Last night I had the pleasure of attending a customer case study session hosted by Cisco. Representatives from two clients -- SmithAmundsen (a law firm) and Republic Services (a waste management company) -- discussed how they were deploying Cisco unified communication and collaboration technology within their businesses. While the two speakers presented compelling stories about the need for collaboration within business, what caught my attention was where their companies received value. The constant refrain was these technologies saved money on travel, office space and IT expenditures. This isn't a new story: last year at Cisco's Collaboration Summit, Vid Byanna of Accenture mentioned that travel cost reduction was a big driver for his firm adopting desktop video technology for its remote workforce. Nor is this a Cisco-specific story: I recently published a report that shows the majority of content and collaboration professionals say travel reductions is the #1 benefit of collaboration software. But does it teach us the right lesson about the value of collaboration software?
In general, when we think about finding ways to let employees come together in groups to do work, we assume some type of business benefit: faster problem resolution, more innovative ideas and quicker time to market are a few examples. So why, in a business world where 42% of the workforce is mobile, do just 19% and 9% of content and collaboration professionals see improved innovation and faster time to market, respectively, as outcomes of using collaboration software? I have a couple of ideas that I'll be testing in my research going forward. I think this disconnect springs from one of three places:
Just when you were getting your mind around Social Computing, Forrester has concluded that Social Computing is a steppingstone along the path to the empowered era. At least that’s one of the findings you’ll discover in the new book Empowered, co-authored by Groundswellauthor Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, published today by Harvard Business Review Press.
During CScape at Cisco Live, one of the more interesting conversations I had started with a simple question: Is social software (and collaboration software in general) a set of standalone applications or features of other business applications? This sprang from a discussion on the future of the collaboration technology business and really speaks to a couple of important developments in the market:
This year’s Boston Enterprise 2.0 Conference highlighted good examples of how companies are tapping into social technologies to empower their employees. For example, Mitre Corporation showed how they have successfully developed a collaboration community using open source technology. The platform they developed enables them to deliver secure access to ideas, discussions and content for employees and guests. Meanwhile, CSC showed how they have driven greater collaboration across 49,000 of their employees in just 18 months, with a strategy focused on connect, communicate and collaborate. (Those of us in the audience even witnessed the in-field promotion of Claire Flanagan, CSC senior manager for knowledge management and enterprise social collaboration, to director – congratulations Claire!)
Among a number of great speakers, JP Rangaswami, CTO & chief scientist at BT Design, opened the conference with a powerful speech that was supported by an innovative approach to real-time animation of content – alas, while the speech was good, the visuals were distracting for many in the room. JP suggested that the age of the locked-down desktop is coming to an end, “enterprises must design for loss of control.” Re-iterating a refrain from George Colony, who suggests “bits want to be free,” JP advised, “if you don’t want it shared, don’t put it on a computer.”
Next week, vendors from across the social computing landscape will converge on Boston for TechWeb’s Enterprise 2.0, a business Web 2.0 conference and trade show. In advance of this event – which I will be attending – I thought I’d discuss a topic that has started to emerge in my research of social software: the proliferation of social components in business applications. More specifically, I want to address a question a client recently raised: is having a social layer going to be necessary for businesses to adopt business applications going forward?
Over the last few years, we have seen software vendors position social tools as part of software suites such as collaboration platforms (e.g. SharePoint 2010, Lotus Connections), project management packages (e.g. ThoughtWorks Mingle), BPM tools (e.g. ARISalign) and CRM systems (e.g. Salesforce Chatter). This is the natural reaction to what seems to be heavy business interest in these technologies: 65% of firms deploy at least one Web 2.0 tool. However, the marketing and selling of these tools is predicated on two myths:
Myth #1: Information workers are clamoring for these social tools. I have sat in on many vendor briefings where a company representative tells me employees demand Facebook-like or Twitter-like tools to do their jobs. Not true. When we ask information workers about their use of social networks, wikis, discussion forums, blogs, and microblogs for work, only a small group actually uses them; social networking tools, the best-adopted technology, is used by only 12% of information workers. When we ask non-users their desire in using each of these tools, small portions express interest; the most sought-after technology, discussion forums, only piques the interest of 15% of information workers.
In a recent blog post called "Drop The Pilot," Andrew McAfee argues that most "Enterprise 2.0" pilots are unintentionally set up to fail. This is in part because such enterprise communities depend upon broad employee acceptance in order to be effective. This doesn't mean that collaboration platforms are only effective in organizations with tens of thousands of employees, but it certainly helps. And the challenge with pilots is that they are frequently focused on a subset of the organization -- these pilots never really have the chance to fully realize their potential. Perhaps the best pilots are those that are not limited in scale but limited in time -- they determine adoption rates over time and use the pilot to figure out how to make the final rollout more successful.
In his blog post McAfee goes on to suggest six steps toward effective deployment which gel nicely with the key lessons learned from the United Business Media (UBM) case study published recently. McAfee suggests you should: