Everyone understands by now that for organizations who are successful at enterprise collaboration, it's not about the technology. But, the right technology, in the right situation can go a long way towards helping people collaborate. So it's time to talk technology turkey.

How Do I Collaborate? Let Me Count the Ways

A little recap (from It's About the Culture,Stupid): 

...most of us have been collaborating within our organizations in some manner for a long time. We've always had teams working on projects, participated in focus groups for HR or other divisions, even started communities of interest and communities of practice. 

It's how we collaborate that is changing, with so many new tools and technologies thanks to Web 2.0 and social media to enable enterprise collaboration.

For as long as we've been working, we've been using some type of tool for collaboration. It has not always been real-time -- unless it was everyone sitting in a room together hashing out ideas -- but we used the tools we had.

The Tools of Yesterday

We'll call these yesterday's tools for collaborating, but let's face it, most, if not all, of us still use them today to one degree or another:

  • Email: Probably the most used tool for collaborating, whether it's sending notes, documents, scheduling meetings or sharing links. There are many who say email is not a good tool for collaboration and envision its demise. We think it's just bound for a slightly new usage scenario. But that's a story for another day.
  • Discussion Groups: Google still offers them, and they are still a part of many new collaboration software solutions. 
  • Wikis: Wikis are old and new. They've been around for a very long time, but have definitely improved with age.
  • Databases: The database I remember most -- not so much with found affection -- was that found in Lotus Notes. They were used extensively to store technical documents and were a pain to search. 
  • File Share: Yes, the file share is/was a collaboration tool. Store your files in a folder system created to support your project team. 
  • Question and Answers: Q&A's were a popular way to get the answers we needed to our questions. Still are.
  • Conference calls: Before web conferencing solutions we had the good old conference call. Sometimes it's easier to get your other work done when participating in a conference call, so they aren't all that bad.
  • Instant Messaging: Not sure this really fits in the tools of yesterday because we still use them a great deal, but this technology, like wikis, has also come a long way.

The Tools We Have Today

Keeping in mind that we still have all those tools listed above, the emergence of Web 2.0 has brought a slew of new technologies that can take us to new levels of collaboration. 

As we've said before most people's definition of collaboration is fundamentally social. This is because in our personal lives we have access to these capabilities on the Web, like Facebook, Twitter and other social networks that allow us to both socialize and share with our friends and family. It only makes sense that we have these same capabilities in the organization. Right?

Now we have social software coming out of every corner of the office, and social features being added to our traditional systems. What are some of these capabilities?

  • Document Collaboration: These tools provide the ability to not just share a document with others, but to actively work on it together, in real time. Google Docs is a well known example, but there are many other variations to Google Docs.
  • Profiles: We use to call them Employee Directories and had deep discussions about what information to capture in a user's profile. But profiles are much more today, enabling us to share details about ourselves, our interests, our knowledge and expertise, and much more.
  • Blogs and Wikis: Pretty standard stuff these days really. Blogs let us share information and knowledge and allow people to respond via comments, tagging and rating. Wikis allow multiple people to contribute to a subject.
  • Microblogging: Twitter and Yammer are the most notable microblogging technologies, but there are other vendors like SocialText, NewsGator and others who focus strongly on this capability. Sometimes also called an activity feed, you can let people know what you are working on (manually or via automation), discuss documents, projects, etc, and at the same time ask for help to the general community.
  • Communities: These are groupings of capabilities like those listed above set up for projects, communities of interest or practices, or around other topics and themes. There are many different types of communities, open or private, internal, external, mixed.
  • Calendars: Shared calendars allow you to have one calendar for all those involved in a project.
  • Idea Management: Also known as innovation management. These tools provide the ability for employees to participate in generating ideas for things like products and services, ways to improve existing products and services, business processes, etc.. 
  • Social Networks: How many times have you heard "Facebook for the enterprise". Social Networks enable employees to work together and play together. A prime example: Salesforce.com's Chatter.
  • Social Knowledge Networks: SKNs are tools that provide a place to share and find the organization's knowledge, pulling content from across the organization into a single location to share and collaboration. SKNs are specialized communities.
  • Web Conferencing: No more need to travel with the availability of numerous web conferencing tools.
  • User generated content: There are any number of tools to allow users to submit content, both moderated or un-moderated.

But It's Not About the Technology

There are a lot of technologies that make up the world of Enterprise 2.0 as we know it today. Some come packaged in suites meant primarily for internal or external use, others provide the ability to do both.

On their own, they mean very little. At the least, a fun way to work. But organizations aren't looking to be cool and fun, they are looking to make their employees more effective, thus improving the bottom line.

Ross Dawson, author of Implementing Enterprise 2.0 says, "I believe that the ability to use collaborative technologies to enhance organizational performance will be one of the most critical competences for companies in years to come" and that

those organizations that succeed in combining technology and culture in enabling the effective participation of their staff have created an advantage that cannot be readily replicated by their competitors. The successful implementation of Enterprise 2.0 can never be a commodity through being copied. It is central to competitive differentiation in a world in which people and technology combine to create value."

Social software for the business -- those technologies listed above -- are not the same as the Web 2.0 tools we use in our personal lives. They may look like them, even smell like them.

But it's a whole different world in an organization which has to think about real enterprise issues like compliance, regulations, governance, globalization. Things that these enterprise social software solutions have to take into account. Things that can make enterprise collaboration that much harder to achieve.

Read more articles on Enterprise Collaboration like Deb Lavoy's Collaborative Culture, or the Real Enterprise 2.0 and Jacob Morgan's What Buyers of Enterprise 2.0 Solutions Need to Consider Before Making a Purchase.