If you want to test out whether your efforts to capture the knowledge, wisdom, and expertise of your employees have been successful, you can wait until a key employee retires. But then what? What if critical information walks out the door, gone forever? Most organizations have a litany collaboration tools in place, but they fail to implement a formal collaboration strategy. Talk to most business leaders, and they’ll tell you they want their teams to work better together, and for individuals to find the content and expertise they need to be effective in their roles. What does “Collaboration” mean, anyway? It may be a generic term that can be defined as an activity, process, or set of tools that enable two or more individuals to connect, share, and discuss content and ideas, but what is the goal of collaboration? And more specifically, what is your strategy?
Enterprises need better collaboration. Collaboration includes things we know and use every day, such as email, web meetings, instant messaging, wikis, and various other online and offline, synchronous and asynchronous communication methods. But what are you missing? How do people connect-the-dots between these disparate tools and the problem of succession planning? What companies need to do is to develop a collaboration strategy for improving their communication methods, and move away from data silos toward enterprise-wide collaboration. Of course, easier said than done. Too much of our corporate knowledge is lost through inefficient systems and processes. To reverse this trend organizations need to develop a strategy that closely matches their culture, their end user needs, and their business requirements. Far too few companies have taken the first steps toward defining their strategy, and instead have let the waves of collaboration change wash over them.
We’re now seeing a movement away from corporate-led collaboration toward consumer-centric tools, often lacking in security and governance controls, but with limited-but-compelling features and well-designed user interfaces.
End users often follow the technology wave — whether clamoring for the latest gadgets or seeking out the trending tools. More often than not, they don’t think about the security, support, and scalability issues these tools may cause. Without a corporate strategy, those waves will erode and damage, if not destroy, the foundation companies have built around their secure, compliant, and structured environments. It’s not sufficient to “lock down” your system against these consumer-based tools without first understanding why your users are flocking toward them – and how you can provide the tools your users need, but in a managed and responsible way.
Following the waves of change
Whether it’s your customer relationship management (CRM) platform, your corporate bank, or your online payroll system, enterprise applications now include social collaboration capabilities. Every website and application seems to be adding a “social” layer, and the ability to connect with people in real-time has become our expectation — even part of our corporate culture. It’s not surprising. These various communication and collaboration tools can provide valuable business benefits, including:
- Creating a “single version of the truth” of our content
- Providing richer personalization, using machine-learning
- Centralizing knowledge sharing, so that patterns can be determined and best practices made more visible
- Leveraging expertise outside of business units
- Supporting communities of practice and “centers of excellence” to develop best practices
- Connecting people, ideas, and content in automated and dynamic ways
- Shifting workloads toward mobility solutions
One of the biggest cultural changes underway, and supported by this shift toward enterprise collaboration, is the move away from paper-based communication and records. Increasingly, the content being created is less about the document and more about lists, dynamic data, and real-time conversation between people, teams, and systems. The content I share may be a Word document, a view of many different artifacts through the use of a shared keyword or tag, a list of tasks, or a conversation captured using Skype for Business.
Likewise, a search result may return a document or a website link, but also a community site conversation, a series of user profiles of people who are actively discussing the search topic, or several list items that may make mention of your topic.
One of the benefits of developing a managed collaboration strategy for your organization is to help connect people in ways that allow them to get the information they need faster – and in context to their role, their team, and their location within your website or company portal, which makes them more productive. Without a strategy in place, each of these seemingly powerful tools and solutions are creating additional information silos, moving your organization further and further away from your ultimate goal.
Developing your collaboration strategy
The hard part of imparting “best practices” is that the best practice for one team or company may not fit another organization. What makes collaboration complex is the desire to keeps things flexible, dynamic, and allow for different team and company cultural needs — while allowing IT organizations to also maintain their standards for permissions, reporting, auditing and compliance.
There is always a balancing act between what your end users want, and the things which will encourage them to be more collaborative, and the requirements of the business.
The best defense for IT organizations is to have a strong offense. Stay up to date on the latest consumer and enterprise solutions. Understanding the different collaboration options available to organizations ensures you find the right fit for your culture and for your business requirements.
For the enterprise, how and where your artifacts are created, shared, and consumed are the drivers of much of the collaboration requirements. That’s why social groups or communities are so powerful — they fit with the natural patterns of collaboration we practices in our personal and professional lives. For example, a Project Manager feels comfortable sharing ideas within a Project Management community, and likewise, Human Resources managers can benefit from the collective knowledge of other HR personnel. These communities can help our organizations to refine, extend, and improve our business activities by allowing people to share their experiences, discuss them, forward ideas and artifacts to others, and so forth. A key aspect of your strategy should be understanding the nuances of the different teams and communities within your company — and to deliver solutions that support those different needs.
There is no right or wrong way to extend the collaboration capabilities of your organization and begin the break down the information silos you have built up — but the first and fundamental step of developing a collaboration strategy is to listen to the needs of the people who will be using the platform — your end users. If you have them involved at the beginning, you will better understand how to support them.
Build your requirements and your execution plan thoughtfully. Understand exactly what you are trying to enable and improve through collaborative features. Successful collaboration is about improving communication and unlocking untapped knowledge. Make sure your requirements focus on the business benefits to be delivered, and that you don’t get sidelined by the individual features of the tools and products you review. And don’t go overboard on measurement — keep a balance between qualitative and quantitative metrics to help you determine whether the solutions you’ve implemented are taking hold. Most of all, be willing to experiment. You will undoubtedly need to make frequent adjustments as you try to find the right cultural fit. As you review the data from your success metrics, be willing to make changes based on what you see.
At Beezy, we understand the importance of having a collaboration strategy — and we believe the most successful collaboration efforts are built around the community model. Our award-winning solution extends and enhances SharePoint’s native collaboration capability with features that rival the latest consumer-based tools, giving your employees the features they need to be more effective and productive. If you have not yet seen what Beezy can do, schedule your demo today!