We are in the midst of a dramatic shift in the way that organizations collaborate, internally and externally. Microsoft is focusing their innovation efforts around delivering intelligent, personalized, and dynamic solutions via their next-gen portal solutions that take full advantage of the scalability of the cloud, and are powered by the machine learning within the Office Graph. These are not just new features, but a total redesign of the way in which teams collaborate. Social collaboration tools are not just a "nice to have" or bolt-on capability, but are quickly becoming fundamental to the way that individuals communicate, and teams collaborate. Many of our assumptions about how we collaborate -- and even with how we've deployed SharePoint in the past -- are being challenged, with much of our collaboration moving from document-centric models to conversation-centric social activities.
One of the issues many people struggle with when adopting the social collaboration paradigm is transitioning their work activities over to a new interface, away from the document-centric libraries and lists of the past and toward something new, like the Pinterest-card look and feel of Delve. Many people do not yet see the value of social. Many organizations, in fact, struggle with the cultural changes needed for social, rather than the technology fit.
What does social collaboration look like in a real-world example? For example, I may receive an email from Susan with a link to a document in SharePoint as I review the various activities from the Office 365 Group of which we are both members. In responding to her, I see that she is online, and within that Outlook discussion I engage with her directly using the inline social capability. During that conversation, we may jointly edit the document, pulling our colleague Steven into the discussion to answer a key question. Within that same dialog, I may attach another related presentation and walk both of them through it in PowerPoint while still using our same inline social conversation, then invite our manager Lisa to jump into the conversation as an additional subject matter expert (SMEs) and to clarify our direction. Lisa points us toward an external link to an industry report on an industry website. We have now added additional artifacts, metadata, and experts to the rich web of contextual data surrounding that original document, all of which may have never been found if not for their inclusion within this social interaction.
Having said all this, there is a gap between the vision that is often shared about the future of social collaboration, and what it takes to reach that vision. In my recent CMSWire article Social Beyond the Yammer Framework I detailed some of the frustration with Microsoft’s messaging, and the hard push toward Yammer, when Yammer does not fit every social collaboration scenario. Just as the majority of SharePoint customers have had to pause and seriously consider the impacts of the cloud, and their strategy for moving toward the cloud, there is a parallel path toward social collaboration. It’s no longer a matter of “will we” adopt a social mind-set, but “when.”
During a presentation earlier this year, Naomi Moneypenny (@nmoneypenny), CTO of SharePoint ISV ManyWorlds, pointed out that enterprises are huge social systems, with vast personal and project or data-driven networks, where “innovation comes from serendipitous connections, or "happy accidents" which you want to create more of” between people, teams, and projects. Only so much of this can be planned – the goal of a company should be to provide opportunities for these “serendipitous connections” to occur and then get out of the way, according to Naomi. But what complicates this effort are the many data silos – some due to limitations of technology and collaborations platforms, others because of individuals who hoard data (because knowledge is power!), making location of expertise and the findability of relevant content difficult, at best.
Naomi summarized the purpose of social collaboration in the enterprise as coming down to four main points:
- Decentralizing decision-making (to the people closest to the problem)
- Aligning employees along higher-level motivations, beyond process
- Creating a culture of transparency, with constant improvements
- Engaging employees for ideas
As I meet with current or prospective customers and talk about their goals and ambitions for SharePoint, whether on premises or in the cloud, these same themes permeate their requirements – and yet social collaboration is never mentioned (well, not usually). They consider these tenets of social collaboration as part of the norm.
So why do some companies succeed with social collaboration, in general, and others fail? I spoke with Maximo Castagno (@maximocastagno), product lead for enterprise collaboration ISV Beezy, who also teaches post-graduate students on interactive design, about this topic. His answer – culture. “The companies I’ve seen succeeding with social collaboration have a fundamental aspect in common: they manage to make it part of the “normal day” for their employees. It is not only a cultural shift (even the habit of sharing while working is sometimes new) but also a process change, where recognition and even compensation has to be involved. It is the whole business structure that becomes collaborative because of this cultural shift. And they develop a very clear focus on user experience and adoption. Networks unleash their power when they get a minimum reach and grow exponentially form there.”
Culture, of course, begins with your leadership team. Maximo shared some additional insight: “I think the best indicator of success is how much top management has understood "what is going on” in the business world today, and recognition that social collaboration is not a fad, but a market-driven evolution of collaboration that teams need today if they are going to stay competitive.”
In a recent blog post entitled How To Increase End User Engagement, I shared five important points that will have an impact on whether your own social collaboration initiative will be successful:
- Collaboration must have a purpose
- Include an intuitive and inspiring user interface
- Involve your end users
- Have clearly defined roles and responsibilities
- Hold dedicated events
Ultimately, you can deploy the most technically-perfect environment possible, but if end users do not use it, it is a failure – so you need to build with the end user experience in mind, and ensure that your users are part of the design and development process.
To make social collaboration work, we need to be communicating with our end users – but we also need to be clear about the value these activities are providing to the business. You can have a technically sound system and happy end users – and yet fail to align the system with your business needs, thus failing to show value. It really does require all three -- as pillars within your overall strategy -- to be successful.