Collaboration is not a dirty word

My first LinkedIn article on the seven reasons your enterprise social media project might fail was quite popular and seemed to resonate with a lot of people. Two years on I thought I’d take a look at what’s changed and what we’ve learned about collaboration in the enterprise space since 2015.

1.      Collaboration is not a dirty word. The word has been used and abused and since 2015 has become something of a dirty word, mainly caused by too many software vendors trying to cash in on the term. But that’s changing. As we’ve seen by working with some of the largest consultancies, law firms and parts of WPP Group – businesses are all starting to buy into Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered collaboration tools. AI-powered collaboration is finally starting to buck the trend of failed adoption and intangible ROI that we’ve seen for years from social-powered collaboration tools.

2.      Chat was nearly its own thing. Based partly on the ubiquitous use of chat in our personal lives, products like Slack or Hipchat started creating their own space in the collaboration market. However, while the jury is still out on whether Slack can succeed in the enterprise space by itself, it’s clear that the feature can’t. Our desktops have become so crowded that every single CIO I know is looking for ways to integrate single proposition products into larger and more enterprise friendly setups to scale and simplify the user experience.

3.      Document collaboration is dead. Your business success will depend on the strength of your employees’ ability to connect and exploit the collective potential of their social networks. And as the pace of business accelerates and information becomes commoditised, storing vast quantities of outdated document information only makes your employees job of finding answers harder. In addition, as millennials make up an increasing portion of the workforce their preferred method of search is usually to connect with someone to talk about it. If you need any more evidence of this take a look at how SharePoint has spent the last three iterations pivoting away from document collaboration towards social collaboration. They correctly identified the problem but unfortunately missed the solution.

4.      Social collaboration is on life-support. Based largely on the big names propping it up and that there’s no commonly accepted alternative, social collaboration is still limping on. The launch and relative failure of Workplace and Teams to revolutionise the social collaboration space is proof it has nothing new to offer. So the challenge of 2017 through to 2020 is agreeing what the next thing is. Clearly it’s not social collaboration in a new skin, or just chat or document collaboration.

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5.      Bots are taking over the world. If you’ve used a chat system today to get help with something online, chances are you were probably talking to a robot. The use of bots to enhance existing chat systems is basically like adding a turbo charger to your Smart Car. Sounds cool, but it’s not going to get you somewhere much faster. What’s good about bots is that when people have simple and specific questions, a bot can answer them. But they have their limitations and forcing users to use a chat-style interface in a complex knowledge environment is misunderstanding the complexity of knowledge based work and limiting the potential of AI in the workplace.

6.      Good data is key to effective collaboration. We do have something to thank social collaboration for. As tools like Yammer are similar to Facebook and other external social media sites, the methods of audience and sentiment analysis used for years by digital marketers are starting to grow in favour in the enterprise. We’re seeing more companies understanding the needs and goals of their employees by using analytics to study behaviours and activities. The technology isn’t new (google have been showing you relevant adds based on your browsing history for years) but it’s the application of mining and exploiting untapped data sources in the enterprise space that is becoming more ambitious.

7.      Employees want to collaborate. There is a change in behaviour and culture happening inside companies, driven by market forces and also by millennials now reaching positions of mid-management and increasing their influence on working practices. Employees are choosing to work in places where they are rewarded and feel recognised for their networking and knowledge sharing abilities. Companies are being forced to address this need and, unfortunately, some are still choosing to turn to social collaboration tools, at best enhanced by bots, to do this.

What’s in-store for 2017-2020? We need to agree what the potential is for collaboration inside the enterprise space and aim for it, or be limited by the technologies of 2006 which still own the ‘collaboration’ term. We can do better, some companies are, but we all need to work together to prevent this term from being sullied for good.


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