Social Collaboration: Four Steps to Success

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Co-authored with Jeff Auker

Enterprise software deployments are complex, customized to each customer and incredibly time consuming. To speed rollouts and improve customer satisfaction, one of the largest software companies in the world had a gutsy idea: let customers, partners and employees communicate about implementations. If connected, they could collaborate to uncover consistencies between installations that could be replicated, saving customers money.

To make it happen, IT set up ad hoc internal social networking tools and facilitated the free flow of information between groups. They made a point of not restricting the conversation at all. At first, the notion of customers talking to each other was understandably uncomfortable, especially for a B2B company that is not used to having connected customers, but the palpitations proved to be worth it. Implementations were taking less time and customers were pleased with the quicker clip of deployments.

The team was sold on social collaboration and ready to invest in a more sophisticated system, so they reached out to the CIO for direction. To their surprise, he suggested they share a collaboration platform with marketing, which was engaged in external social networking to build the brand. He helped them realize that not only could they share resources, but information as well. After all, they both had the same goal: enhance relationships with customers.

Now, the company is engaged in an effort to link internal and external social networking. To be continued….

Social Collaboration in the Right Order

Social collaboration is a hot buzz word right now. It can mean different things to different people. Some seem to think that social collaboration and social networking are synonymous. But at its core, social collaboration is doing business without boundaries. It’s about tearing down artificial walls between groups of people in the spirit of communication, exploration and innovation. But most importantly, it begins by identifying a problem or opportunity.

Unfortunately, in many cases, companies embark on makeshift social collaboration experiments and procure one-off tools without a clear business objective in sight. The result is a bunch of poorly managed/measured disconnected initiatives coupled with a bevy of tools that sit on a shelf unused because they weren’t bought with a specific purpose in mind.

The story of the enterprise software developer is a text book example of how the chain of events in a social collaboration experiment should unfold. The following things should happen in the following order:

  1. Identify a business challenge or opportunity, anything from improving process productivity to prioritizing new ideas
  2. Bring together the right people to make things happen
  3. Power the people and purpose with social networking tools (too many times this is the first step!)
  4. Link internal and external initiatives to reduce costs, set standards and measure results

The CIO’s Role in Social Collaboration

Ironically, IT, especially agile development groups, are often at the forefront of using social collaboration tools, and are often the biggest perpetrators of unapproved proliferation of redundant tools.

In fact, rogue social networking tools often grow like weeds in the CIO’s backyard. Many, if not most of these tools are lightweight and cheap-to-free to license, so unless there are security holes or data issues, it is often hard to make the business case to rationalize these tools if they are serving the purpose for the spot solutions they were built to handle.

IT is probably the sole group that recognizes that so many of these tools, at their core, are based on the same base set of capabilities — asynchronous messaging, presence, workflow, community building and management, content management, etc. The CIO can’t presume that the business units will see what IT sees, so it will be up to the CIO to bring disparate groups together on the same platforms and to build the business case for doing so.

Do you know of any social collaboration success stories? If so, please share.

Image shared by villano

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