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I find myself thinking again about the buzziest of buzzwords: engagement and collaboration. Just what do they mean? Engagement is about people’s connections to technology, and collaboration builds connections (and ideas) among people.

You know what engagement really is? It’s speed.

Hear me out. The goal of engagement and collaboration is to (ahem) get stuff done. Getting stuff done is not new. We have been checking off to-do lists for millennia. What’s different these days is the need for speed. Engagement is about getting things done faster. 

What's Missing?

Social collaboration has been trendy for several years now. Plenty of tech companies sell new solutions and services, some have proliferated and some have been run into the ground, or been bought by bigger companies or just flat gone off our radar. In spite of all these tools and solutions, many organizations are still not doing it right or at all. Just last year, the majority of IT decision-makers (87 percent), business leaders (67 percent) and end users (68 percent) reported using enterprise social networking technologies, but most lack true enterprise collaboration capabilities, according to an Avanade report.

What’s the problem? What’s missing?

There’s no shortage of tools, and people are certainly aware of social processes (after all, social media is a consumer-driven initiative). What’s missing is the commensurate shift in enterprise IT approach. Social is not just a new technology, it’s a new way of engaging with each other as well as our systems.

The old way: We had systems. The systems held the information. A handful of people used these systems. These few people controlled the gates to the information. They had processes, and limited updates and the user interface changed once every nine years. Somewhere in there we had mobile phones the size of shoe boxes and Y2K. Documents were posted to a network. People took turns touching them. We had oodles of face to face meetings, and you know what? Projects -- no matter what the enterprise was in business to do, whether it’s making widgets or ideas -- projects took a long time.

Technology accelerated things. Remember the heyday of Moore’s Law? Things sped up fast. In the past 10 years, who do we have to thank for our biggest innovations? Consumers. (Again, this is old news.) Some businesses like Intel and Microsoft focused too clearly on Moore’s law and guess what? Apple swamped them with a new way of doing things -- but I digress.

Skimp on the Next Generation of Systems, Miss Out on the Next Generation of Workers

Enterprises, as we all know, are not consumers. What’s different about enterprises is that their systems require much more customization and money. CIOs can’t just run out to the store and buy the latest enterprise equivalent of an iPhone, the way many of us consumers did in 2007. Flash forward: we had the Great Recession. Now enterprises are reluctant to make an investment in the next generation of systems and still rely on a quirky company like Blackberry!

Through their reluctance to build out their systems of engagement, many enterprises are alienating their future and even current employees. Big mistake.

Knowledge workers spend 38 percent of their time searching for information, according to a 2005 report in Leadership Excellence. Take a moment to think about what efficiencies you can create when you make it easy for them to search and access information. Take a moment to think about how far behind your organization will be if you don’t start making information more readily accessible, and collaboration more integrated into that information.

As AIIM put it in a report a couple of years ago, “Among all the texting and Twittering and Facebooking of a generation of digital natives, the fundamentals of next-generation communication and collaboration are being worked out.”

Your next generation of workers want and need to work on the next generation of systems. These are the Systems of Engagement (to use AIIM’s phrase) that overlay your Big Old Stodgy Systems of Yore, which continue to be essential to the operations of your enterprise. These Big Old Stodgy Systems are not easy or efficient. The next generation of workers require Systems of Engagement -- ways that let them easily and intuitively connect and use the information contained in their systems of record.

It’s not a handful of quirky eggheads who need to use your systems. It’s everyone. They need to collaborate and communicate and not have to leap over hurdles to do so. Collaboration means being able to work across times and geographies, synchronously and asynchronously. Collaboration and engagement -- these yield speed, that all important driver of success in today’s competitive marketplace.

Your IT team (even you, perhaps) has likely pushed back: the avalanche of content! The risks! The security! Those issues must be addressed, yes, but the payback is well worth it.

Next Steps

Speed is advantage. Speed means your workers have more time do to do other things, to collaborate, to polish off the idea, to explore other options and solutions. Speed gets you to market faster and better than the competition. If you don’t implement a killer solution of engagement, your competitor will.

What’s an enterprise line of business to do?

  1. Partner with your IT team and other experts to address security, content volume, searchability, mobility, governance, legal questions, competitive intelligence issues .… Listen carefully to them. They may say no for great reasons. Work with them to help them understand what you need, and trust them to come up with the solutions to their concerns. Explain the inevitability of it all. It’s for the good of your organization.
  2. Traditional systems are great. Even documents and email are still part of the enterprise -- for real collaboration to take place, the relevant conversations should sit alongside the relevant documents and project information. Having your documents and your social collaboration side by side makes life faster for your knowledge workers.
  3. Lastly, stop waiting until your organization feels ready. When it comes to big changes (getting married, having kids, changing the fundamental way your enterprise does business) you never feel “ready” for it until you get started.

If you’re not sure of the next step, now is the time to explore a strategy, explore options. See what it would take to revamp your collaboration culture, and what solutions would support it. You can always change your mind if it really starts to feel wrong, but you won’t know until you begin. Jump in! This river is moving fast: the sooner, the better.

Title image by Stuart G Porter (Shutterstock)