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Social Collaboration as a Competitive Advantage

1/6/16 7:23 AM

Information workers have entered the social collaboration era. As recently stated in Harvard Business Review, as organizations grow "silos are breaking down, connectivity is increasing, and teamwork is seen as a key to organizational success." (Collaborative Overload, Jan 2016)

Beezy can give your organization a distinctive competitive advabntage

While still in the midst of its roll out of SharePoint 2010, Microsoft turned much of its focus toward social collaboration as industry analysts, competitors, and customers began looking toward these solutions to help them not only collaborate around documents and business processes, but around social channels, ideas, and communities of practice. It was during this time that social collaboration began to build momentum, with customers recognizing that using these tools could dramatically improve adoption and engagement on their internal environments -- and use this higher rate of engagement as a competitive advantage. While building out their own social capabilities inside of SharePoint, Microsoft saw an opportunity to take a leadership position by acquiring a then-competitor, Yammer, and the rest is history.

With all the industry buzz and vendors luring organizations toward social platforms, many CIOs are still reluctant to fully embrace these tools -- even as improved collaboration could give them distinct competitive advantages.

Fast forward almost four years, and social collaboration in the Microsoft space has matured rapidly. There is now no single "modality" for social collaboration, with Microsoft supporting multiple features and tools that sometimes overlap or seemingly conflict, but that provide more options to customers than ever before. Within the partner ecosystem, many Strategic Integrators (SIs) have developed expertise in helping customers quickly map out their cultural and technological needs, and build out the modern digital workplace. The focus of all of this effort is adoption, engagement, and productivity.

As far as driving competitive advantage -- it takes more than an out-of-the-box deployment to achieve that measurable benefit of improved productivity. It takes thoughtful planning, alignment with business requirements, and an understanding of how the technology fits within an organization's cultural norms. One of the major concerns is that many social tools do not come with the same controls as with document management systems, like SharePoint. It is that lack of control that many CIOs fear. Fear comes from not knowing -- and not knowing is the result of a lack of planning.

How do we tap into the advantages of social collaboration, leveraging them for competitive advantage, without increasing business risk? Some of the areas that should be included in your social strategy:

Understand your business use cases.

While sales messaging can be very compelling, most enterprise solutions need to be refined for your specific business needs. Take the time to understand what it is you are trying to achieve with this new technology, and which aspects of your business would benefit the most. For example, using social collaboration tools to more quickly disseminate corporate communications, and get a higher rate of response and engagement from employees. Also remember that compliance and governance controls across many social platforms can be very limited, so be as clear as possible on what you are trying to achieve by using these social features, and how your security, auditing, and other governance requirements will be met.

Map out the limitations of the technology.

There are things your product of choice can do (which is why you were sold on it in the first place) and cannot do (or it may take configuration or customization). If you have taken the time to clearly map out your core use cases, then review the technology through them one by one. My guidance is to not base your plans around promises for a future road map if there is no value in what is available today. If your basic functional requirements cannot be met, and especially if your security, compliance, and reporting requirements cannot be supported, be aware of the trade-offs that you are making.

Define your measurements of success.

For each defined use case, how will you define success? For example, a cross-functional community of practice for project management will likely have different measurements of success than the corporate communication example mentioned above.

Decide on how to move forward.

You have your plan, you've outlined your use cases, and you understand the limitations and how you'll measure success. Based on these, you have some decisions to make about how to move forward with the social collaboration tools you've selected. Weigh the benefits of increased user adoption and increased communication against real (or perceived) shortcomings in control and management, and figure out your strategy.

Experiment with the help of your internal influencers, and iterate on your strategy.

One final -- and important recommendation: find your influencers. Social collaboration tools are a wonderful resource for helping an organization to figure out where your internal communities and collaboration are thriving -- and hurting. Each community generally contains people who go above and beyond to help their community run. Tap into your influencers and try to better understand what makes them tick, and see what can be replicated from their successes.

At the corporate level, you may not yet be thinking about social collaboration -- but undoubtedly, your employees are already using them, whether supported or not. Tools like Slack, HipChat, Trello and others are finding their way into our environments. Rather than fight the change, organizations need to understand why their employees are using them. The fact is that the underlying technology of our enterprise content management (ECM) customer relationship management (CRM), and enterprise resource planning ERP) platforms are quickly incorporating these social features. Social collaboration improves communication and sharing -- and when teams are talking and sharing, it sparks innovation.

Whether or not you have a social strategy in place today, you will need to have one in place soon enough. With these basic questions and issues covered, you'll be much better prepared to kick off that strategic planning. And if your platform-of-choice is SharePoint on-prem or online, that's where Beezy can help. Join us on January 20th for a public demo of our solution (at 7am PST or 10am PST), and let us show you how we can make social collaboration a competitive advantage for your organization.

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