If the road to Enterprise Collaboration is paved with good intentions, then project teams ought to focus less on paving and more on drivers, the employees. When drivers are only viewed occasionally through a rear view mirror, the result will likely be no different than the myriad of defunct (AKA: inactive) online communities and groups that increasingly litter the lanes along the Superhighway. User Adoption is the key to success and yet corporate systems become congested with the tools and technologies that employees abandoned – if even adopted to begin with.

When it comes to Enterprise Collaboration, we’ve all experienced a few pot holes when the roll-out doesn’t go as planned, taken a detour when the systems don’t magically integrate as expected or been stuck in gridlock traffic when the network responds at a snail’s pace. While Enterprise Collaboration is a journey; let’s not forget that it is used to reach a destination by its drivers.

Employees Often Turn to Consumer-based Alternatives

When employees face pot holes, gridlock or delays, this does not change a simple fact: they still have a job to get done. Employees are savvy and default to consumer-based alternatives that are free and widely available: Yahoo Instant Messenger, Skype, Dropbox, Tokbox, various Google apps, to name a few. When the corporate network bounces your email for being too large, resend it via hotmail, gmail or Yahoo -- no problem. Your manager is on vacation but you need her approval on a video clip? She’s got her iPhone, so you post the video on YouTube, text her the private link URL, she watches using YouTube’s mobile app and she emails you her approval. Easy fix.

These detours that use consumer-based applications are increasingly widening the divide between ‘enterprise’ and ‘employee’ collaboration. Why would an employee use a corporate system, when the ‘detour’ was a more effective and efficient in getting the job done? Project teams should document how the employees use these various tools to determine if the ‘enterprise’ initiative can provide the same capabilities -- and what training would be necessary. The corporate system should produce the same result and without imposing a layer of complexity. For example, if you don’t have an digital asset management system with mobile access but posting on YouTube fills this gap -- and for free -- then why not use it?

These consumer-based tools may not be the company standard or approved and/or deployed systems, but they are reliable, easy to use and can bridge the enterprise collaboration gaps. They may not be optimal for widespread use, but they maintain employee productivity and business continuity in instances where the enterprise system could not.

Blocking Consumer Tools May Not Be a Good Thing

I’m not advocating that companies widely deploy consumer tools. They’re called “Enterprise” systems for a reason: the comprehensive security, system integration and governance are a few factors that justify the price tag. Specifically for these ‘detour’ scenarios where a consumer-based workaround poses little, if any risk -- remember: free, easy, instant -- why not?

Companies in highly regulated industries frequently block all access to these consumer technologies (and social networking tools). Understandably, business policy strives to minimize potential risk and exposure and these social, collaborative and content tools are high on the hit list. The implications are starting to surface, and don’t appear optimal:

  1. Can’t do their job: Blocking access puts limitations on employees, their productivity and effectiveness. Expecting a product manager to read up on the market reaction to a competitive product using a personal computer on personal time is a non-starter.
  2. Detours could create risk: Employees will find workarounds that you may not like, assuming you even find out about them at all. The risk and exposure that was meant to be avoided, is now exacerbated if employees use their mobile devices to bypass the corporate restrictions.

Employee Collaboration requires a variety of tools, processes, systems and applications to meet their diverse requirements and goals. There are countless variables to consider depending on the purpose, objective and intended outcomes, not to mention the preferences and technical aptitude of the individual. A single ‘enterprise’ system may cover the majority of requirements, but no system can provide every employee with every capability he needs.