Social Media/Enterprise 2.0 has been a key leader in the hype cycle for the Information Management space over the past several years. One of the common assumptions made when discussing adoption of Social Media is the belief that younger workers are the ones that can most readily adopt these new tools and are driving their use. What is often overlooked is that a simple, powerful, collaborative interface is what the Information Management world has been in need of for years.

Platform First

The problem in Information Management has been the traditional focus on the platform. In the 90s, vendors focused on building systems that were robust and feature rich. The user interfaces were styled after the Windows Explorer experience, while surfacing every single feature.

Don't get me wrong, It wasn't a waste of time. The development of those platforms and the subsequent implementations was a massive learning experience. A large number of business problems were solved. Most were automating content-centric processes. It was a rare situation where adoption was broader and viral.

It wasn’t from lack of effort. The interfaces to these systems were often viewed as an impediment to getting work done. Instead of simply saving a document, there was a form to fill out and security to assign. People would get around the system using one of two methods -- use the same settings for every document or start saving things to their desktop and emailing documents.

The SharePoint Revolution

The focus on the fully-featured platform left the door open for a solution with a different approach. This solution was SharePoint. Microsoft provided a tool that was readily used as an extension of the user’s desktop. By focusing on the user more than the platform, Microsoft was able to quickly start grabbing market share.

As a result, SharePoint is a product that is viewed as “good enough”, but limited. Once efforts to scale and enhance SharePoint begin, incremental costs begin to build up steadily. Only when the cost over time is calculated is the true expense realized. It doesn’t always cost more than the established Content Management vendors, but it also isn't as inexpensive as people initially believed.

There are two other problems. One is that SharePoint has been successful. While counter intuitive, SharePoint is encountering the same problem that Lotus Notes experienced in the late 90s. SharePoint sites have been deployed so rapidly that they become difficult to manage and people do not know where to find all the information.

The other problem is in the technology. Microsoft has a closed stack. While this is fine if you are already invested Microsoft products, every future technology decision is constrained. You have to use SQL Server and IIS for your database and web server. Browser and mobile support is limited to what Microsoft chooses to support. Like everything else, it's a trade-off.

The Social Media Evolution

While IT departments in the business world were forming their love-hate relationship with SharePoint, the web evolved from an Informational resource into a Transactional system, and is now a Conversational ecosystem. This conversational interface is the answer for which the Information Management space has been waiting.

The problem is still how to get people to collaborate without making it just “one more thing” to do during the day. Collaboration needs to be easy for people to learn and use. This doesn’t mean that there is no training, it means minimal training. The solution needs to enable people to work better. It needs to make their life better.

Learning Opportunities

This is more than forcing people to use the solution to submit a status report or store content. It is about enabling conversations and surfacing the existing information in the enterprise into the collaborative space.

Leverage CMIS to pull content from the content repository. Use BPEL to integrate some process flows to create an effective case management tool. Enable people to do tasks entirely in the interface without needing to use other tools. The minute they start toggling between applications, there is no promise that they will return.

It isn’t about putting everything into the collaborative Social Media solutions. It is about making the community of the office, project and organization the gateway into getting things done. The ability to access this information and discuss it in the same place can simplify people’s lives.

When you do that, you have adoption.


Editor's Note: Additional articles on Enterprise Collaboration include: