Is Collaboration at Risk of Becoming Siloed?
There’s a lot to be said for best of breed software, but one thing that hasn't been said is that these tools could be signing their own death warrant.

How? Best of breed tools are, by nature, specialized, with specific functionality for the group they target. More and more that includes features that help teams collaborate.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that -- for now. If nothing changes, tomorrow’s workers will complain about (and be frustrated by) silos of collaboration, just like today’s workers are frustrated by silos of information.

Luckily, software vendors and purchasers can learn from the past and take steps to avoid the risk of building collaboration silos into their tools. The history of how we built information silos provides some great lessons.

'Everyone Wants the Same Things'

At one time, organizations believed and acted like they were a monolithic group of uniform people. That led to software decisions based on that belief, and most of the time, all-in-one software solutions were deployed across the entire enterprise.

Reality Check

Some time later, best of breed solutions began chipping away at that, because their solutions were more in line with the reality. Organizations are made up of distinct individuals and groups who need to work with specific processes and achieve specific tasks. It’s no surprise that a solution tailor-made for them will be more effective.

The Rise of the Silo

That’s when silos of information started to emerge as a real problem. If the sales team is off using Chatter and Salesforce to manage their work, and Marketing is off doing their thing in Marketo, how were they sharing information? In most cases, they weren't.

The same thing is happening with collaboration today and the same problem is at the bottom of it: best of breed tools. Luckily, it's a known risk, and one that purchasers and vendors can take steps to avoid.

In many best of breed tools, collaboration is represented by activity feeds, since users have become accustomed to using them in tools like Facebook and LinkedIn. This is great for adding visibility into the interactions in a specific group, but challenging when it comes to bringing voices and opinions in from outside the group.

This is a big risk, because the very nature of collaboration is supposed to be open, not closed. By trapping collaborative efforts in small, tailored platforms for each team, it's hard to avoid closing down the collaboration process.

So as purchasers and vendors of best of breed tools, here are some concrete steps we can take to make sure we aren’t the ones creating the problem. Going down in history as “the generation of software that created collaboration silos” isn’t what anyone wants.

Prioritize Collaboration

Collaboration is the lifeblood of an organization. It’s the one core skill that every employee needs to have in the future, which is why trapping it in silos is a huge risk for companies of all sizes. By putting a stake in the ground and valuing collaborative efforts both online and off, you're in a better position to prioritize it in decisions about software and much more.

Design the Process

Before you can create systems that allow cross-functional collaboration, you’ll need to start with your people.

Who needs to collaborate on each part of the business? Do we have fairly structured roles, or should everyone be able to jump into a conversation at any time?

Answering those questions and others along the same lines will give you an idea of the types of collaboration you need to achieve the results you want.

Focus on Integration

Once you have a solid grasp of what collaboration you want happening, it’s time to look at your toolset. Where are silos occurring today? Which tools are you thinking about implementing -- and will they create other silos?

When you’re choosing best of breed solutions that include collaborative elements, make sure that they either integrate with your existing tools out of the box, or they have an API that allows you to connect them.

The bottom line is that collaboration will never happen in one place, since best of breed tools and the tailored functionality they offer are here to stay. It’s on us to prioritize collaboration as a vital part of our business process, and make sure the tools we’re using aren't inadvertently leading us down a path towards silos of collaboration.

Title image by Olivier Le Queinec (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read another perspective on collaboration's future in Kevin Conroy's Enterprise Collaboration, Made for Mobile