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A Top-Down Approach to Enterprise Collaboration

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A collaborative enterprise network, where workers are digitally connected and set up to seamlessly share knowledge and skills across functional and geographic borders, can deliver significant productivity gains and business value. The challenge for many is finding a way to get there.

In recent years, a slew of mobile and cloud-based tools have given enterprises new opportunities to improve communications among workers, business partners and customers. Savvy enterprises have tapped such tools to improve productivity and unlock the collective knowledge of their workforce.

Tapping into the Collaborative Enterprise

Examples abound across all industry sectors. More than 100,000 employees at the Texas Department of Information Resources, for example, are using Office 365 cloud-based communication and collaboration tools from Microsoft to streamline how they do business. Employees at the agency use videoconferencing, real-time document collaboration and calendar-sharing tools to communicate with peers regardless of the community they serve, what devices they use or what time of the day they work.

Kennametal, a $3 billion firm manufacturer of metalworking and mining tools, has set up a companywide intranet called The Hub using Office 365. The intranet connects the company’s engineers, scientists and manufacturing technicians and enables internal conversations, access to company news and intelligence on rivals. It allows the company to track areas of expertise among employees and share their information across different teams and geographies.

Adoption Issues

Despite such successes, the number of companies fully benefiting from collaboration remains relatively small. Recent research by the Altimeter Group showed that adoption of enterprise collaboration and social network tools leave plenty of opportunity for growth. Less than four in 10 of those surveyed said many employees at their companies were using collaboration tools at work while 23 percent said some employees were using these tools. The remaining 41 percent said few to no employees were currently using enterprise collaboration tools at work.

B2B social media strategist and consultant Paul Gillin blames the situation on a lack of executive participation. “It’s a classic case of where executives dictate some tools be brought in and they don’t use it themselves,” Gillin says.

Unlocking Knowledge 

Collaboration tools can help unlock the knowledge that exists within the company – an increasingly critical capability, Gillin says. “Most companies are now knowledge businesses,” he says. “They don’t make products anymore. Their value comes from information or from their knowledge of how to distribute products to customers.”

Hotel companies, for instance, don’t own properties any more. They are experts at managing inventory while the properties themselves are handed out to individual leaseholders. That concept applies to a lot of industries, Gillin says.

“The point is you have a lot of knowledge in the company but you don’t know where the knowledge is,” he explains. Companies that can discover and tap into such resources are likely to get things done more effectively.

Executive Leadership

Top executives have to lead the charge that drives widespread use of collaboration tools, Gillin believes. “Executives have to show willingness to collaborate and be open” to using social media and other tools to communicate, said he says. Even tactics like blogging or posting updates on a company wiki can have the effect of spurring broader usage. “It sets the tone that sharing is okay.”

In addition to executive sponsorship, companies that are deploying collaboration tools need to ensure complete control over security and potential data exposure issues. “Auditing is important,” Gillin said. “I would say you want something that’s slipstreams easily into the existing workflow.”

Implementation Alone Is Not Enough

Organizations also need to think beyond just deploying collaboration tools and focus on improving adoption of them, said Shel Holtz, enterprise collaboration consultant and founder of Holtz Communication + Technology (HC+T).

 “At many organizations, there seems to be this ‘Field of Dreams’ mentality of ‘if you build it they will come’,” Holtz says.

But it’s not merely enough to make a collaboration tool available and then do little to foster adoption. Email, for instance, continues to be the primary communication tool inside enterprises even though they are very inefficient compared to the communications enabled by modern collaboration software. Yet, few organizations have made a concerted push to wean employees away from their dependence on email.

“You do want to influence behavior for people to adopt collaborative tools,” Holtz says. “You have to put some effort into the adoption phase and market this to employees.” Organizations with a good internal communications group should use it, in conjunction with IT and the human resources group to actively push the use of collaboration tools, he says.

Modeling Behavior

Leaders also need to model behavior with regard to enterprise collaboration tools– while recognizing the use and adoption of such tools by employees, Holtz says.

At the end of the day, IT organizations need to ensure they are delivering collaboration tools that employees actually will use. Deploying a tool simply because it is free or came bundled with other enterprise software is a recipe for failure, Holtz says.

 “If employees don’t see value in it from the start,” he says, “they are not going to use it at all.”

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