workflows. We tend to try to adapt social software to meet our (outdated) business processes, instead of seeing 'how things could/should be' and adjusting processes to take advantage of technology."

Fair enough. I'm never the first to embrace the latest technologies and approaches, but like most other professionals, I generally do get on board as a fairly fast follower once I see the utility. And I'm still not completely sold on enterprise social collaboration, at least my company's brand. My original point wasn't and isn't that our company wiki (based on Jive software and recently upgraded and renamed The Hub) is a poor platform for employee collaboration. It's a good one. At its best, it's a dynamic forum for discussing industry trends, business opportunities, ongoing programs, customer wins, product improvements, operational best practices, and myriad other issues.

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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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