Enterprise social collaboration is now mainstream, with a majority of employees in a third of all corporations using such solutions. That’s one of the findings in a soon-to-be-released white paper from Jive Software, an enterprise social collaboration vendor. got an early look at the paper, Enterprise Social Collaboration Solutions Hit the Mainstream — and we're sharing the highlights with you.

Improving Productivity, Communication

The paper notes that enterprise collaboration software differs from its consumer cousin because it needs to integrate with the existing IT environment, protect the privacy of the users and corporate data and provide the tools the business needs. In this survey for Jive, IDG Research Services queried more than 100 IT directors and managers at companies with at least 1000 employees. Of course, since Jive is a provider of social business solutions, the positive picture painted in the paper is not especially surprising.

Consumer social sites like Facebook may have inspired many employees to start using social tools at work. But whatever the reason for adoption, the report finds that improving productivity and internal communication now far outrank any other reasons, with 72 percent of respondents each. Twenty percentage points below those top two are such drivers as increasing business agility, improving the mobility of remote workers and increasing the speed of decision-making.

One factor not high on the list of reasons for adoption is cost-cutting, which the report said implies that “these solutions have clear business value that extends beyond bottom line considerations.” In fact, 90 percent of respondents said enterprise social collaboration is “some, very or extremely important” to achieving business objectives.

A case could be made that enterprise collaboration systems are simply the  evolution of the intranet, which itself is the online successor to intra-departmental memos, internal mail and common file cabinets.

Jive Collaboration Report

Wasting Time?

This intranet's value to enterprise collaboration is borne out in several examples in the report. An unnamed manager at an unidentified multinational printing and imaging company emphasizes the importance of collaborative tools for enabling communication between geographically dispersed offices. Another company’s IT manager points out that customers need to know if updates are coming down the pike, which collaborative networking with external partners can provide. Yet another manager, at a large retailer, notes the need to store documentation, manage projects and track issues.

If cost-cutting is not a big factor, how about return on investment (ROI)? The white paper reports that two thirds of the respondents complain determining ROI is difficult and nearly half are not currently measuring it in this respect. About a fifth stated they are instead looking at changes in such areas as employee satisfaction, employee time spent on projects and increases in client/customer satisfaction.

As solutions enabling employee conversation, can social collaboration become too much of an online “water cooler"? The paper notes that shortly after social collaboration was introduced at Boston Financial Data Services, “some managers worried employees would waste time hanging out.” But the opposite occurred: the productivity boost of sharing and searching common data was evident within a few months.

Nathan Rawlins, Jive’s vice president of product marketing, told that his company tasked a consulting company with understanding of usage patterns for Jive’s collaboration software and the summary result was “a 15 percent uptick in productivity.”

Talking Versus Doing

When asked about the occasional criticism of social tools in businesses — that they interrupt concentration on tasks, which then has to be regained, or that they waste time on conversation — he replied that Jive makes an effort is made to fit “the right tool to the right role.”

An instant messaging tool might be most appropriate for a research and development team that needs constant communication, he said, while a customer service agent might best be served by occasional dips into a discussion space.

“There’s a big difference between talking about work and getting work done,” he said, citing Jive’s use of task-oriented functions such as Structured Outcomes, where users can mark discussions as outdated, decided or action items.

While early adoption of social collaboration tools in business may have been inspired by consumer social media or may have been driven by a “business visionary” at a company, these days it’s “progressive IT organizations that are looking for these platforms” to succeed email, SharePoint and file stores. It adds business value, Rawlings said.

Communication remains an essential part of business, although it’s still eerie to walk into a large office where virtually everyone is quietly staring at screens. But as this report shows, they’re often looking at screens that enable them to collaborate with a wider circle, faster and more efficiently, than any water cooler.