So much has already been written about the use of social networking for business and the need for improved collaboration. Next-generation tools purport to ‘solve every problem you ever had,’ but what is real and what is noise? Like many new trends, there is enormous hype about anything social today. Here are a number of facts you need to know:
- You need to use social relationships at work and leverage existing expertise to move faster and be more competitive. Since the economic slowdown of 2008, there has been an increased need to ‘do more with less.’ In other words, fewer people doing more work. So providing workers with tools that make them more productive makes good sense.
- You will need use a variety of social business and collaboration tools. No one tool provides enough functionality to solve all your collaboration needs or to connect people across geographies and departments/divisions.
- Organizations are already investing heavily in social business and collaboration tools. According to Forrester Research, the majority of large organizations (over 1000 employees) plan on deploying between 3-7 collaboration technologies. The majority of organizations under 1000 employees plan to deploy 1-3 collaboration technologies.
- These are not your father’s collaboration tools. Don’t confuse new collaboration tools with the old knowledge management ‘shelfware’ products that largely go unused because it requires too much effort to populate and update the systems. And this isn’t Facebook, either.
- There is a new cadre of social business platforms. These are designed to provide a host of collaboration technologies in one platform. Some of the vendors in this space include: Atlassian, Cisco, IBM, Jive, Microsoft, NewsGator, OpenText, Socialtext, and Telligent. These tools introduce a revolutionary approach to collaboration. Largely eschewing email and documents, these tools deliver next generation collaboration capabilities like wikis, blogs, instant messaging, and conferencing, all integrated into a new workflow paradigm.
- To use these tools, people have to change the way they work. In addition, people need to learn new collaboration concepts, concepts that are usually not familiar and which are not naturally intuitive. In the history of innovation, this revolutionary approach often fails, because it doesn’t take into the human factor. Why?
- Change is hard because people are change-averse. People don’t want to change the way they work. John Gourville  at Harvard documented this with his famous 9X problem; five years ago, Andrew McAfee  directly applied this to the use of the new collaboration tools.
“The greatest challenge [the adoption of a collaboration technology]…has to do with making technologists sufficiently user-like--getting them to stop thinking in terms of bells and whistles and elaborate functionality, and to start thinking instead about busy users with short attention spans who need to get something done, and who can always reach for email.” (Andrew McAfee ). What McAfee wrote 5 years ago is even more true today, as organizations begin to spend large budgets to try and find way to connect employees.
- Alternative collaboration approaches are emerging. These approaches incorporate new collaboration capabilities into existing workflows, in order to mitigate the need for people to change the way they work. For example, in the consumer world, even Facebook eventually introduced email into its interface. Google as well has made great strides combine Gmail with tools such as Google Voice, and Google +. This evolutionary approach to adopting social business has a much greater chance of success because it assimilates the worker psyche with collaboration goals. In the enterprise world, this is still a new concept, but it is coming. Combining next generation collaboration tools with the conventional ‘email and document’ workflow is future direction that I call ‘social aggregation.’ More on this in a future post.
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