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The maturation of enterprise social collaboration

Creating a fully-networked business

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Enterprise social collaboration (SoCo) technologies are rapidly maturing from their origins as internal corporate versions of the public consumer social networking services, like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and others.

What’s emerging is a new kind of collaboration platform, which we see transforming the way enterprise knowledge work gets done.

The success of consumer social networking services served as the initial inspiration for adding a people-centric, social component to the enterprise collaboration picture, but the needs of the enterprise workforce are different from the consumer space. Let’s remember a couple of the premises that underlie consumer social networking services:

  1. Most sharing in consumer social networks happens by someone taking time away from their day-to-day activities to go onto a collaboration platform and write a blog entry or status update.
  2. Content on consumer social networks is consumed by someone, which takes time away from their day-to-day work to go onto the collaboration platform and read what others have written.

While these assumptions led to incredibly rapid adoption of consumer social networking, translating that success into the enterprise context has required significant adaptation. Experience has shown that while a few dedicated blogger types will actually take time from their day-to-day activities to produce content on these networks, most people can’t, won’t and perhaps shouldn’t. Because most enterprise knowledge workers are usually in a very goal/task-oriented mode while at work, social platforms are only likely to see heavy, sustained use within the enterprise if using them leads directly to getting day-to-day work done more effectively and efficiently.

This is exactly the evolution we’re now seeing in leading SoCo platforms: by combining social technologies with key knowledge management and groupware functionality, they’re becoming comprehensive cloud-based social collaboration platforms.

For instance, we’ve started seeing enterprise social networks augmented with functionality like task and project management functions, collaborative document authoring, customisable team pages that serve as collaboration cockpits, wikis that can be used to share (and even crowd-source) everything from meeting notes to group mission statements and integration with the desktop, enterprise and cloud-based applications knowledge workers already use.

In other words, instead of places knowledge workers go when they can take time away from their day-to-day work, these platforms are becoming places employees go to do their day-to-day work, and the means through which the important information about day-to-day work is systematically shared, with very little effort on the part of the sharer. The point of adopting SoCo in the enterprise is not to create an enterprise of bloggers, it’s to leverage the social and interest graphs to drive actionable awareness of what others are actually doing.

Based on our use of a leading SoCo platform to carry out our own R&D work, we believe that the potential benefits are far-reaching:

  • Providing distributed teams with fine-grained awareness they need for effective coordination of day-to-day activities.
  • Helping members of adjacent teams maintain the systematic peripheral awareness of what related teams are doing in order to ensure alignment.
  • Allowing colleagues across the enterprise (or even the extended enterprise including customers, suppliers and contractors who may not even know each other) to avoid duplication of effort, and seize opportunities to join forces which might otherwise have been missed.
  • Giving management the birds-eye view they need of the collaborative activity patterns within their organisations.

The success of the modern enterprise depends, as much as anything, on the ability to bring the best thinking to bear on every project and problem. Geographic distribution and organisational silos can make this especially challenging. We use the term, ‘Fully Networked Enterprise’ to describe companies that have the ingredients to overcome those challenges.

Of course, technology is only part of the puzzle: it’s most crucial to have the right people and culture, but it’s also critical to make it convenient for those people to co-create, coordinate team activity, stay abreast of developments in related parts of the organization and to learn from each other. The newly emerging SoCo platforms promise to provide the technology needed to make the fully networked enterprise a reality.

Posted by:

Alex Kass,  Senior Research Manager at Accenture Technology Labs. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn

Jordan Buller, Product Management at Accenture Technology Labs. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn

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