Social collaboration software: A 'bottom-up' movement breaking down barriers

Social collaboration software is meant to make work easier, but it can have the opposite effect on managers, employees, business processes and IT.

Social collaboration software offers employees new ways to communicate and share information, but it isn't a dream come true for everyone in the enterprise.

Although social collaboration software is meant to make it easier for employees to work together, it can make work harder for IT administrators who have to maintain new systems and secure more information. In addition, social collaboration can break down departmental divides, which some members of management may not like.

Of course, there are ways to handle every collaboration calamity, and shutting down these services isn't the answer. Larry Hawes, principal at Ipswich, Mass.-based Dow Brook Advisory Services, discussed the pros and cons of social collaboration software for end users and IT.

How does a company know if adding social collaboration is the right move for them?

Larry Hawes: That's a really interesting question, because it assumes that they know what they want to get out of being social. And in past experience, it's kind of been the opposite, where this is a new software category, and organizations really weren't sure what to expect from adopting social software. Rather than being led at the organizational level, a lot of these efforts were led from the bottom-up: individuals looking for a better way to connect and communicate with each other.

If a company wanted to implement a social collaboration service, how would they go about doing that? How would they go about choosing it?

Hawes: A number of organizations have looked at what's already in use -- so, what's been adopted by individuals on their own, rather than by the IT department. And in some cases organizations will kind of do a bake-off between those, and determine which is going to be best and most popular. Or IT may get more involved and open things up to [a request for proposal] process.

Initially, purchase of enterprise social software was sort of on a group-by-group basis. More and more it's become led by IT, which is a very different procurement model.

Does social collaboration create any problems?

Hawes: Yes. For many individuals, social collaboration is another place where they have to go to do their work, to connect with people, to share what they're working on, and, honestly, it adds to their workloads. Because of that, there's some resistance to using social software. For the IT staff, it can be a whole other burden to them as well. If the system is deployed on-premises, it's something that they have to: 1. learn; 2. maintain and administer on a daily basis.

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Why social enterprise collaboration software is good for IT

Because it does connect people on a whole different level of intensity than traditional collaboration software has, it really can break down silos within organizations, break down hierarchy, and cause some organizational [and] structural changes that may not have been intended.

Like what?

Hawes: It's very easy for someone on the frontlines to skip their direct manager and have a discussion or share something with a superior two or three levels above them. Similarly, it's very easy for someone in marketing to share something with somebody in another function, and have a conversation with them, where they may not have even known that person existed before.

And what are the solutions to those problems?

Hawes: The question is, is it really a problem? Or is it a good thing that should be happening? I'm of the camp that would say these are good things; that most organizations are too siloed. There needs to be better flow of information and knowledge across those barriers. On the other hand, people that are very comfortable with the way they're working [and that] have established authority and power might not be so open-minded about that.

The more enlightened solution, to my mind, is to allow that activity to occur and become a participant yourself and try to model the kind of behavior you want to see from employees in that environment. If you want folks in your department to only be using social software to interact with people in your department, you need to kind of lay down that rule among them, and then you'll lead by example.

Can you tell me a little bit more about how social collaboration affects the jobs of IT pros?

Hawes: The biggest challenge has been the use of third-party, cloud-based social systems, and the poster child for this has been Yammer. People are going outside of IT, signing up for Yammer accounts on their own, and it kind of spread virally through the organization. Yet, IT has no control of it.

And the big concern there is, first and foremost, the security of the information that's being transmitted. IT is ultimately responsible for that, whether or not they have direct control or not, and that's a huge nightmare for them.

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