Over the past few years we have witnessed fundamental changes in how the industry-at-large views collaboration. While the lines between the terminology that we use around ‘collaboration,’ ‘social,’ and even ‘communication’ technology has become blurred, certain “truths” persist around how teams connect, share, and collaborate.
Looking back, knowledge management (KM) solutions have traditionally been hierarchal and process-driven, and most enterprise collaboration solutions very document-centric. Within the leading platforms, the user experience (UX) has historically been ignored, with companies instead focusing on rigid collaboration models that meet business requirements, but do not align with user expectations. Management teams have lived in fear of what could happen if end users had more control over how and where they collaborated — but as a result of this fear, there has been a surge in consumer-based technologies inside corporate networks.
With the social invasion, end users got more of what they wanted — cool new features, and solutions that met short-term needs — but often at the cost of security and compliance concerns. In short, with the influx of social tools — collaboration got a lot more complicated for the enterprise.
Within the SharePoint ecosystem, we’ve been on a roller coaster of sorts. SharePoint has long been the leader in intranet and extranet solutions, but has lacked a strong UX and the social capabilities end users demand.
With the Yammer acquisition a few years back, Microsoft sought to push its way into a leadership position in social, making up for lackluster native features. But while the company appeared on the Gartner Leadership Quadrant for social technology, the failure to truly integrate Yammer with SharePoint has been the cause of some discontent. The launch of Office 365 Groups brings with it many exciting advances and stronger story around integration across the entire Microsoft stack, however this new “modality” of collaboration” only adds to the complexity of the enterprise strategy. Long-time customers of both SharePoint and Yammer are left wondering how the pieces all come together.
Change can be difficult, but change also brings with it opportunity. When Microsoft and Salesforce announced a partnership to align Office365 with the leading customer relationship management (CRM) platform, it was a clear sign that Microsoft will support the needs of its customers. But it also highlighted the fact that collaboration continues to be a primary focus of enterprise application providers — with social collaboration taking center stage.
As the KM and document-centric collaboration tools of the past continue to evolve, and as more and more vendors enter the “social intranet” space, enterprise customers are asking for clarity. Within the Microsoft ecosystem we have Yammer, Skype, and SharePoint. Outside that ecosystem, but in heavy use within many organizations, are Facebook Messenger, Slack, Google Talk, Twitter, and many others. All of these options mean that now, more than ever, companies need to be very thoughtful about what technologies they put in place — and how the social features end users want align with business needs.
As you develop your own collaboration plans, here are some ideas to consider:
Different departments have differing needs.
Different teams came to different conclusions as to the tools that best fit their needs. There is nothing inherently wrong with two teams selecting different technologies, but be sure you understand the impacts — such as how you are going to manage two very different (and potentially duplicative) collaboration platforms. More importantly, will these differing technologies limit communication and collaboration across your company?
Finding the right “fit” sometimes outweighs the drive to integrate.
While this may seem contrary to the point made above, the likelihood of one solution to meet the needs of every team or individual in your company is slim to none. Within the social collaboration space, it’s not about single-vendor solutions or single platforms, but about finding the tools that fit the way you do your business, and about what makes you productive.
Mobile has become business-critical.
There is a lot of data showing how fast the mobile market is outpacing PC and tablet growth, and organizations are moving quickly to support this growing demand. There are some analysts who point out that the rise in mobile does not necessarily mean the death of other formats, with some analysts even claiming that laptops could see some moderate growth in the next couple years. But what is definitely happening is that end users are purchasing multiple devices rather than displacing one with the other — and you need to know how your mobile solutions tie into your overall collaboration footprint.
Machine learning is beginning to deliver value.
More and more companies are recognizing the need to capture, retain, and utilize not just the content being created, but the relationships of people. Some of the most relevant, meaningful data being created is not coming from documents, but from conversations with social interactions. Machine learning understands the relationships between you, your network of peers, and your content — and because of what it learns from those social interactions, it can help surface data better than the typical search result. Companies that can do this well will have a distinct competitive advantage over those who cannot.
Iteration is essential.
During a keynote presentation in late 2013, Yammer co-founder Adam Pisoni shared that they key to their success was rapid build and release, which had allowed them to quickly experiment, test with consumers, and then roll out quickly. One important evolution within the collaboration space has been the recognition that iteration is essential, and that as you learn, you should refine both your requirements and your platform. The end result is a stronger platform, improved adoption, and tighter alignment with the needs of your business.
Social environments require fewer controls.
With proper end user education and oversight, there are surprisingly few posts or actions that break collaboration policies and need to be removed. When left on their own, employees generally do the right thing. Having said that — you must understand your governance constraints. Any collaboration solution must be measured against compliance, security, and regulations…but with the understanding that the more limits and controls you put in place, the greater the impact on usability and adoption.
Social collaboration tools can change company culture. As people connect and share ideas, process and products across the board improve, as can employee job satisfaction. There is a reason why so many companies are moving toward open floor plans — it encourages interaction, boosts morale, and reduces communication barriers.
Enterprise social collaboration has begun to mature. But while many organizations believe they can improve internal communication and collaboration simply by rolling out social collaboration tools, few understand the risks of focusing purely on the UX — which is the equal but opposite mistake made by the hierarchal and process-driven enterprise collaboration solutions. It must be a balanced planning activity.
At Beezy, we believe in the power of social — but view it as a core component of a broader collaboration platform, not as an unaligned, standalone tool. That’s why our award-winning solution is built on SharePoint, for SharePoint. We leverage the industry-leading collaboration platform whether on-prem or in the cloud, enhancing and extending SharePoint’s features to give end users the capabilities and user experience they want — while also providing managers and administrators with the compliance and governance controls they need.