Collaboration success edges closer

After years of expectation, collaboration efforts are beginning to pay bigger dividends.

Experts at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston last week said the tools are better, we know more about how to deploy them sensibly and we have a better sense of what to expect. But most were in agreement that it is still hard work to get collaboration right.

In a keynote address Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist in the Center for Digital Business at MIT Sloan School of Management, said many collaboration efforts fail because companies just go through the motions. They deploy some software, name someone to lead the program and wait for something great to happen. “The reality is you have some elaborate infrastructure to build. People and process and technology and in an organizational sense. It is never an overnight process.”

But there is no question companies have to embrace the new social tools, says keynoter JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for the BT Group. The younger generation of workers “have better computing experience at home than at work and that requires that we adapt in terms of what we offer as enterprise services.”

A potential impediment to success is the need to give up control, Rangaswami said. That doesn’t come easy in many organizations. Ten years from now, he says, the speaker giving his keynote will be evaluating our progress in terms of how well we gave up that control.

That doesn’t mean throwing everything to the wind, however. You need a framework for the collaboration tools to get the most out of them, and the tools have to be coupled with business processes to get benefits, speakers agreed.

Do you lock out Facebook and Twitter to encourage use of your internal tools? You have to replicate Web functionality, but if you let a mishmash grow within the organization it will be mess, said Murali Sitaram, General Manager of Cisco’s Enterprise Collaboration Platform group.

McAfee said many of the early collaboration tools focused on facilitating communications among colleagues with which you already have strong connections. Newer tools are making it easier to collaborate with those in the next concentric ring where the connections are weaker, and those in the ring beyond that were you have no connection but there is business potential.

“This is exactly the right approach,” he said, and a “big progression in short history of Enterprise 2.0.”

There are probably still more stories of failed collaboration initiatives than success stories out there, but with employee expectations changed by consumer services and new tools designed to emulate consumer experience, the time may finally be right for collaboration to take off in a big way.

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