All too often business leaders feel the need to work around, rather than work with, IT to gain access to new tools that facilitate enterprise collaboration and the free flow of information and ideas. It doesn't have to be this way.

The Collaboration Challenge

If information is the new currency of business, collaboration is the ATM card that unlocks its value. Workers have grown accustomed to frictionless communication and information sharing on public social networking sites like Facebook and crave the same experience in enterprise collaboration.

Organizations that master collaboration can reap faster, more efficient decision-making and perhaps most importantly, a competitive advantage. Business users are beginning to view collaboration as critical for success, and frustrations can quickly run high if they feel IT is moving too slowly to address their needs.

In this environment, discussions can quickly become contentious. IT brands users unreasonable. Users characterize IT as a barrier to progress. Ultimately, the business loses. Things don’t have to be this way. 

IT professionals don’t wake each day with a devious plan to slow business innovation. In fact, the opposite is typically true. IT is responsible for ensuring the fidelity of an organization’s technology infrastructure, including collaboration solutions. Serving this role requires specialized experience and knowledge, which can also be leveraged to make IT a powerful change agent for transforming how an organization collaborates.

Changing the Outlook

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IT often has more extensive knowledge of what solutions are available and how the technology landscape is evolving. IT is better suited to evaluate implications for security, supportability and impact to existing systems. Further, because IT functions across departmental boundaries they may be able to more easily identify common themes, challenges and opportunities to improve how collaboration occurs. However, to fully realize the role of a change agent, IT must take several steps:

  • Be open to new information: It is the source of technology expertise and in many cases, deep business knowledge. However, IT doesn’t know everything. IT should always be open to new, better ideas than it started with whether those ideas are about technology or how a business process can be improved. Interact with users in different roles, talk to vendors and remain abreast of what analysts are saying. The result will be better information for decision making and better relationships with users who feel their concerns are being heard.
  • Be an enabler, not a gatekeeper: From email to social and unified communication, collaboration technology is constantly evolving. However, being a change agent requires more than understanding technical details. IT must understand the business’ success measures, identify with users and paint a picture of how technology can help achieve business goals. Otherwise, business units won’t think twice about “going rogue” and picking their own solutions when IT requests more time to solve problems.
  • Keep eyes on the future and feet planted in the present: More than technology is changing quickly. The pace of innovation in business is moving much more quickly than it has in the past, and to be successful, organizations must be prepared to rapidly respond to change. IT has a critical role in making that happen. IT leaders must be able to look beyond the current state and develop an awareness of how their industry, business, competitive landscape and customers are changing -- critical for predicting what solutions will be required for communication, interaction and information sharing. However, IT must be careful of becoming so enamored with technology lust that it’s always chasing the next big thing.
  • Focus on business value: IT leaders should have a laser focus on generating business value, which requires understanding the business before attempting to change anything. By combining knowledge of technology and business strategy, IT leaders are in a unique position to identify opportunities to improve collaboration efficiency, eliminate silos and introduce innovation through the use of technology.
  • Finish what’s started: IT can’t afford to make promises it can’t keep or start projects that never end. If promises to implement a collaboration solution disappear into a black hole, the business will quickly lose confidence in IT’s ability to execute. Start small with a single department or problem and focus on generating early value. This will build trust with users and uncover problems early before they become enterprise scale.

Neither being in IT or a change agent is always easy, but both can be rewarding. Do you have any lessons learned transforming how your organization collaborates? We would love to hear your feedback.

Image courtesy of val lawless (Shutterstock)