Six Ways to Make Enterprise Collaboration Work Better

Nov 3, 2015 12:00:00 AM | Shadow IT Six Ways to Make Enterprise Collaboration Work Better

Everyone agrees collaboration is vital, yet enterprise collaboration tools remain a tough sell for CIOs. But recent research shows that tide may be shifting.

The current state of the market for enterprise collaboration applications seems to present somewhat of a paradox. On one hand, leaders in business and government recognize the increasingly vital role collaboration will play in the future of work, and the benefits of apply the right tools and technology to facilitate that collaboration.

On the other hand, other than for simple point-solution tools (e.g., file sharing, team chat applications), actual adoption of enterprise collaboration technology remains low. They are often viewed as tools that are difficult for CIOs to “sell” within their organizations.

Business collaboration toolsThe tide may be shifting: a recent study by IDG Global Research found that 79% of all respondents consider internal collaboration to be of high importance at their organizations overall and 60% of all respondents consider external collaboration to be of high importance.” Furthermore, half plan to back up those beliefs with increased spending on enterprise collaboration technology in the coming year.

In a recent ZDNet article, Dion Hinchcliffe provides additional insights about these developments, writing:

“Adding to the pressure for newer and better solutions are that the perceived stakes for improved digital collaboration are high these day. It’s widely understood there is still considerable new value to be gained by activating organization-wide on not just the basic values of faster, easier digital engagement between employees, but also of more strategic business activities, like improving decision making, innovation, and rethinking what’s possible…

“Yet it’s also a truism that the evolution of technology moves quite a bit faster than most businesses can keep up with…

“Enterprises want better collaboration, but feel unprepared. As a result, businesses currently feel poorly prepared to seize the opportunities…despite 79% of respondents (in the IDG study) reporting that they believed that good collaboration was very important to their organizations, over half felt they were not very effective, or were outright ineffective, in their collaboration efforts currently.

“There is clearly a gap between where most organizations are today with collaboration, and where they’d like to be.”

How can organizations bridge that gap—before they risk being “out-collaborated” by competitors? Here are six ideas to consider.

Forget bloated “one size fits all” collaboration suites.

You don’t need an interactive online whiteboard in order to share a few large files, or real-time video chat capabilities to edit a shared document. Tools that try to do everything too often end up being confusing and cumbersome to use—and not doing anything very well.

Hinchcliffe writes that the rogue use of unapproved collaboration tools by employees, “is compounded by tool strategies that attempt to fit most or all collaboration scenarios into the capabilities of just a few options, usually only those offered by the largest…collaboration vendors, many of which are not innovating nearly as much or as fast as smaller competitors.”

Instead look for enterprise collaboration tools that excel at particular uses, are dead simple to use, and can be integrated with other systems to extend their functionality.

Pick the right tool for the job.

Email remains the “default” collaboration tool within most organizations, despite its drawbacks (it’s not useful for sharing large files, collaborative document editing, or task management, as examples). So, first, look for tools that work better than email for specific types of collaborative activities.

Second, rather than force-fitting one big tool into all situations, choose tools that excel at specific functions (e.g., problem resolution) while offering the flexibility to be used for other purposes (IT change management, information security).

Ask IT to sell, not tell.

As Hinchcliffe details, too often IT acts (or at least is viewed) as the enforcer, the autocratic and sole authority on collaboration technology:

“Given that improving teamwork using digital tools is typically the official province of the IT department, workers today must wait for collaboration solutions to be evaluated and selected for them, and then use whatever is provided, or be in violation of corporate IT policy.”

Yuck. That’s generally not the way IT wants to be seen, nor the way business users want to be treated.

A better approach is for IT to use collaboration tools, for specific purposes (support, project management, file sharing, etc.) in its interactions with business users. As employees in HR, facilities, finance, marketing and other functions use these tools to collaborate with IT, they become familiar with them, experience their benefits, and may envision uses for those tools within their own departments or in other situations.

This is how, for example, enterprise request management(ERM) implementations spread across an organization. ERM often starts with an actionable IT service catalog. As users in HR, facilities and other groups interact with the service catalog portal to request services and report issues, they see how easy it is to use and how quickly and effectively it enables requests to be approved and fulfilled, and start asking: how can I use that to present my group’s services?

The use of collaboration tools can potentially spread in the same fashion, by business users wanting what IT has, instead of feeling forced into use of a specific tool.

Shine the light on shadow IT.

Hinchcliffe points out that two of the three top categories for “shadow IT” (users procuring their own technology without the knowledge or approval of corporate IT) are collaborative in nature (file sharing and social tools).

He recommends IT work with this trend, rather than against it: “There is actually a good case to be made that digital collaboration is an ideal candidate for using shadow IT champions to find, experiment with, and let the best solutions for different parts of the organization rise to the top.”

In this approach, business users can advocate their favorite special-purpose collaboration tools and have IT vett them for suitability, utility, security, compatibility, and lack of overlap with existing tools.

Make simplicity a priority.

The two groups most involved with collaboration technology, as Hinchcliffe notes, are IT (software selection, delivery and support) and the HR department, which “typically has a support role in providing the training and education for the tools.”

Ideally, collaboration tools should be simple and intuitive, designed so that even novice users can pick up their use quickly, with little or no training. They should allow users to concentrate on collaborating—not on how to use the tool.

Focus on business impact, not adoption.

The value of a collaboration tool isn’t necessarily in how many people use it, but in how effectively it helps achieve business goals. For example, if a tool is intended to help fix network and data center outages more quickly, it may have only a limited number of users but provide significant value in terms of increased system uptime.

As Hinchcliffe writes, “Don’t use adoption as a metric for success with digital collaboration, instead use impact to core business activities…In short, connect your collaboration efforts to strategic corporate goals, and measure the results.”

Moving forward, simple autonomous tasks will be increasingly automated. The high-value activity within organizations will come more and more from collaboration among experts who bring different knowledge and perspectives to bear on solving problems and conquering new challenges.

Hinchcliffe believes “the victors in this generation of IT change will put everyone in the collaboration department.” IT has a key role to play in acquiring and implementing the best set of technology tools to facilitate collaboration. And collaborating with business users may be the best way to get everyone on the same page with those tools.

Next Steps


Tom Pick

Written By: Tom Pick