collaborating on work
Collaboration has now become ingrained within the fabric of how we get work done PHOTO: college.library

When enterprise social collaboration technologies started hitting the mainstream five or six years ago, some argued social was just a fad — real business was done through more structured collaboration platforms. 

I predicted at the time that social collaboration would become as ubiquitous as email within the enterprise, a prediction which looks to be coming true today. 

Almost every enterprise application — from customer resource management (CRM) to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, from enterprise content management (ECM) to business intelligence (BI) platforms — have incorporated basic social collaboration features into their native user experiences. Beyond the fads and trends in technology, software companies have finally recognized that providing these capabilities makes business sense, as social features can both reduce the need for complex integrations while also improving end user adoption.

Plugging the Productivity Gaps

When people think about social collaboration, they usually have specific features in mind. Some may think of specific products, such as Yammer, Microsoft Teams or Slack. Others look at broader product categories, such as instant messaging (IM), web conferencing or wikis where they have many different vendors to choose from. Still others think of the broader platforms available on the market, such as Office 365 or Google Docs. 

Each of these products or categories provide varying degrees of collaboration and communications capabilities. But no single solution or platform can meet the needs of every team and every business need.

One of the ongoing tasks of any IT organization is to constantly review, recommend and deploy new tools and services with the goal of reducing or eliminating the productivity gaps within their business activities. With all the talk about "organizational transformation" and "the digital workplace," what it really comes down to is identifying where a team, a business unit or an entire company is experiencing productivity gaps, and then finding the right combination of technology, process improvement and cultural change to improve. 

At the center of this is social collaboration. In other words, improving enterprise productivity through conversation, sharing and collaboration.

You're probably wondering: What does that really mean? How does a nice UI and the ability to 'like' and share someone's document improve the productivity gaps within my organization? 

Successful collaboration requires more than just a pretty UI: it is a balance between technology, process alignment and end user adoption, with the end user component being the most important of the three.

Understanding the ROI of Social Collaboration

Social collaboration is the gap-fill for limited tools and platforms. Rather than add additional steps to a process, it provides a way for team members to connect and discuss questions and issues, in real-time or through an asynchronous channel, to get work done. 

Human Integration Over Tech Integrations

It is also a better method to bring together disparate workloads. Instead of focusing time and resources on creating a formal integration between two tools or systems, the focus becomes the connection between people, enabling human interaction where formal integrations may be lacking.

Put Content Into Context

Social collaboration provides improved data context and correlation. As more people interact with the content you upload, they may classify and tag your content in ways you had not considered, and relate your content with other relevant content, such as projects you might not be part of, outside studies or conversations on similar topics you may not know were happening. 

These conversations, tags, links and sharing help put your content within a broader context which you alone could not accomplish.

Share Data and Knowledge

Social collaboration acts as a channel for asking questions and getting answers. 

It never hurts to have multiple means through which users can find the answers to business questions. As social capabilities become more integrated within your enterprise applications, end users will increasingly use these features to quickly onboard, share best practices and find quick answers. 

Enterprises are only beginning to understand the value of 'The Network Effect,' where employees leverage their networks to identify expertise, validate ideas and tap into the vast knowledge repositories that standard search has difficulties unlocking. 

Identify Subject Matter Experts

Social collaboration helps surface subject matter experts directly, or more importantly, indirectly through their activities or associations. 

As people like, rate, follow and share content, these interactions increasingly have an impact on search and business intelligence results. Add in the social graph and machine-learning and the more people interact and engage, the easier it becomes to identify your organizational experts — which you might not otherwise identify based on formal roles, titles or geography.

Extends and Deepens Search

Social collaboration also extends and improves search through the dynamic creation of end-user-generated keywords, or folksonomy. As users connect and discuss content, they apply tags or keywords that help them personally relate to that content, and track themes or data trends. 

A threaded conversation captured in Skype, where links to relevant projects were discussed and links shared, will add to the metadata associated with the original content being discussed. Every like, every tag, every rating or share helps improve the overall search experience by adding to the folksonomy, which then — through proactive governance — can help improve the systems taxonomy.

Improves Team Culture

A final benefit of social collaboration is the improvement to team culture. Social collaboration has the ability to break down technology, geography and cultural barriers by flattening an organization's structure, and building connections across traditional silos. These features can help teams connect and relate whether they are across the hall, across campus or around the world. 

The end result is not just an increase to productivity and company-wide innovation, but also improvements to company culture — which translates as adoption, engagement and job satisfaction.

While fads and product vendors will come and go in the collaboration marketplace, for all of the reasons listed above and more, social collaboration is here to stay.