Collaboration is not a new thing organizations suddenly know how to do, they've been doing it for years. But the technology and the strategies that support enterprise collaboration have changed and are still changing. A hallway conversation, a telephone call, an email -- these are still common ways to work together, but social technologies are starting to take center stage. And it's only just begun.

The Question 

How has the adoption of social technologies and strategies changed the concept of collaboration? What are the implications for the next generation?

The Responses

Tim Zonca -- Jive Software

Tim is the Director of Product Marketing at Jive Software. After ditching med school to join the tech world, he's spent most of his career focused on collaboration in the enterprise. Tim has worked with Content Management and Business Process Management solutions at startups and global technology vendors as a systems engineer, a product manager and a product marketer. Excited to see Social Business technologies driving a new way to work, he joined the Jive products team in 2010.

We just completed our annual user conference, JiveWorld 2012, and it’s definitely fair to say that consumerization of the enterprise was an overarching theme. Global brands such as McGraw-Hill, Thomson Reuters, Enterprise, Prudential and others were all looking for ways to further incorporate gamification, enable mobile connectivity and to allow the intranet to allow people to work the way they want (remote, with external groups and cross-departmental).

Consumerization was so popular that in our Hackathon the audience overwhelmingly voted to create new Picture Gallery and Props applications. And given the need for instant gratification, developers were able to deliver these apps in nearly real-time.

The biggest shift I have witnessed is that users are not keen on taking on new software unless you can show immediate value. Social technologies are so ubiquitous in our everyday lives that everyone can clearly see applicable value from day one. Now that we are several years in it’s amazing to watch companies large and small roll-out social business platforms to nearly their whole employee populations in a matter of weeks or months.

Oscar Berg --  Digital Strategist and Business Analyst 

Oscar is an experienced management consultant located in Sweden who is passionate about helping customers to become more successful by improving communication, sharing and collaboration. He believes that "Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others" (Buddha) and that happiness comes before success. Besides sharing his ideas and observations on his own blog The Content Economy, Oscar is an Enterprise 2.0 expert blogger for the AIIM Enterprise 2.0 Community and writes here at CMSWire.

The introduction and adoption of social technologies in organizations is transforming the way we think of collaboration within and between organizations, as it can now be scaled in order to mobilize and coordinate talent and resources anywhere, stretching far beyond teams. They enable us to collaborate more quickly. As a result we are seeing more and more collaboration efforts that are fluid and transient by nature. Teams can come together as soon as a problem or opportunity is discovered and they can be dissolved just as quickly, when it has been addressed. As there is no, or limited, need for any formal organization, pre-defined structure, or administrative processes that introduce transaction costs, the threshold for when a collaboration effort is worthwhile has been dramatically decreased.

In practice, more and more organizations are starting to rethink their existing business processes, trying to take advantage of these new forms of collaboration when redesigning them. The ability to scale collaboration so that virtually anyone can participate and contribute is helping to improve sales processes, product development processes and other business processes.

If the Intranet is to continue to have a reason for existence, it has to play a part in bringing such collaboration capabilities to the fingertips of the workforce. It has to evolve from being a website for information self-service to becoming more of an integration layer that connects people, information and tasks across the enterprise (business processes). It is feasible to assume that intranets will evolve, just as the Internet itself, into a platform of services that provides certain capabilities to people. These services must be adapted to the individual’s needs in specific situations. These services must be possible to access and use from the device that is best suited for that situation, be it a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or something else. Many of them will be inherently collaborative, leveraging social technologies, so that people can get their work done in smarter ways.

Rob Howard -- Telligent

Rob Howard is the founder and chief technology officer at Telligent, a global enterprise collaboration and community software company. Howard is the vision behind Telligent’s product development and innovation and is known throughout the industry as an authority in community and collaboration software. He has worked with customers including Dell, and Microsoft, and helps organizations of any size apply the value of collaborative work to their business. An expert at developing enterprise collaboration software, he has authored several books on the topic of software development and speaks at conferences worldwide.

The nature of communication has undergone a substantial change in the last 20 years -- in 1992, while there was email, it had not yet reached a tipping point that the Internet today has enabled. When you think back to how individuals collaborated 20 years ago, it was done primarily over the phone, by mail and through the use of fax machines. So fast forward to today and oddly enough, interactions between people are still referred to as "collaboration" and those assigning it a name, as opposed to a natural day-to-day part of life, identify themselves with an older generation. However, the up-and-coming college graduates entering the workforce today don't see collaboration as a set of tools or technologies, but rather as a natural extension for how they already communicate.

Social technologies are one of the most important innovations in communication since email. Interactions that previously took days can now be achieved instantaneously in near real time. Furthermore, every interaction with social software enables individuals to contribute to an ever-increasing body of knowledge. In today's social world, there is never an excuse for not knowing, not understanding, or not researching, as the information needed to synthesize decisions or choices is readily available and can be refined further through additional social interactions.

The implications for the next generation are clear -- collaboration will become more and more about people and unstructured information management. First, discernment skills are necessary to sift through the ever-increasing amount of information available; these discernment skills are required to understand the reliability of information sources. Second, the ability to leverage the network will be important -- individuals who understand the dynamics of social networks will be better empowered to navigate our ever-increasing connected world. Third, and finally, the next generation will be uniquely positioned to bring their social network experiences from their social and school lives into the workforce where they will continue to push the evolution of technology, changing the way in which communication takes place.

David Coleman -- Collaborative Strategies 

David Coleman is the Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies (CS) a San Francisco-based Industry analyst and advisory services firm. He is the author of “the collaboration blog” which is an outlet for his opinions on collaboration based on his 20 + years of experience. David is also the author of 4 books on collaboration, the latest two being: “Collaboration 2.0” and “42 Rules for Successful Collaboration.” He is a frequent speaker, webinar and workshop leader, and often does the research and industry analysis. David’s greatest value comes from his unique point of view, which often helps both his enterprise and start-up clients to improve business execution dramatically.

First I would like to make a distinction about collaboration; it is kind of a catch-all word. The figure below shows how I distinguish collaboration.


Although I did not put “social technologies” on this diagram it should probably be there because many times when people are talking about social technologies (social media, social networks, social business, etc.) they often mean “collaboration.” But social media does not have much if anything to do with collaboration. Since collaboration is about interactions, there can be two types: internal and external. Most of our research shows that the enterprise tries to deal with internal social issues first. I suspect this is because they think these interactions are within their locus of control, whereas external interactions are not.

John Hagel III in his book “The Power of Pull” says:

 It is the same pattern that you have seen in the tech industry for a long time. Each wave of new technology comes into the enterprise under the radar. People start using it without permission. The broadest adoption of E2.0 within the enterprise is by teams with a six to 12 month timeline without permission of IT dept. They think “why not try this out” even though it is not officially sanctioned. It ends up being helpful to the team but it does not spread. When that team disbands you lose a lot of what they learned.

Second form of adoptions is when an executive finds out about the new technology, and decides to deploy it. This is often good, but adoption process is a bit ad-hoc.

A third pattern is becoming more prevalent: a check-the-box approach for cool things. Once it appears that all cool enterprises have to have a micro-blogging capability in the company, they get and deploy one. However these users are not always clear about why they are deploying it and what it is really useful for.”

In a survey Collaborative Strategies did about Social Networks in the enterprise, only about 40 per cent of management teams understood the value of these technologies and other surveys show that 70 per cent of both executives and employees are resistant to social technologies. Further they want an ROI for these projects. ROI is the wrong question and really does nothing to drive adoption. Whoever has the political power to deal with the underlying assumptions can make the ROI come out the way they want. I rarely, if ever see any client companies go back to see if the ROI turned out like expected. It is kind of the same way with project plans and project outcomes. One is a work of fiction, the other a measurement of what happened and often there is no alignment between them.

So how has the adoption of these technologies changed the organization today? Our organizations are more distributed, teams are more geographically distributed and you can work from almost anywhere (knowledge workers). This has profound effects on the future of the physical workspace, the role of more virtual technologies, like web conferencing, which have not changed since 1996. However, when these technologies stop trying to emulate face-to-face meetings and use the technologies for competitive advantage i.e. a web conferencing system can give you more information about the other people in the meeting than you would get face to face, then they will be more widely adopted.

The future will see dramatic shifts not only in society (Arab Spring) based on collaboration, but also a shift in the type of organizations we work for and what we do. Some of this is seen in changing organizational structures, where the organization is more of a network structure itself.

Tom Petrocelli -- Enterprise Strategy Group

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Tom Petrocelli is a Senior Analyst investigating the Social Enterprise for ESG . Tom has over 27 years experience in technology and technical marketing as well as management.

To answer the first question, you have to separate the adoption of social technology from the adoption of social strategies. Quite simple, the strategy comes first. Taking this a bit further, the decision – the commitment – to adopt social collaboration as a way of doing work is the first step in the path to the Social Enterprise. By adoption Social Enterprise as a way of doing business, a company will find that they more easily adapt to changes in the market, more quickly respond to the needs of customers, and will have a more empowered workforce, which is usually a more happy workforce. The change in collaboration itself is that it is now ubiquitous within organizations and extends past the organization to customers and partners. Collaboration is no longer something that a few people or specific groups do regularly. It is now the new normal.The tools are designed to support the work environment. Adopting the technology of the Social Enterprise makes the implementation of the strategy more efficient and more likely to succeed with less disruption to the organization. Collaboration now can be done in a number of different ways – it is multi-modal – and no longer require constant face-to-face meetings. We now have choice in how we work together as a team because the tools enable different modes of collaboration.

The second question can be interpreted in two ways. The “next generation” can be the next generation of products or the next generation of knowledge workers. From the perspective of software products, integration with core corporate processes and hence core corporate applications will be a major driver for future product development. Since Social Enterprise is an organizational change, the tool set has to be available across the enterprise. Vendors have to focus on providing easy integration points for their Social Enterprise products or make it easy to use their products to create new enterprise applications that support social collaboration. Video conferencing will also become a more important component of the overall collaboration tool set as companies seek to maintain the human element in their work environment.

For the next generation of knowledge workers, the Social Enterprise means a very different workplace than previous generations would have experienced. This new workplace will emphasize new skills and personality traits. Few jobs will allow someone to sit in a cubical and just do individual work. Team-oriented traits such as a desire to share rather than horde information, group communication skills and the ability to adapt quickly to new people and circumstances will be more important than sheer knowledge or even experience. This is true even for IT professionals who often work in more collaborative Agile/Scrum development environments. Social skills will take precedence over technical skills.

Maria Ogneva -- Yammer

Maria Ogneva is the Head of Community at Yammer, the enterprise social network used by over 80% of the Fortune 500. At Yammer, she is in charge of social content, as well as community programs, fostering internal and external education and engagement. You can follow her on Twitter at @themaria or on her blog, and Yammer at @yammer and Yammer blog. Maria has a social media bent and a over a decade of experience in various roles in enterprises and small companies in the areas of consumer products, fashion / retail and technology. She is passionate about building communities and very excited about the empowerment of the social customer and the social employee.

Collaboration is not new; we've been collaborating since we lived in caves. As business became more global and our organizations became more complex, collaboration became more complex as well— just getting people on the phone across different time zones is a challenge and collaborating on documents – forget about it! That is, until social and collaboration technologies have enabled us to talk to people of all backgrounds, geographies, industries, and even across companies. Not only can we talk, but we can create complex works together — asynchronously or synchronously — with anyone, at any time, about anything we want to.

Collaboration technologies shift control to the content creators — the community, not just a select few. Restrictive content authoring is replaced with distributed co-creation of content by bringing together of diverse expertise, a faster and stronger feedback loop, and constant remixing and adaptation. The practice of working out loud helps increase the line of vision into what else is going on; soliciting feedback helps avoid costly mistakes and move faster. A participatory environment also engages us at a deeper level, which makes us more productive and bought into the vision of our projects and companies. Because of social work hubs, we are now empowered to work however we need to, join projects that interest us and achieve more.