According to a recent McKinsey study, leveraging social technologies at the enterprise level may unlock a trillion (yes, trillion!) dollars.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, many companies have placed large bets on these technologies as they seek to drive improved communication and collaboration in the workplace.  As a result social collaboration players are receiving sky-high valuations. Yammer, for example was acquired in 2012 by Microsoft for $1.2 Bn and leading player Slack was recently valued at $2.8 Bn, up from $1 Bn just a month ago.

Unmet expectations?

Despite this activity it seems fair to say the promise of enterprise collaboration is yet to be fully realized.  Charlene Li, CEO of Altimeter Group, has some interesting thoughts on the subject in this month’s Harvard Business Review (her article provides the title for this post).  She finds the corporate landscape “littered with failed technology deployments” and cites research by Altimeter showing less than half of enterprise collaboration tools are used regularly by many employees.

The figure below summarizes the research:

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Puzzled by this relatively low adoption rate, Ms Li visited Silicon Valley and found that few corporate leaders are themselves using the social platforms in which they have invested.  From their lack of engagement she diagnoses the core challenge:

“The problem was simple and obvious – because the top executives didn’t see collaboration and engagement as a good use of their time, employees quickly learned that they shouldn’t either.”

To solve this problem, Ms Li recommends initiatives to enhance senior management participation in enterprise social tools.  By fully engaging she believes they will set a positive example for their employees, re-ignite adoption, and improve workplace collaboration and communication.

Too much communication?

At CMS Wire, Stowe Boyd reviews Li’s article and comes to a different conclusion:

“Leaders and rank-and-file workers may share the same aversion to these solutions. Perhaps they simply don’t help people get their work done, and instead slow everything down.”

Mr Boyd sees enterprise social media as tools aimed at “maximizing communication”.  According to Boyd however, too much communication can be a bad thing:

“…perhaps our enterprise social networks naturally lead the workforce towards an excess of communication, and as a result, people avoid them.  At least those that want to get their work done instead of first line managers trying to find out what work has been done.”

To Boyd, the solution lies in leadership.  He believes leaders need to create a context in which the impediments to operation and cooperation — such as hypercommunication — are minimized.

CIO challenges with enterprise collaboration tools

Yet another perspective is provided by Matt Kapko at CIO magazine.  Among others, his article quotes Joel Confino, CEO of enterprise platform Haydle:

“The majority of these [enterprise collaboration] implementations are underperforming and plenty of them are just outright ghost towns.”

According to Kapko, the business reason for enterprise collaboration is still so hazy that relatively few CIOs can even agree on what challenges lie ahead:

“There’s a lot of failures in enterprise collaboration, loosely termed, because people don’t really know what they’re aiming for, so obviously they don’t hit it.”

Kapko quotes John Abel, SVP of IT at Hitachi Data Systems:

“Teams are pretty good at communicating within their own group but when it comes to integrating across departments, silos tend to happen, which ultimately becomes problematic when each team needs to align on certain campaigns or key topics.”

The article references the difficulty of dealing with work styles of millennials and older workers and concludes:

“There is an atomic shift taking place in how the enterprise operates, and so the CIO … must decide whether on-premise and cloud-based collaboration tools can and will address the needs of the enterprise users — anytime, anywhere, and on any device.”

The role of information

These discussions and debates are vital if we are to realize the true potential of workplace collaboration.  Attensa is not an enterprise social collaboration platform but I’m struck by how many of the issues raised above our platform addresses head-on:– the problem of silos…the importance of aligning around topics… the need for information anytime, anywhere, on any device…

I’m also struck by how little attention information receives in these discussions about enterprise social collaboration.  At Attensa we believe true collaboration happens when the right people with the right goals discuss the right topics armed with the right information.  What do we mean by “right information”?  We mean relevant information delivered in timely fashion in the context of the work being accomplished.  Such information is an absolutely critical factor in successful collaboration and it’s what our platform delivers.

Conclusion

Despite its problems, it is way too early to write off enterprise social networking. These tools are relatively young and it is inevitable there will be growing pains.  The technology will be much improved in a few years.  Nevertheless, discussions about the effectiveness of social collaboration would benefit greatly from a deeper look at the role information plays in ensuring collaboration is effective.

That’s why we’re so excited about Attensa.  Our platform is specifically designed to encourage social interaction and the sharing of relevant, high-quality information.

I’ll leave the last word to Ruven Gotz, director of collaboration services at IT solutions vendor Avanade:

“Technology is an amplifier of human touch and interaction.  Its effectiveness in enabling collaboration is entirely dependent on achieving results with methods that make sense to the way people actually accomplish work

On that we can all agree.