Enterprise social collaboration hinges on integration in 2013

Enterprise social collaboration vendors need to provide better context and information is so organizations can take advantage of collaboration tools.

There are countless examples of organizations that adopted social collaboration platforms last year because they wanted to "go social." Many of those efforts failed because enterprise social collaboration platforms need to provide better context and information.

In many cases, employees ignored platforms such as Yammer and Jive because they didn't fit into the natural business process. Those tools subsequently withered on the vine, said Laurence Hart, CIO of AIIM International, an organization for information professionals based in Washington, D.C.

Part of the problem is that companies adopt platforms or tools without really understanding how they can help the business process, said Steve Weissman, founder of the Holly Group, a Waltham, Mass.-based collaboration consulting firm.

"If you want to change the way people work, you have to educate employees and get them to understand that change. You can't just give them a fancy new tool and say, 'Here, go use it,'" Weissman said.

Simultaneously, it would help if those enterprise social tools were built with an intelligence layer behind them instead of just being a glorified activity stream like Facebook, said Larry Hawes, founder of Dow Brook Advisory Services, an enterprise consulting firm based in Ipswich, Mass.

Free enterprise social collaboration tools: You get what you pay for

The freemium model from many of these enterprise social collaboration vendors entice IT departments to sign up for the services without evaluating whether the product would even be a good fit.

Griffin Technology, a consumer electronics company based in Nashville, used Asana for collaborative task management for about six months before it was clear the product didn't suit the organization's needs.

"It was missing a couple of features that we needed, like creating a team task through an email," said Rachel Valosik, Griffin Technology's director of eCommerce.

After deciding that Asana wasn't a good fit, the company shifted to Teambox, a Software as a Service app that integrates with email, pushes alerts and notifications to mobile devices, and allows Valosik to see which of her team members have the ability to take on new tasks.

It wasn't too much of a pain to switch apps, but Valosik wished that instead of just signing up for a well-known vendor, her department had taken more time to figure out what they needed and how an enterprise social task management tool could potentially help the organization.

Enterprise social collaboration tools need system integration

Beyond a return to carefully choosing the tools that meet an organization's business needs, social collaboration vendors have begun building better informational context into their products, Dow Brook's Hawes said.

"This is not a new idea, but vendors haven't executed it all that well with social software yet," Hawes said. "It feels like the tide is turning in that regard. Context makes all that information relevant."

Employees derive a huge benefit from not having to find information themselves. If a piece of software understands the task or business process an employee is trying to solve, and it assembles relevant, contextual information, the software will help accomplish that task.

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The holy grail of enterprise social collaboration would be systems integration and collaboration woven into all the applications that an organization uses. For now, slight movement toward this goal benefits organizations, Hawes said.

One example of a vendor recognizing the importance of contextual information is Fuzed, a social collaboration vendor based in Dallas, which recently released several changes to its platform as a result. It now includes knowledge maps -- which pull together related information, links and tags generated from employees -- more informational context around search results, and private knowledge spaces for when users are assembling information for projects, but are not ready to share them with co-workers.

To do all of the things that Fuzed's platform offers, companies would have to rely on a patchwork of tools, including the company Intranet, File Transfer Protocol site and file-sharing websites to share information between co-workers and external clients.

The problem with the patchwork approach is there is no clear way to use the information. Files get shared in a silo, and that is it, according Kate Smith, director of marketing for ArtVPS, a 3-D software company in Cambridgeshire, U.K. that uses Fuzed.

The company's employees use the tool to pull together project information in a single location and see how it relates to other projects, or to surface older information that may be helpful. Workers can also invite clients into those knowledge maps for feedback on software development.

Enterprise social collaboration didn't really take hold at ArtVPS until employees had a social collaboration tool that allowed them to share useful information that would have otherwise stayed buried on the network, in emails, or in employees' browsing history, Smith added.

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