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Making Social and Collaboration Systems Work

Posted 10-10-2013
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Making Social and Collaboration Systems Work

By Ajay Deshpande

In spite of organizations investing in social and collaboration software, the C-Suite continues to face challenges when it comes to using these systems effectively. While some success stories exist, many organizations are still struggling to get the most out of their social and collaboration deployments. In this article, I’ll address the most common implementation challenges, plus several unexpected ones; provide the strategies that the C-Suite needs to mitigate them; and discuss the governance models needed to help ensure the success of your enterprise’s social initiative.

Social and Collaboration Adoption vs. Existing Organizational Culture 

A successful social software deployment usually implies introducing a new system into the existing culture of an organization. Understanding and effectively managing this organizational culture is critical to adoption success. More often than not, the culture’s resistance can manifest itself as a change management problem. Indeed, when it comes to social and collaboration systems, there are quite a few barriers that hinder adoption.

A lot of enterprise employees, for example, don’t use social collaboration tools in their personal lives. Driving user adoption among these employees can be particularly challenging. Overcoming this barrier to adoption is not only about helping users learn how to use the new tools, but changing how they perceive the new tools. These employees often think that social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are a waste of time, and have no idea about how these real-time information platforms can help them do business better. So, for employees who aren’t adept with social media, having a meaningful education component as part of the tool’s introduction into the organization can be even more critical than usage training.

Also, the incentives structure in your organization may not be conducive to collaboration. While most organizations promote collaboration in theory, in practice they often have powerful disincentives to collaboration already in place. Imagine, for example, a new sales lead comes in to your group and you want to learn who in your organization has sold to that company. You could use an internal collaboration tool to search for this information. While this sounds ideal in theory, in practice there is no organizational incentive for a salesperson in another location or a different department to help you close a new deal. Often, employees are only rewarded for how they do their jobs, which removes much of the incentive for them to collaborate with others in their organization.

Companies can use change management techniques to overcome such challenges. As change management experts like to say, “All new initiatives need evangelists.” This is also true for social and collaboration software. In particular, when an employee’s fear (“My manager doesn’t want me to collaborate with people outside of my department”) is one of the barriers to user adoption, choosing appropriate evangelists who can clearly demonstrate the benefits of collaboration for the entire company can be a powerful way to get people on board.

Another method is to assign an executive champion to a new initiative. This has two pluses. First, it demonstrates management’s commitment to the new initiative. Second, it provides the people who are implementing the new initiative with a powerful ally and resource. Ideally, the executive champion should be a believer in the new initiative, know enough about it to answer rudimentary questions, and be a source of guidance during the early stages of adoption.

An incentive plan that supports the new initiative is another useful technique. Such plans require careful consideration in terms of how the success of individuals is mapped to the success of the new initiative. Without appropriate mapping, an organization might find that it is providing incentives for worker behavior that can jeopardize the new initiative.

Making Social and Collaboration Systems Work

Social and Collaboration Governance: Be Aware, Be Prepared

While change management deals with successfully introducing social or collaborative software into an organization, governance deals with the issues that might arise from the usage of these tools. Governance means being aware of the issues that might occur, implementing ways to prevent them in the first place, and being able to provide a coordinated, consistent response when they occur. Most of the time, it is difficult to formulate a good response if the organization’s governance model is taken by surprise. Once an issue arises, what matters most is how management responds and handles the situation. Being aware and prepared is half the battle.

Important issues that demand good governance include information security- and privacy-related data leaks. Although technology provides many ways to protect information, it is still possible that data might fall into the wrong hands. It might be relatively innocuous—for example, an ill-timed announcement via Twitter—or a very costly breach of customer privacy. In each of these cases, the system should detect such breaches and the governance model should have policies on how to handle them.

Collaboration channels usually get orphaned in large organizations, and people look at IT as the end-to-end owner of collaboration solutions. While this is true for the technology component, it is usually untrue (and, in fact, unfair) to expect IT groups to handle the “softer” issues, which have legal, financial and customer service-related implications. Senior management must be involved in the policy setting here. A new collaboration environment will, to some degree, impact the way an organization works and that will impact the bottom line and affect various components of the organization. Therefore, having clear ownership at the different levels in the collaboration stack is essential.

Organizations should start with a multi-disciplinary governance model. Usually such policies stem from HR, but they also need to encompass other departments such as marketing, IT and corporate security. Ideally, organizations will have a cross-departmental governance committee. This committee should not only have multi-disciplinary representation, but also be empowered to make quick decisions. Issues arising out of social and collaboration platforms require a fast response—and this requires agile governance structures. The solution may be as simple as disabling access to limit damage, but time is of the essence.

Information security needs to be addressed as part of the model’s design in order for it to be most effective. Organizations should think through roles in the company and what access levels are needed prior to deployment. Having these issues and scenarios sorted out before a collaboration or social system is implemented will help prevent privacy or compliance fiascos.

Remember: governance is about empowering action, not confining it. A successful governance framework is one that balances the needs for control and security with the employee empowerment that is the essence of enterprise collaboration.  

Using effective change management techniques and planning ahead for strong governance will help ensure the success of an enterprise’s social collaboration rollout. Adding an excellent communication plan to consistently and constantly get this message out to all users of the system should help meet the technology and business challenges that companies often face when deploying new collaboration systems.

About the Author

Ajay Deshpande is chief architect, collaboration solutions, at Persistent Systems, a global software product development and technology services company.