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It's been said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.”

We see this theory in action every day within most corporate environments as businesses try to apply the latest technology without understanding how to integrate it into their daily business processes. Information Technology and business groups make this same mistake repeatedly with the same result -- lack of adoption and usage across the enterprise resulting in a failed implementation. Users don’t hold onto legacy technology because they fear change: they crave change! But in order to be effective, the technology has to be woven into the user’s daily business processes.

The Issues We See Are Not New

The lack of adoption and failed social implementations that we’re seeing across the industry is not a new phenomenon. We have seen this before with other technologies.

When Microsoft released SharePoint in 2003 it became the “must have” technology across all industries. Microsoft seeded the market by making Windows SharePoint Services (SharePoint Lite) freely available with a Windows Server license. Organizations took full advantage of the free version to replace their old Intranet Portal and SharePoint took off like wild fire. It became the de facto intranet portal for most organizations and Microsoft drove a great deal of revenue by selling Enterprise versions that were very expensive to license and even more expensive to deploy.

Eleven years later we still see a lack of adoption and widespread SharePoint implementation failure across industries and vertical markets. Companies have resolved themselves to using it mostly as an expensive document store (file share) and rarely applied business process to the implementations. If you ask anyone you know what they think of SharePoint, they’ll tell you it “sucks,” or they'll say something to the effect of “SharePoint is where document go to die.” Why? IT and the Business do not spend the time to define the business process specific use cases and weave the solution into the core business processes of the organization.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Microsoft recently created a partner program called Business Critical SharePoint to foster the growth of Microsoft Partners with demonstrated effectiveness in integrating business process into their customer’s SharePoint implementations. The program spawned from a 2013 study Microsoft conducted across thousands of SharePoint implementations called “Connected Value: The ROI Benefits of Business-Critical SharePoint.” The study concluded that companies that achieved tight integration into operational systems -- a.k.a. business processes -- saw a significant increase in cross-team collaboration, reduced errors, shorter cycle times and increased process automation. User adoption and acceptance followed as a result of the integration as users experienced a significant reduction in rework and manual process.

SharePoint isn’t alone in this phenomenon. Organizations have to look objectively at how social can help the organization, determine the business processes that will benefit from social, and execute a well thought out plan to achieve established results. Don’t just flip the switch when driving social into the organization -- you won’t succeed by simply turning on the technology and expecting people to figure out how to use it.

Social for Social's Sake Will Only Go So Far

Standalone solutions like Yammer also only go so far without integration. We’re seeing common trends across enterprise social implementations: users are initially excited about the prospect of being more social, but without a specific business purpose it becomes trivial and not worth the time investment. Companies who use it strictly as a platform for company-wide communication are seeing a significant drop in usage and engagement.

In some cases the senior management team fears the use of social and restrict the sharing of business related information in the network, in essence dooming the implementation to failure. In other cases, middle management stymies the use of the platform as they fear the democratization and integrated thinking that is naturally derived from social. At the business user level, employees are stretched to do more with less and have little time for trivial socialization about their favorite movies or new recipes to try. Praise mechanisms where employees can reward specific individuals and teams for great work only go so far without business related context and becomes superfluous praise that holds little meaning to the employee over time.

Social Must Be Part of Your Collaboration Strategy

With the broad availability of always on mobile technology and cloud access employees can successfully engage in work activities from any location. Teamwork no longer suffers as a result of the distributed nature of teams. Social collaboration platforms play a major role in providing ready and secure access to shared files, real-time and asynchronous communications with activity feeds, and other knowledge-sharing tools that enables remote workers to collaborate effectively with their co-located peers.

With the move to distributed teams (regional, national, and global) as a common work practice you don’t have the luxury of using legacy approaches to collaboration. Social must be a key part of your SharePoint deployment to ensure you transform your document centric sites into people and process centric sites.

A social activity feed in a project related team site allows the users to concentrate their discussion within the confines of site without having to use outdated communication channels like email. It allows the team to communicate in a way that traditional communication patterns don’t and ensures there is a searchable conversation store that can be revisited and utilized to answer repeated questions.

As a Microsoft Enterprise Architect I have seen a significant increase in productivity and focused communication and a 50 to 70 percent decrease in project related email when Yammer is used in conjunction with SharePoint as part of the Project Delivery Methodology.

Have Use Cases and Implementation Plan Ready

A concise and comprehensive plan that includes well-defined use cases will guide your social collaboration implementation. A plan gives you a roadmap to execute against and gives the organization a guide in how social will be implemented. You can’t deploy social collaboration to every group at once so you’ll have to assign priorities based on the group’s propensity to adopt social, how impactful the process change will be, and how complex the solution is to implement. Once you open the social Pandora ’s Box you’re going to have to set expectations on who will get the solution and how it will be deployed.

Use Cases

We’ve covered the importance of use cases in previous articles. Developing a social use case is no different. The major driver for the use case has to be focused on an existing business process that can be improved by using social collaboration. Develop a set of generic social collaboration use cases that focus on areas like communities of practice, departmental social tools, enterprise social scenarios, and corporate social communication tools but you must have specific departmental processes documented, diagramed, and detailed for each team. Create meaningful diagrams that you can use to educate the management team and the end users on what the solution will do and how it will work. Look at using infographics as an aid in building out the business process that includes details of the changes that will be mapped.

Implementation Planning

Use cases clearly define the “what” but you still need to derive the “how.” Your implementation plan should clearly outline the specific steps that will be executed as part of the effort. Implementation plans should clearly outline the change process for the groups that will be using the solution. Include user training as an important part of the execution phase -- users will need to understand what will change for them as part of the solution.

Find the “Killer App” Scenario to Get Started

Next step is selecting the place to start. Find the one area that will be considered the “killer app” across the organization. This will give you significant momentum in implementing social across the company and set up your first implementation for success.

Start small but ensure maximum impact from an internal marketing perspective. Remember - you may run across groups where social doesn’t fit and that’s okay. You need to ensure that you are not implementing social for social’s sake and there may be processes or business units that are not good candidates for social collaboration. Accept this and make sure they understand why it isn’t going to be a fit. Too many organizations take the one size fits all approach to social, resulting in discontent and dissatisfaction across the organization.

Set Your Social Implementation Up for Success

Implementing social collaboration isn’t rocket science, it's a process that needs to be executed with preparation and planning to succeed. Turning on a technology solution without planning and execution is a sure path to failure. Weaving social into your business process will ensure your effort has a very high probability of success. End users will adopt and use solutions that saves them time, makes their life easier, and increases their ability to do their work. Use social collaboration technology in a way that enhances the way your company works, so that it becomes part of your business process, and adoption and engagement will follow.

Title image by János Csongor Kerekes (Flickr) via a CC BY-ND 2.0 license