Social Business Safe Collaboration TipsBlame it on the Consumerization of IT, the "bring your own device" movement, the seemingly inescapable trend of all things moving toward the cloud, or the cyclical move from single-vendor solutions to best-of-breed (a cycle that seems to repeat itself every five to seven years). Regardless of these trends or cycles, collaboration environments within the enterprise are rapidly expanding. 

While SharePoint maintains a solid lead as the choice for "system of record" structured collaboration, the latest version (SharePoint 2013) coupled with Office365 and Yammer also show how serious Microsoft is pushing towards the cloud, positioning it among a host of available industry solutions that businesses are using to collaborate across various workloads.

These include Salesforce's Chatter, bringing social to their customer relationship management (CRM) platform; Box, with their simple but practical cloud-based social and document management solution; Jive, which provides a comprehensive social and marketing research platform; and a variety of cloud-based file storage platforms including SkyDrive, DropBox, Google Drive and others. 

Even the most secure environments are seeing multiple tools and platforms popping up around their organizations -- and many CIOs have made the strategic decision to err on the side of end user engagement by allowing their employees to have a choice in the solutions they use (as if they could be stopped -- Ha!).

In a recent presentation at a think-tank event sponsored by AIIM.org, Tom Murphy, CIO of the University of Pennsylvania, provided a compelling answer to this decision within his own organization: "The mistake is to approach this from a technology perspective, and not from a business perspective. The goal is to get people collaborating."

If a collaboration platform is secure and compliant, and yet nobody uses it, what’s the point?

The goal of every business when strategizing their collaboration efforts is to improve overall engagement on the platforms in place today, or to augment with compatible technologies that will increase overall collaboration -- which sometimes means supporting platforms to fill those gaps or meet personal preferences that do not, on the surface, integrate. Increasingly, organizations are using multiple platforms to meet expanding collaboration needs, and hybrid environments are on the rise. Sales conversations might happen in Chatter, marketing analysis and product management are being done in Jive, support and engineering might manage issue tracking using Jira, and all the while the system of record might be SharePoint for centralizing all content, workflow automation and basic intranet needs. That's a lot of scattered platforms in use at a single organization.

The key to success for managing all of these different tools and platforms can best be summarized by these five tips for IT administrators and business users, and are good to keep in mind when collaborating across multiple platforms:

1. Define How Each Tool is to be Used

Understand the primary use cases for each tool, and their target users. Each solution has specific strengths and clearly defined use cases. Chatter, for example, might be the right place for sales teams to communicate, but is probably not the best platform to use as your system of record for storing content.

Talk to your end users about these use cases -- and if their expectations extend beyond the proper use of the platforms, use it as an opportunity to educate them on other available tools or document these unmet requirements as you investigate additional solutions.

2. Understand the Boundaries of Each Platform

Do you know the storage limits for each list and library? Does the tool require performance maintenance to ensure a quality of service? Are there reports, metrics or flexible configuration settings that enable you to better manage these tools? Know the limits of each tool, take the time to do some capacity planning around their expected growth and figure out how you will support your end users going forward.

3. Manage (Encourage) Engagement

You've worked with your end users to understand how they plan to use the tools, and done your homework on how users interact and what support is needed to keep them engaged. But suddenly, usage drops. What went wrong?

Ensure visibility measures are in place to monitor how your employees are using their collaboration tools, and talk to them about what is working and what is not. In the early stages of any new technology deployment there will be adjustments as you and your end users adapt to them. Encourage feedback and stay ahead of the change management process.

4. Monitor Adoption

Keep track of overall activity to get a sense of user adoption. Some tools have a short-term life as the needs of the business change and as end user workloads shift. This is the reality (and the downside) of the Consumerization of IT: fickle end users. It is highly recommend that companies pilot before full-scale deployments of new collaboration platforms.

5. Lead, Don't Follow

This one is less clear and more forward-looking, but still important. Watch for end user behaviors that may lead to adoption of new technologies. Widespread usage of Facebook is a good indicator that your end users may want / need some kind of social collaboration platform, but in a slightly more secure manner. Instead of being reactive to these changing trends, keep abreast of new technologies and work with your end users to trial new tools and platforms, experimenting with ways to improve overall collaboration. If you build a culture of experimentation and trust, your end users are more willing to provide feedback on their collaboration habits and usage.

The rapid increase in collaborative technologies is exciting. We are witnessing a dramatic change in the way that information workers access and relate to content, and how they interact through team collaboration environments. Take advantage of these new tools and platforms, and how they can spark innovation across your business.

Listening to your end users is important, but essential to the long-term health and well-being of your business interests is to have a more balanced approach using sound governance principles and flexible solutions for your employees. You want to encourage collaboration, but at the same time mitigate the risks across the systems they use. The goal should be to stay in tune with changing trends and new technology through visibility and control processes, and experiment with new initiatives that help you innovate and keep your end users engaged.

Title image courtesy of VLADGRIN (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Want more of Christian's thoughts on social? Read his Maximizing Your Social Experience