by Matt Kapko

Why CIOs can’t sell enterprise collaboration tools

Apr 15, 20155 mins
CIOCollaboration SoftwareEnterprise Applications

Collaboration platforms offer the promise to eliminate unnecessary meetings, phone calls and other time-consuming interactions. However, to s쳮d those tools have to perform better than the incumbent, which for most people is still email.

social collaborationtools thinkstock
Credit: Thinkstock

Enterprise collaboration is a dubious pursuit. You can almost sense its impending failure the minute it gets introduced to a workforce and becomes just another tool that employees are supposed to use.

It doesn’t help when CIOs downplay the value of collaboration tools by simply procuring something that meets the lowest common denominator and enables them to check another item off their to-do list.

“There’s a lot of failures in enterprise collaboration, loosely termed, because people don’t really know what they’re aiming for so obviously they don’t hit it,” says Joel Confino, CEO and founder of the enterprise Q&A platform Haydle.

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The promise of collaboration is to replace face-to-face communication, but if the implementation isn’t well-planned, it can’t become something extra that people have to do, Confino says. Collaboration also has to perform better than the incumbent, which is email for most people.

CIOs must lead by example

CIOs can’t merely launch a tool and tell employees to go forth and collaborate. The C suite needs to lead by example and use these new tools to accomplish meaningful business objectives.

“The majority of these implementations are underperforming and plenty of them are just outright ghost towns,” says Confino.

Why these tools are failing to supplant a technology as static as email is a question vexing the minds of countless IT managers. The reason for enterprise collaboration is still so hazy that relatively few CIOs agree on what challenges lie ahead.

CIOs and other IT decision makers face a host of challenges in their pursuit of enterprise collaboration, some of which are ingrained into the culture of their companies. Resistance to change is the obstacle facing CIOs at most companies and the reasons could include anything from workplace culture to perceived cost and complexity, says Scott McCool, group vice president of IT and CIO at Polycom.

Collaboration continues beyond office walls

One of the biggest challenges is determining how to implement enterprise collaboration in cross-functional manner, says John Abel, senior vice president of IT at Hitachi Data Systems,

“Teams are pretty good at communicating within their own group but when it comes to integrating across departments silos tend to happen, which ultimately becomes problematic when each team needs to align on certain campaigns or key topics,” he says.

NetScout’s CIO and Senior Vice President of Services Ken Boyd says the landscape of collaboration tools available today makes it difficult to pick the best ones for a specific workforce.

“Locating a collaboration tools provider that can offer the right balance for the needs of our enterprise users can be a significant challenge,” he says. There are many point solutions for voice, video, chat and document collaboration, but splicing together those solutions from multiple vendors isn’t always the most productive or cost -effective method.

CIOs should pick tools that address specific needs

Landing at the best solution requires critical thinking and planning, and time to investigate, assess, negotiate, evaluate and integrate, says Boyd, adding that it’s important for CIOs to pick the right provider from the start.

“There is an atomic shift taking place in how the enterprise operates, and so the CIO and CIO’s team must decide whether [on-]premises and cloud-based collaboration tools can and will address the needs of the enterprise users — anytime, anywhere, and on any device — plus smoothly work between business and consumer applications,” says Boyd.

CIOs must also navigate and please the different age groups, says Chris McKewon, founder and CEO of the managed services provider Xceptional Networks.

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Millennials are more comfortable with video, short messaging and have embraced newer collaboration tools like Slack and HipChat while older execs are still trying to master WebEx and GoToMeeting, and unfortunately there’s no common ground, McKewon says.

“CIOs need to shift their mindset, strategies and projects to be more inclusive and collaborative,” says Shamlan Siddiqi, vice president of architecture and application development at the systems integrator NTT Data.

The biggest challenges, according to Siddiqi, are organizational buy-in on major transformational decisions, employee adoption, sustainable engagement, security, content quality, standardization and tool selection.

Collaboration drives results with impact

Brian Pillar, IT manager at the software firm TechSmith, agrees that adoption is a major challenge. Enterprise collaboration tools rarely come cheap, so making sure the organization rallies around the new platform is key.

Organizations will never realize their return on investment for collaboration until individuals or teams stop creating workarounds to avoid an enterprise collaboration tool altogether, says Pillar.

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Ruven Gotz, director of collaboration services at the IT solutions vendor Avanade, says collaboration is about helping people work together to achieve more meaningful and impactful outcomes.

As such, the biggest challenges lie in approaching collaboration with the right mindset, he says.

“Technology is an amplifier of human touch and interaction. Its effectiveness in enabling collaboration is entirely dependent on achieving results with methods that make sense to the way people actually accomplish work,” says Gotz

“You really have to understand the true nature of the business results you seek to achieve,” says Gotz.

If you can’t see the business result you seek to achieve, take the time to stop and find it. If you can’t rationalize a process that is simple to understand, don’t try to automate it, he says.

“Understand what the tool imposes on the experience,” says Gotz. “Don’t let the tool bind natural human interaction.”