Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fragmented enterprise collaboration tools

A: “What collaboration tools do you use?"

B: “We have Sharepoint for corporate policies and HR; Connections for product team; Jive for product marketing team; Github for engineering team; and some teams are using Yammer.  Oh, we also have Salesforce Chatter for sales team, and our marketing team is active on Facebook Page, Twitter, LinkedIn and Wordpress blog.”

I have been asking people who work at enterprise to name their collaboration tools.  The answer is almost always not one tool, but multiple collaboration tools.  I then ask if they have a plan to unify and agree on single collaboration tool.  Again the answer is almost always no.

Clearly it's counter-intuitive to have separate islands of collaboration tools.  Collaboration tool, by definition, is meant to make communication and working together easier among team members.  Instead of using multiple tools segregating users, it makes much more sense for an organization to choose one tool where everyone can be available.  More users will create network effect, and collaboration tool will be that much more valuable.

But that's not the reality.  Why is this the case?

I have been thinking about this for a while, and here's my theory of why.

1. Consumerization of IT

BYOD, SaaS, and smartphones all contributed to today's environment where users choosing their own technology.  If they don't like the file sharing system, for example, they can go out and open a new DropBox account with a few mouse clicks.  Within a minute anyone could be uploading the files to the DropBox account and share files.  No longer IT team is deciding.  If users don't like the collaboration tool, they are going out and deciding for themselves for their team.  This also means users will start using collaboration tools of choosing unless corporate collaboration strategy is defined and tool is chosen.

2. Local policy control

Because these islands of collaboration tools are controlled by team leads, they retain the control of what happens on their tool.  Once the leads like having the direct control of which users can be added and what topic gets discussed on the tool, they tend to hold on to the admin right.  This helps the tool develop its own context and narrow down topics that are covered.  But at the same time it makes it harder for the central admin to consolidate.

3. Information firewall as information access control

One side effect of having disjointed collaboration tools is data segregation.  In a sense this is a limitation of multiple tools, but the data segregation can make sense in certain situations.  For instance there may be a need to make sure that engineering docs are not made available to sales team by accident.  Policy like this can be enforced by separating engineering collaboration tool from the sales collaboration tool.

4. User adoption inertia

Once users start to adopt collaboration tools, there is always some resistance to introducing changes.  Often new tools have problem gaining as fast user adoption as earlier tool, and suffers from data migration challenge from older tools to the centralized tool.  Fighting status quo requires sustained efforts by all participants, and is difficult to do in many situations.

5. Specialized collaboration tools

Some collaboration tools are purpose built with specific use cases in mind.  Github is one such example.  It's built for engineering team, and it's difficult to imagine marketing or sales team using Github for anything.  Reality is that not all tools are created equal and do not offer the same functionalities.

Does your company use multiple islands of collaboration tools?  Do you have a plan to consolidate them into one?

Collaboration tools do not replace face-to-face meeting.
They make it cheaper.
Source: http://www.disruptivetelephony.com/2011/12/dilbert-on-using-skype-versus-flying-to-a-meeting.html

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