Enterprise collaboration tools are becoming all the rage these days. But before you head off to the store to buy the latest and greatest, here are a few things to consider depending on if you are a large, enterprise organization, or a small-mid sized business.
Not too long ago the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled: “Enterprise 2.0 Goes Mainstream As Collaboration Tools Mature.” Indeed, Enterprise 2.0 collaboration tools are maturing -- but who gets the most benefit from this market? It’s evident that large enterprises certainly need help around collaboration. Workers in large organizations frequently admit to not knowing what is going on within their own company, not being be able to find the right information they need, or not being able to connect with the right people to get their job done.
But, what about the smaller organizations? Do small and medium businesses have the same needs as enterprises when it comes to collaboration? For the purpose of this article let’s define small and medium companies to mean between 25 and 1000 employees, anything beyond that is an Enterprise.
So when the WSJ tells us that Enterprise 2.0 tools are getting better and going mainstream -- you might be thinking that the time is finally right to get your hands on one of these tools to finally address your collaboration needs. But what do you need to know before you go to market? Here are some tips geared to different sized organizations.
Understand the Problems you are Looking to Solve
Sure, you think you know what the problems are, and you may be right. But do others in your organization agree with you? One of the common challenges within large organizations is that everyone has a different perspective on the problems they are looking to solve – even if it’s the same collaboration problem; it’s viewed from different perspectives.
They may all be different but they may also all be right. Gil Yehuda, a thought-leader in the Enterprise 2.0 space, advises “If you have not yet spoken to all the stakeholders, then you can’t know the extent of the problems you are trying to solve.”
Solving your collaboration challenges is by definition a challenge that more than one person faces -- so you need more than your own description of the problem in order to be able to come up with a proper solution.
Within larger organizations you’ll find there are many more stakeholders than you might anticipate reaching out to -- some of whom may not see eye-to-eye with the solution you are looking to implement. Think about various departments such as Legal, IT, HR, and even security groups. They will all want to have a say in the process -- and what they say will help you gain a better understanding of the problems your company needs to solve.
In contrast, small and medium sized organizations have far fewer people to coordinate with. Moreover, the same people have to represent multiple concerns as opposed to the concerns that are just relevant to their department or role. One problem you face in smaller companies is that you might not even have someone to represent one of the important concerns that your organization needs to address. This means that you have to think beyond your role and try to fill in the gaps. Once you have a good sense of your needs, you’ll have to understand what resources you need to bring to the table to integrate any solution into your existing environment.
Assess your ability to integrate a solution
Enterprise 2.0 tools don’t live in a vacuum, in fact, far from it. They have to be integrated within the fabric of your organization as it exists today. Large enterprises might have the raw resources to make migration a reality both in terms of people and dollars. The challenge they face is that the process involved in getting people mobilized involves many people and gets very complicated; there are a lot of moving parts that all need to work together to make this happen.
In contrast, small and medium size organizations oftentimes don’t have IT resources to make migration and integration happen. Instead there might be one person or if you are lucky, a small team that is in charge of figuring out how the E2.0 solution fits in with other systems. This means you’ll have to reach out beyond your own company for help.
You might think that you can roll out an Enterprise 2.0 tool without integrating it anywhere or with anything. However, beware of creating an information silo (or additional information silos). Many E2.0 solution vendors provide services that can help customize the integration for you. Some partner with agencies to do the work for them. Either way you go, plan for the work to take place -- and most importantly, understand how the integration process works within the context of your business process.
How Will the Solution Fit in the Context of your Business Processes?
Here again, large and small organizations display stereotypical differences in the way they handle process change. The message to both is -- plan for the time it takes to do Enterprise 2.0 properly. Many analysts note that success and failure are rarely due to the tool selection, but more often a result in cutting corners and the process steps. Although the toolset is important it still needs to support a strategy which comes first and foremost.
Enterprises typically have more process owners and existing fixtures that may be very difficult to work with. Not only are you going to be tasked with reaching out to process owners to get their perspective on their needs, you’ll have to get their participation in setting up a new process that somehow acknowledges, or better yet, leverages, your new Enterprise 2.0 tools. Expect resistance -- even if you are promising improvements.
Why? I asked Gil Yehuda who is an advisor to my company, Chess Media Group, who says “Enterprise 2.0 tools provide the potential for great improvements -- but they come with real upfront costs. The focus on the potential benefits is driving your pursuit of these tools, but your organization will first have to deal with real costs and changes. That takes a bit of faith.”
Smaller organizations may not have well developed processes -- in which case, the introduction of new tools may be an opportunity to start to shape new processes. Allocate the time to do this right so that instead of acquiring a tool your organization is acquiring the start of a new solution.
Note though, Enterprise 2.0 tools optimally support dynamic systems, whereas most people think of business processes as the cementing of static processes. So what does this mean for you?
The needs of large and small organizations vary significantly and the vendor that you decide to go with needs to be able to meet those needs. Some vendors offer a one size fits all approach regardless of how big or small your organization is, but your needs should drive your approach to market.
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