A lot of organizations immediately think about tools when the topic of enterprise collaboration comes up. But not all enterprise collaboration tools are the same, and an overemphasis on the products, without looking at the underlying processes, is unlikely to change the way people work.

Does this sound familiar?

Client: “We would like to include some collaboration on our Intranet”
Business Analyst: “Of course, what type of people would be collaborating”
Client: “Ideally everyone. We would like to use blogs and wikis”
BA: “OK.. before we get to that, what type of collaboration are you trying to facilitate”
Client: “Good question. I think the blog type, and then probably the wiki type”
BA: “Right...”
Client: “OK next on the agenda, business intelligence..”

While this conversation doesn’t happen in every session I attend with clients on the subject of collaboration, it is common. This subject of "wikis and blogs" crops up in requirements documents as well:

The solution must support collaboration, including wikis and blogs.”

What is really going on here? Why are clients asking for these things? Why be so specific? What is the problem they are trying to solve?

Two things are going on.

1. Collaboration Is Difficult

Collaboration is difficult to define and understand. It isn’t a technology problem -- though it can have a technology solution. It is an abstract term. When a client asks for "blogs and wikis," they are trying to define a bigger problem. What they are really saying is:

We would like our staff to effectively collaboration in a number of ways using the system.”

Even this sentence doesn’t get to the root of the problem. As my previous article (see Collaboration Starts Offline) discussed, this subject is complex. Understanding the problem is work in itself, and this needs to be completed before any semblance of a solution is considered. Communicating in a soundbite isn’t possible, which is why we get “we need blogs and wikis.”

2. Blogs, Wikis Are Tangible

The second reason for this obsession with blogs and wikis can be put down to their popularity on the wider web. People generally understand what a blog is -- or think they do -- as they see and hear about their use across the web. Wikipedia, more than any other site, has also brought the concept of a wiki into the wider public conscience -- although only a small number of Wikipedia's users are enticed to edit the content on the site.

But the two things should not really be grouped. They are different tools with different purposes. A blog is not a collaboration solution anyway. Sure, users can comment on posts, but it's essentially a straight communications tool for one person. A wiki is different: It is a collaboration tool, but, again, it is a solution searching for a problem.

Simple Solutions

So the next time someone asks you for blogs and wikis, think again. In fact, go back to the basics. If they want a bit of collaboration, try to find out what they actually mean. Suggest an online store of documents, a meeting workspace or a team site.

Think problems, not solutions.

Editor's Note: Additional Enterprise Collaboration articles you might be interested in: