Thoughts on social collaboration tools

Apr 1, 2013

"Companies are struggling to understand how to fit social technologies into their culture. Most are seeing one or more consumer-based social solutions being adopted by individuals and teams, often without central IT support, resulting in widespread social activity across platforms. The problem is that there is rarely a unified plan, no understanding of how these tools will work together, no visibility into where content is coming from, going to, or who is viewing or editing that content.

Data is being lost, and productivity challenged by not approaching social with real intent. Most organizations look at social for the features, going with their “gut feel” that providing these tools will magically get people to talk more, share information across teams, and add relevance to quickly expanding knowledge management repositories. The problem is that tracking the business value of quantitative tools and systems is relatively easy, while qualitative tools are difficult to measure. For example, the benefits of a ticketing system can be easily measured: we’ve reduced the number of trouble tickets months-over-month, the time to close tickets has been reduced by 45%, and so forth. But how do you measure the qualitative? What are your metrics for providing more inclusive and comprehensive collaboration across a business? Don’t get me wrong — there are ways to measure the benefits, but you have to get creative, refining and adjusting your measurements as you monitor progress.

Unfortunately, most organizations don’t even get to the point where they are devising KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for social. It’s new and it’s difficult to measure, therefore most people just don’t understand where it fits into their overall enterprise collaboration plans. We really are at the beginning of the curve with social, and there is most definitely a learning curve.

Social is not about following what your co-worker had for breakfast this morning, or about the fact that he just became the “mayor” of his local gym. The biggest thing missing from the crop of tools available today is that social needs to be managed within enterprise settings. What this means and to what scale are open for discussion, but my point here is that social interactions need to fit into the secure, compliant, and scalable practices of your other enterprise systems, and right now, most companies are just not there yet.

Why should the CIO care about social? Why should she or he risk punching a hole in the firewall to allow the latest social fad/toy to invade the halls of their company?

Below are a few reasons why social will drive both productivity and business value:

1. Social is about enhancing the user experience

End users are constantly looking for ways to improve their own personal productivity and their team’s by sharing data, links and tools with their peers. Social tools provide a conversational layer within your enterprise systems for these interactions. We are social creatures — we gravitate toward these kinds of individual and team connections, therefore the systems we use need to more closely match the ways in which we interact.

2. Social is about data

All of these social interactions generate data – whether they are tags we apply as we upload content, ratings, likes, timestamps for when we edit, or the patterns created by content we consume and share. The more we interact with a document, for example, the more we make that document relevant and findable within search. As we socialize that document, we share and connect content to people, to projects, and to ideas. Every connection, every touch, has the ability to create a data point which can be measured, mapped, and utilized to enhance the data and to benefit the enterprise.

3. Social is about adding context to content

To some degree, you can generate machine data around your content to improve search and eDiscovery. There are tools that can read your content, parse through each page, generate keywords, and populate your collaboration platform in a way that will improve search and usability. But nothing can replace the ability of the human brain to correlate data, and make connections between people, content, and ideas in ways that a machine could never duplicate. Through social interaction, we add ourselves, our opinions, and experiences to the context of the content we create and consume.

4. Social is about search

Social is another layer of the search experience. At the end of the day, if you are adding content to your system and cannot find it again, you’ve failed. Whether looking for a project document from an archived customer deployment, trying to find a skill match within your employee base for a new project with specialized requirements, or sorting through millions of rows of data to visualize patterns and trends within the data — search is fundamental to how we work. Because of the data created, because of the correlation individuals make between seemingly disparate data points — social is our path to the contextual web.

5. Social is about extending interaction across multiple apps or platforms

Collaboration is, by definition, a social activity. Collaboration fails when people retrench into their silos, when tools and processes hit the wall within one team and don’t have visibility into the necessary data and people across the wall, or within other teams across the organization. There is no single tool or method that fits the needs of every individual or team, but by providing a means for open dialogue so that common denominators can be found social can be — will be — a thread between tools, apps, and platforms."

Read the original article "Making A Case For Social Collaboration Tools" at