When I got word that CMSWire’s editorial focus for the month of October would be “enterprise collaboration and communication,” I immediately smiled, as this in itself showed some real progress for our industry. There’s no doubt journalists covering our space will continue to talk about “social business” and the “social enterprise” for some time to come (I’ve used this phrasing myself more than once), but “enterprise collaboration and communication” really cuts more to the chase of what I think we’re all trying to do here, which is to improve communication and productivity within the enterprise.  

At one point we had a deck titled “changing the conversation on collaboration” … I digress, but my point is that there’s a heck of a lot more to this effort then applying the “social” buzzword. That said, how are we as an industry doing, as of October 2012? 

In a slight tip-of-the-hat to Clint Eastwood, let’s take a look at The Good, The Bad, and ... The Miscellaneous.

The Good:

Communication within the Enterprise is Changing:

Looking back into the not-too-distant past, a lot of people here on CMSWire and elsewhere were extolling the virtues of creating online environments for the enterprise in which employees and departments could have better, free-flowing communication than was possible via email. The goal was then and still is to improve collaboration and productivity.

We aren’t quite to the last two pieces mentioned (more on this below), but there’s no doubt that communication has already improved for many. I also don’t believe that email is destined for the path of the dinosaur: it’s gonna be here for a long time.

For several companies we have been watching, there’s consensus that new internal-facing solutions have enabled more open and immediate communication within the enterprise. Employees and other end-users we’ve heard from tell us of a perceived “flattening” of organizations to where people in varied levels --ranging from the C-level to administrative assistants -- are communicating in real-time and often in candid, productive ways, as peers, not just as boss/employee.

This isn’t ocean-parting change, these are just people communicating openly -- bringing ideas from the tarmac and shop floor to the executive suite. 

Information is Being Shared More Easily:

With the improvements we’re seeing in intra-organizational communication, there’s a direct relationship to information being shared more easily, which can again boost productivity in the bigger picture. That said, there’s still a confidence gap when it comes to sharing key documents or mission-critical information, all of which points to the need for better, more reliable document-sharing solutions. Consider how many companies out there still use terms like “lock downed” to describe their document sharing solutions -- this has to change.

Big Players are Stepping Up, as is the C-Suite:

Literally billions of dollars are flowing into the area of Enterprise Collaboration and Communication, whether we’re talking about deals like Microsoft’s purchase of Yammer or the huge investments individual companies are making in an effort to better understand and implement intra-organizational collaboration and communication programs.

While the investment taking place is exciting and promising in terms of funding the initial development and continued progress that needs to take place, there’s no doubt that C-level executives who are signing checks will be asking about ROI sooner rather than later! The ROI discussion will be left for another day, but simple reporting will not do when contemplating what it takes to compete in the 21st global economy -- our teams are more mobile now than ever, all of which is again discussion for a different article!

The Bad:

Pray-and-Spray is More Prevalent Than Not:

In an effort to keep up with the Joneses, organizations both on the software development and client sides are spending a ton of dough often without having orchestrated specific plans or clear deliverables associated with their investments in enterprise collaboration.

Big organizations are placing huge bets on our sector, but there’s been little said in recent weeks about how the integration of major investments made by companies like Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce to name just a few are progressing, from an execution standpoint.

At a tactical level, I and many others are looking forward to participating in Microsoft’s upcoming SharePoint Conference to get an indication of how Yammer and Skype are being positioned and how it stands to impact clients, as well as complement the latest iteration of SharePoint, Outlook and Office.

I might be more of an optimist than some, but I think there are some compelling possibilities associated with the Microsoft trifecta of SharePoint, Yammer and Office; and the interoperability with iOS, Open Source and the host of enterprise products from big and small goliaths. I’ll share more about this once I’ve had the chance to digest the latest from that conference in November and compare this back to all the other conferences we have attended this fall!

Economic Models are Changing and the Little Guys Matter:

Whether we’re talking pay-per-month per seat or flat fee-based approaches, the economic model behind enterprise collaboration is changing. Perhaps one of the most invigorating aspects of this is that young companies and startups have the ability to affect change and even force the big guys of our industry to pay attention.

Whatever the economic model, I advocate an approach with a bit more up-front investing and lot more up-front planning: to determine the right departments within the enterprise to involve, the right ways to encourage adoption, and ultimately the right ways to securely collaborate on real work within the enterprise. This way, enterprises can really focus on developing collaboration frameworks that can take hold and prosper within the organizations. For those who have read my past articles, we called this out as the Wild Wild West back last year -- well, it still is and will be for some time to come!

The Miscellaneous:

Intentional or Not, Enterprise Collaboration is Helping with Morale:

We’ve heard stories from both HR departments and from enterprise employees about how early stage improvements in communication via enterprise collaboration solutions have materially boosted morale, employee satisfaction and even recruiting! Rank-and-file employees are enjoying the sense that they can have peer-like access to members of executive teams, as well as get less filtered commentary and views from the C-suite than they ordinarily get through more structured emails or internal blog postings.

While this bit is encouraging, it really points to the promise of genuine collaboration within the enterprise, above and beyond improved communication. We are getting closer by the day to realizing this goal via truly secure and easy-to-use document sharing solutions, accompanied by better infrastructures and pricing models that promote expanded and continued adoption of enterprise collaboration.

There’s a lot to be done and sorted out, but the next several months are going to be pretty wild! As always, thanks for reading and keep those passionate comments flowing -- you can always reach out and tap me on my shoulder -- I like the exchange.

Image courtesy of Mazura (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Kevin's got a lot to say on social business. Check out Driving Adoption in Social Business: More Thoughts from the Front Lines