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The Long Hill for Enterprise Collaboration

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Laurence Hart avatar

This is the month for Enterprise Collaboration here at CMSWire -- the topic that has been dear to the hearts and minds of the Content Management world for quite some time.

Every few years, there are waves of exciting new products that offer to enhance collaboration for the average worker, but adoption always seems slow.Why? For the answer to the question, let’s turn to the market leader -- email.

The Rise of the Email Leader

Collaboration in the enterprise isn’tnew.Since the shared drive was introduced decades ago, people havebeen collaborating electronically.

After wanting more than the simpleshared document storage of the shared drive, the world switched to email. Since then, email has taken the lead in the collaboration space. There have been many challengers, but no takers.Why is that?

Let’s take a quick look at the features in my email client:

  • I can share documents with anyone, anywhere.
  • There is an integrated calendar that can store documents within meetings and invite anyone that needs to attend.
  • As a bonus, I have the ability to issue tasks, record actions, and store/share contacts.
  • Those are some pretty basic, yet important, collaboration features.

Weall know the faults: poorly managed content, out-of-control storageand a silo of information in everyone’s mailbox.Email archiving issolving some problems, but not all of them.The questions remain.Whyaren’t people rushing to use other solutions?Why are we having todevelop adoption strategies and focusing so heavily on ease of use?

The Single Interface Rule

Generallyspeaking, people like to use one tool per task.They’ll use multipletools if each one solves a distinct problem or adds unique value.Onething people don’t want to do is to use multiple tools depending on whothey are working with on a given task.For a tool to be successful, itdoesn’t need to be universal, but it needs to involve the working worldof the user.

Editor's Note: Also read TheTools and Technology That Enable Enterprise Collaboration

For many employees in an organization, their work worldis encompassed within the organization.They don’t work with peopleoutside their organization’s world except on an exception basis.As youmove up within the organization, this changes.Executives and managersinteract with outside people frequently.They live within their emailas their primary communication tool.It is their only option whenworking with outside parties, and they tend to want to use the same toolwhen they switch to working within their organization.

This tricklesdown the food chain.If someone has to work with a superior usingemail, they will tend to use email for similar tasks with others.Thistrickle-down effect continues until you hit a “stopper” that tries toforce everything into the tool of choice.

The characteristics of the“stopper” are simple.They see the benefits of collaborating outside ofemail and try to educate everyone else about the benefits.They’lltake documents and store them into the system, sending alerts and linksto the content.They’ll start wikis and discussions and try and bringpeople into the environment.This usually works with subordinates, butsuccess up the food chain has varying degree of success, primarily dueto the single interface rule.

People use this example to explain whyexecutive buy-in is important for projects.You need to have thatstopper role high up the food chain for success.The dirty littlesecret is that even with executive buy-in, there are issues.When acrisis hits or the excitement over the new tool fades, the tool thateveryone slowly returns to is email.

Why the resistance?

Learning Opportunities

Getting Past the Limit

AndrewMcAfee talked about this adoption problem four years ago and later inhis Enterprise 2.0 book calling it the 9x Email Problem. He discussedhow a solution needs to be 9x better than the email solution that it isreplacing.

Building upon the work by Gourville1, the average user willjudge a new technology as three times as ineffective as it really isand their current system (e.g., email) as three times more effective asit actually is.Multiply that together and you are hitting a reallyhigh bar.

This is the bar that everyone focuses upon.Surpassingthis bar has led to a lot of success.It has also proved to not alwaysbe enough.Many point to the culture, which is a factor, but sometimesit is simpler. For a tool to be adopted, it needs to do more thanjust provide new or better functionality.Users have to perceive it asadding new value and accomplishing a task that either was difficult toachieve or could be done at all.

Looking at my life, I collaboratein a few places.I’ve added Twitter, because it has new functionalityand allows dialog with people that I can’t randomly find at the coffeemachine.

Facebook is great for sharing news and pictures with friendsand family.Each of these tools are have been added to my arsenal thepast few years.Why?Both bring easy to use capabilities that addvalue to my life that was not there before.

Editor's Note: Also read WhenShould Management Push Enterprise 2.0 Adoption?

Looking Below the Surface

Theproblems facing the adoption of Enterprise 2.0 tools are not just aboutculture or usability.It needs about centralizing the collaborativeworking environment.The end game won’t be one solution that rules themall, but a collection of solutions that can work together withoutforcing users to switch between them.Like SMTP does for email, thereneeds to be a way for collaboration solutions to share artifacts witheach other.

Until that happens, we are going to be fighting andworking to get greater adoption of collaboration.Individual tools willcontinue to shine, but the adoption of collaboration platforms willcontinue to take large amounts of effort to start and sustain.It issomething worth fighting for, but maybe we can win if we can just getthem all to talk to each other and allow users to collaborate in onenative habitat.

1Gourville, J. T. (2004). "Why consumers don’t buy:The psychology of new product adoption." Harvard Business School Note#504-056

About the author

Laurence Hart

Laurence Hart is a director of consulting services at CGI Federal, with a focus on leading digital transformation efforts that drive his clients’ success. A proven leader in content management and information governance, Laurence has over two decades of experience solving the challenges organizations face as they implement and deploy information solutions.