Shifting to a digital workplace is as much about a cultural change as it is about technology. 

Most companies have the tools and systems in place to move from an email and document-centric model to a digital workplace, but fail to recognize the process changes that come with this shift in work habits. 

Social Collaboration Powers the Digital Workplace

"Social organizations," those that have adopted social collaboration, will find it easier to make this transition. Social is what powers the digital workplace, allowing employees to move more seamlessly between disparate systems and processes. 

As authors Anthony J. Bradley and Mark P. McDonald illustrate in their book "The Social Organization," no single set of features or preferred vendor list distinguishes a social organization from others. It has more to do with how they approach problems, and their ability to reach deep into their toolkit to find the right tool, process or methodology to solve each unique problem. They recognize no single tool or platform can solve all business problems or, within a large corporation, meet the needs of various team or regional cultural nuances. 

Three factors distinguish most social organizations, which support a broader digital workplace strategy:

  1. A sound collaboration strategy which help teams better communicate and collaborate 
  2. A well-defined governance strategy that protects and enables that collaboration and 
  3. A change management system to help the organization adapt, grow and evolve as the business dictates.

SharePoint's Evolution Into a Social Platform

From Document Management Origins

When SharePoint 2007 was released, the platform was already gaining traction in the enterprise — while still very much being viewed as a team-based document collaboration solution. While 2007 was a huge improvement over the 2003 version, competitors in the collaboration space were doing some interesting things as well.

Most of the feedback users provided Microsoft centered around SharePoint's lack of enterprise content management capabilities. The requirements of IT organizations were quickly evolving.

To Content Management Capabilities

Fast forward to the release of SharePoint 2010, and the feedback on the platform pivoted toward web content management (WCM), or the ability to publish across environments, or out to external-facing sites (both extranets and public-facing websites). 

SharePoint 2010 was a massive success by most measures, but even with the success, expectations outpaced what Microsoft was able to deliver. The company kept building and expanding the platform, adding key WCM and social capabilities to what would become the 2013 release.

During this time, the requirements of the IT organization inevitably evolved ahead of Microsoft's delivery schedule. 

From a 'System of Record' to a 'System of Engagement'

Social collaboration became a driving force for change within many organizations. Both mobile and cloud-based solutions began the process of moving from consumer-focused solutions into the enterprise. 

This evolution saw a transition away from formal records management and document management, and towards a model which focused on user-to-user communication and collaboration. Just about every enterprise platform at the time, from CRM and ERP systems to public-facing websites, included real-time communication and basic team capabilities. 

AIIM CEO John Mancini defined this evolution as moving from "systems of record" toward "systems of engagement." What many organizations are beginning to recognize is that even the best laid plans for structured content management ignore one little fact — if your end users don't adopt the platform, the efficacy of your system is irrelevant. 

It's like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with nobody around to hear it: If end users are not engaged, your collaboration strategy has failed. 

Once again, this is where your collaboration strategy, your governance model and your change management capability help manage the evolution.

Why SharePoint Deployments Fail

Some of the fundamental issues behind SharePoint deployment failures stem from the organizations' inability to adequately manage the platform. If end users request changes and your IT organization are unable or unwilling to make those changes in a timely manner, they will go elsewhere. 

End users circumvent their IT organizations not because they want to subvert the chain of command, but because they want to get their work done. When they don't receive timely responses to their requests, they go where their requests can be met.

Ironically, much of SharePoint's early success was due to slow or non-responsive IT organizations. Requests came in for stronger document management and team collaboration solutions and IT did not respond. So users went out and deployed a free version of SharePoint (first WSS, later Foundation), and then very quickly showed their teams (and management) the resulting productivity, all done without the help of IT. 

As organizations began to depend on SharePoint, however, their needs for tighter alignment with key business processes and other systems of record increased. 

Learning Opportunities

Small pockets of SharePoint deployments around the company were brought into compliance with company governance and oversight. And when that happened, it was critical that IT organizations remembered to keep control, autonomy and flexibility over sites and site collections at the team level — in most cases the driving force behind SharePoint adoption.

Developing Your Digital Workplace Strategy

The SharePoint story is a great example of how many organizations struggle with change. The challenge for most companies is finding a balance between flexibility and control. 

Having a strategy in place for a rapidly evolving SharePoint platform is just one piece of your plan. Your strategy should include details on how to better align SharePoint with your business processes, how teams will access and use the platform, the lifecycles of critical content types and how they are stored as your content volume grows — among other considerations. You'll need governance policies in place (the boundaries of your system), as well as the tools and processes to manage expected (and unexpected) changes.

Your plans must also account for all of the features and capabilities that Microsoft is releasing on a regular basis. As the SharePoint market has matured and organizations have started to look to the cloud or to hybrid solutions, your plans also must encompass OneDrive for Business, Skype for Business, Planner, PowerBI, Delve, PowerApps, Flow and more. 

On top of these Microsoft offerings, end users are also demanding IT support for third-party solutions and services, most of which can be purchased and somewhat integrated with your other enterprise applications outside of the purview of your IT team. There is much to consider.

Culture Drives the Change

With organizations now more broadly recognizing collaboration as a business necessity, stakeholders are looking beyond simple adoption metrics (how many users log into the platform each month) and more closely at how their teams are using the platform. 

Much of what is driving the push toward the social organization is not so much about the compelling nature of these new models, but about trying to solve the end user adoption gap caused by frustratingly slow responses to change requests.

Which brings us back to your culture. 

If your organization has historically been slow to respond to end user requests in SharePoint — from improvements to search, to the rapid deployment of new site structures to meet growing business needs — individuals will look elsewhere for the answers. 

While this push by end users to bring in the latest consumer-focused productivity solutions may appear to move your organization more quickly toward a digital workplace, the opposite may actually be true. Without the support of IT and management, any misstep or breach will be greatly amplified.

To some degree, the rise in social collaboration has more to do with failed governance and change management practices — and poor alignment of SharePoint to business processes — than it has to do with functionality improvements. By revamping your overall SharePoint strategy, with governance and change management, increasing the responsiveness of IT organizations and working in partnership with end users, you will build a path forward toward your digital workplace vision and goals.

What my SharePoint experience has taught me is the path toward the digital workplace should be thoughtful, intentional and managed.

Learn how you can join our contributor community.