Many organizations are planning or are already in the middle of deploying collaboration technology to their global organization. Before you go much further, ask yourself if you've identified these three elements of your collaboration strategy.

Perhaps you have invested in a single vendor eco-system like MS SharePoint for collaboration and information management. Like most organizations, you are looking for ways to reduce costs, create efficiencies, consolidate multiple repositories of information, innovate, connect people globally, change corporate culture and simplify the end user experience.

However, your executive leadership is not sure if your organization is optimizing the use of this technology and maximizing the return on your investment. If that’s you and your organization, it’s not too late to take a step back and review your strategic objectives and approach.

A solid collaboration strategy encompasses 3 key things:

1. Define the Business Context

Defining collaboration as synchronous or asynchronous is not enough. Making a decision to invest in SharePoint or Oracle or IBM is not enough. Build it and they will come is not enough.

Typically the best approach to deploying any collaboration technology is having a focused business context in mind. Multi-purpose collaboration platforms offer many features and capabilities. Part of a solid strategy is having a focused business context around social networking, team spaces, communities of practice, crowd sourcing, project management, knowledge management, business process management, etc...

You need to demonstrate real business value and evangelize that throughout your organization to further drive adoption and create a perception of collaboration technology as a productivity tool.

Identifying and applying the technology in a specific business context will help stakeholders and decision makers see how this thing called collaboration can alleviate business pain points, surface information and impact employee engagement and morale.

2. Identify the Degree of Openness

Further expanding on the concept of collaboration in "context" is to identify the degree of openness. Is the collaboration external, internal, global or regional, or line of business focused (depending on how your organization is structured)? Security and user access also come to mind here as it’s easy to create a mess of information within these eco-systems combining confidential information with more public content.

Identifying the degree of openness also includes defining your audience, the type of information you plan to collaborate on, and the overall scope of the collaboration. This will help focus your efforts, deployment, or investigation of collaboration technology as these platforms all offer several components from social computing to team sites to portals and workflows.

When you step back and understand the degree of openness, you may also realize that 3rd party solutions for administration or security just might be a mandatory requirement to protect intellectual property and sensitive information.

3. Establish Goals and Objectives

Project management 101 includes determining what success will look like for your organization. Often times when planning projects, goals and objectives tend be high level and don’t really provide a concrete definition of success. Setting the right goals and objectives will ensure stakeholders, decision makers and users are on the same page when determining if the collaboration strategy is a success.

What specific results should users and executives expect to see?

  • Will this solution reduce costs?
  • Provide a competitive advantage?
  • Do your objectives simply focus on just improving collaboration within project management?
  • External collaboration with business partners or clients?
  • Improving employee engagement & morale?
  • Is it to improve the search-ability of information and documents?
  • Enabling compliance?
  • Executive dashboards?
  • All of the above?

No matter how you’ve defined your collaboration strategic goals, there is ONE objective you MUST have as part of your overall strategy: Develop a standard information architecture and governance of the collaboration platform. Collaboration is generally unstructured (compared to traditional and more structured taxonomies of document or knowledge management) and information architecture and governance are a must for any successful collaboration strategy and deployment.

Collaboration is About People First

As a concept, collaboration goes beyond the simple sharing of documents in a team site or a creating a wiki. It can be all encompassing from team spaces, email, web meetings, IM to communities, web 2.0 and more. At the end of the day, collaboration is really a broad spectrum of content creation, sharing and information management.

Multiple technologies from multiple vendors have been used to address this broad spectrum with email being THE main tool Executives and knowledge workers rely on day-to-day (mostly because of convenience, availability and Blackberries).

Collaboration is about people and allowing them to work when and where they want without being constrained by schedules, time zones or geography. Perhaps your organization has invested in multiple tools (from multiple vendors) to address your collaboration needs: You are using SharePoint for project/document management along-side Websphere Portals, Lotus Notes, Lotus Connections/Quickr, or Documentum eRoom.

In the absence of a solid strategy, the risk of failure or creating a poor first impression of collaboration technology becomes even greater which result in workers continuing to rely on email as comfort food.

Editor's Note: Also read, Collaboration – If it Were That Easy We Would all Do It – Well

Is It Time to Step Back?

The bottom line is this “buzzword” called collaboration has shown up on CIO radar screens as a “Must-Do”. Over the last few years we have seen vendors like Microsoft, IBM and Oracle all begin to offer a single "uber" eco-system to manage all of your collaborative needs, artifacts and related information.

As organizations have rushed to implement these all encompassing technologies from a single vendor, they proceeded without a holistic collaboration strategy, believed that somehow platforms like SharePoint would magically improve the current state, or simply failed to leverage all the collaboration capabilities with the right strategy, approach and governance.

Throwing technology at the problem just resulted in another repository, another place to store documents, another place to create a discussion and another mess in which they search for information when collaborating.

In spite of an expectation for a high ROI and a Google or Facebook-like experience throughout the global organization, users remain confused, continue to be overloaded with information, are limited in their collaborative capabilities, and still use email as the primary collaboration tool. If this sounds like your organization, then step back and look at your strategy. 

Editor's Note: Also read, Enterprise Collaboration: It's About the Culture, Stupid