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The benefits of social collaboration in the enterprise – what are they, really, and where are the proof points?

The greatest thing about taking a presentation on the road is having honest conversations with real people, hearing about their day-to-day experiences and frustrations first-hand.

A couple of weeks ago I talked to audiences around New Zealand about The benefits of social collaboration in the enterprise. There’s a lot of information available about the benefits that social collaboration can bring (see below for some useful recent examples), along with a lot of impressive numbers to support the case for businesses adopting a social mindset and the tools that help underpin this.

The problem, on this side of the world, is that we don’t know with any great certainty, beyond having single – albeit useful – piece of research available from Microsoft which drills into regional enterprise social use, is what uptake and effect social collaboration tools are having in Australasian organisations.

From the feedback I got from the people I spoke with, besides finding out about one very compelling and active use of Yammer to help connect a number of New Zealand government agencies, and one organisation adopting the Jive Platform for customer communities, the overwhelming response I got was that people are still working out whether or not their organisations should put a toe in the water

Despite Forrester asserting that 37% of IT decision makers are planning to implement or expand the use of collaboration tools, in Australia and New Zealand, at least, it appears to still be early days, with people still looking for compelling and tangible reasons for their organisations to go down the social collaboration path.

In my session I walked through what social collaboration is, evidence of its effectiveness, what it could mean for an organisation, and Microsoft’s vision for social collaboration within its products.


The vision for social collaboration in an enterprise

It’s clear that social collaboration is less a technological pursuit than a ‘people’ initiative, and that ultimately it’s a means by which to get your employees working better together, harness human capital and transform your business processes. Take our use of email as an example and the knowledge sharing opportunities that social collaboration tools open up, making communication more visible – and searchable – to an organisation. Social collaboration utopia is having a current problem solved by two employees who no longer work for you by virtue of their conversation thread being available in perpetuity with a social collaboration platform.


How it can actually make a real difference to the people in your organisation?

As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of statistics out there, but a recent example I found that really brings the possible benefits to life by looking at social collaboration from a role-based perspective, is a Forrester report entitled Mapping the value of social business and collaboration. The report looks at social business value through a process-optimisation lens.

I ran through four personas or user roles that are familiar to many organisations; Sales, Marketing, Corporate Comms, and IT. We looked at how the function of these roles can be improved through the adoption of social collaboration tools. 

The key message is to look for opportunities with high human latency or areas of business process where we need to wait for a human action to occur. An example of this is booking a meeting to discuss whether to bid on a sales opportunity – it may be a day or two before all required attendees are available at the same time. This means any progress on the sales opportunity is essentially blocked until a decision is made.

Social collaboration tools enable us to short circuit this process by letting the salesperson start a discussion within the team about the sales opportunity. By asking questions such as: Have we done this before? Do we have the skills? What collateral or existing assets can we reuse? The salesperson can quickly build up a clear picture of whether the opportunity is worth pursuing.    

Another example is based on an IT team and their support for a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) strategy. IT support for BYOD can be a major drain on IT staff, as the need to support an increased number of devices and operating systems. But by using social collaboration tools, IT is able to create groups around different device types or operating systems i.e. Windows Phone, Android, iOS.

If a user has an issue with a certain device, chances are someone else within the organisation has also experienced this. By posting questions or issues to the group, the group is often able to fix their own problems without involving IT. IT staff could then look at the discussions within the groups and can pull out any common problems/resolutions and populate the ‘official’ IT knowledge base.

These two examples provide a more defined return on investment; less time and effort wasted on the wrong sales opportunities, better IT support from a smaller number IT staff, than the typical reasons for adopting social collaboration tools such as the mythical increase in ‘productivity’, more ‘collaboration’ between staff.

Organisations looking at adopting social collaboration tools, but not sure where the first step should be, should be focusing on how these tools can be used to drive efficiency in existing business processes.


Microsoft’s vision for Yammer and SharePoint – where to from here?

Microsoft is absolutely committed to social – it will increasingly become an intrinsic part of all its software, providing “deeper connections” and “more connected experiences” across its various offerings.  This includes integrations with products such as Dynamics CRM. See this video on how Yammer can integrate with Dynamics CRM.

To quote Jared Spataro, Senior Director of Microsoft’s Office Division: “We want to go from a world where a couple of million people use social, to a world where hundreds of millions of people rely on it every day to get things done.”

Check out this post from Jared for more information on where Yammer is heading. 

The case for Yammer, or any other social collaboration platform, has to be tied back to a business model. This can be as simple as asking: Where are the business needs, and how can social collaboration meet them? From the feedback I received recently, one very compelling business case for implementing a social collaboration platform is that staff – and no longer just those in the Generation Y bracket – are coming to expect to use the social paradigm within the four walls of work as a matter of course. This means that in order for companies to stay relevant, to be employers of choice and to attract and retain their staff, a social mindset – and a platform through which this can be encouraged and nurture – social collaboration within an organisation will very quickly move from the nice-to-have to the must-have list.


Useful resources

Advancing the enterprise social roadmap

Microsoft and Yammer: One year in

Bring your own service: Employees want social tools at work, despite company restrictions and hesitation, reports new Microsoft survey

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace (Sep 2012)

Posted by: Robert Stewart, Solution Specialist | 09 September 2013

Tags: Social Media, Yammer, Enterprise Social, social collaboration

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