If you’ve sat in on a pitch from an enterprise social collaboration software vendor and didn't hear any of these words, you probably dozed off:

Social. Mobile. Analytics. Cloud. 

You need to know how the software you’re contemplating addresses these four pillars, right?

But to really be effective, enterprise collaboration vendors need to dig beyond the obvious.

Almost everyone understands social, mobile, analytics and the cloud, said Larry Hawes, principal of Dow Brook Advisory Services in Ipswich, Mass. “What's less understood are the business challenges and opportunities produced by the confluence of those technologies.”

Collaboration for Sale

There's no shortage of collaboration technologies. Software vendors are like the men and women in professional ballparks, scaling the aisles to sell products.

“Chat-based collaboration here!”



“Who wants some engagement metrics!”

All business need to collaborate, sure. But are these vendors striking the right chords?

Not always, according to Angela Ashenden, principal analyst for collaboration for MWD Advisors, a London-based advisory firm specializing in business software.

“It's not enough to simply focus on the technology to take advantage of the potential that social collaboration brings,” she told CMSWire. 

“There's a massive cultural issue that also needs to be addressed, since just giving people a new technology will not make everyone change their established behaviors — however sophisticated the technology might be. Without a corresponding investment in adoption strategy and change management, an investment in social collaboration technology is most likely to be wasted.”

And it’s not just about what works for collaboration. It’s who works for it, Ashenden said.

The successful implementations of these technologies start high up the corporate ladder. Sponsorship from C-Suite level drives collaboration not just within a particular function, but across functions, across geographies and across lines of business.

This helps organizations leverage benefits, she added, from “increased transparency, increased awareness of different perspectives across the organization, and the opportunities that come from cross-pollinating discussions and ideas.”

“That's the big picture,” Ashenden said, “that inspires a drive to change the culture to be more open, more inquisitive and more interactive.”

Are Senior Leaders on Board?

There's ominous news from Altimeter Group. Charlene Li, founder and CEO of Altimeter Group, conducted a 2014 study that linked low adoption of collaboration tools to lack of support from senior leaders.

"The problem was simple and obvious,” she said, “because the top executives didn’t see collaboration and engagement as a good use of their time. Employees quickly learned they shouldn’t either."

So do we need to engage C-level executives before we think about changing culture in an org? The top-down philosophy? Or is more an organizational-wide shift that’s needed?

“In reality, technology mostly amplifies existing behaviors and norms,” Hawes said. “It is really hard to transform work patterns. Technology can help, but other things, like executive leadership, change communication and management, and training are more important.”

Vendor: Lost Money, Opportunity

One of the vendors pushing social collaboration is SAP, specifically SAP Jam. 

The German software giant put out a study this summer along with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corporation (IDC) that found companies may lose as much as $30,000 per employee per year due to inefficiency.

IDC officials conducted interviews with C-Level executives across sales, marketing, HR and service/support and issued a survey of 601 respondents across the US in the same business units as the interviews.

So it’s not a huge piece of the industry pie. Nonetheless, SAP officials found the $30,000 loss “staggering.”

This proves beyond "any doubt" that in spite of trillions spent on business applications, the world of work is still "very broken," said Sameer Patel, SAP senior vice president and general manager of products and GTM, enterprise collaboration and social software.

Good social collaboration programs can help executives get better sleep. The software can “tangibly solve line-of-business challenges and in a way that maps to established business KPIs that keep executives up at night,” Patel added.

Vanessa Thompson, research director at the IDC for enterprise social networks & collaborative technologies, said she was surprised to see how much actual time is spent searching for company information while remote. Nearly 14 percent in the SAP/IDC study spent more than 10 hours per week trying to access the right people, information or data.

“The customer service business unit are likely to spend even time more than sales, HR or marketing,” she said.

Despite all the talk about collaboration tools, however, email still rules, according to the SAP/IDC study. It's a collaboration tool that simply won't go away. Thompson is not surprised.

“Email remains the most critical communication and collaboration tool for all organizations,” Thompson said. “Email as a communication tool outweighed engagement in every other business activity by more than double in terms of time spent in the tool.”

What Works, Doesn’t

Thompson told CMSWire the organizations that connect critical functions together in a more streamlined way will succeed in enterprise collaboration. Often, there is no KPI incentive for business units to work well together. A salesperson is compensated on a deal, not how they worked with the internal team to get the deal.

“Companies that have tools in place to support a more seamless communication and collaboration environment are much more likely to succeed in enterprise collaboration without the support of KPI alignment,” she said.

The pressure to deliver differentiation as a means of competitive advantage, she said, is a critical driver for the changing nature of experiences across customers, partners and suppliers.

“A collaborative culture can be the anchor to delivering the required differentiation,” Thompson said.

Often, it falls on those higher-ups, though, to recognize and support the need to do better work.

“I think it's the case that employees are getting more vocal in their frustration with their organization's existing technologies, particularly in the context of collaborating, finding information and making best use of their time,” MWD’s Ashenden told CMSWire. 

“This is certainly raising the profile of new social collaboration technologies at the senior management level, often because employees are simply finding their own way of meeting those changing needs — for example by setting up a free network on Yammer or creating a small team-focused online community or workspace.”

Title image by Lechon Kirb.