When I started working in news media almost 15 years ago, our office had some sweet, beige Apple Quadra desktops and a few of those colored Apple clamshell laptops with the tiny screens. The fastest computer in the building had a single 1Ghz processor at that time. Newspapers were notoriously cheap on hardware, and pretty much everything else. But the news, like the mail, never ended. It was a cycle of constant work for the reporters, photographers, and the people whose technology I served up on a daily basis. We upgraded some network hardware here, added a new server there, and made do with the rest. But the main things that needed to stay up and running were legacy software apps from a niche newspaper software provider who is probably long gone now. Well, that, and the Eudora mail server. The software let the reporters work on stories with each other across the network, and it allowed them to measure word counts and column inches so their stories fit the page flows that were setup in the editorial meetings. It wasn't even real-time editing like Google Docs, but it was the best available solution at the time. I didn't realize it back then, but it was really the first collaborative software I worked with, and it was the lifeblood of newsrooms at the time.
Today, I spend much of my time working with businesses that need to collaborate and work together across teams and geographies in the most efficient and smart ways possible. They ask for direction on how to choose platforms that are rock solid, have specific features, allow for integration with mail, have notifications, and keep the organization as close to real-time, low latency decision making as possible.
This type of software is not necessarily niche or even hard to find anymore. The number of companies migrating to technologies like Office 365 and Google Apps for Work have skyrocketed in the last three years. Social platforms like Jive, Salesforce, and Yammer have started to dominate areas that were previously thought reserved for Microsoft and Oracle 10 years ago.
Collaboration tools are becoming the lifeblood of every company. The questions now really become
- Which tools best fit my business?
- How do I integrate with my legacy systems that aren't as collaborative?
- How can I connect with my customers and with partners on the web, extranet, and intranet?
- How do I negotiate contracts so that I am not subject to vendor lock in forever?
This is the new normal, and I would imagine almost every CIO or CTO is probably in the midst of working on a social platform for their business, or seriously considering one soon. The current generation of workers expect collaborative tools that allow them to work on docs together, search for information, and view their work from any device anywhere in the world. It even becomes a question of talent acquisition for many organizations at this point. If your answer to the questions above are, "We have SharePoint," you should be prepared for some disappointment in the technical outcomes and impact on your talent recruitment efforts because of it. SharePoint is really lacking in any sort of collaborative abilities and let's be honest, with the purchase of Yammer in 2012, even Microsoft knows that SharePoint can't hang in that space.
Yes, you heard that right. Your corporate technology for collaboration could be hurting your talent acquisition abilities. We are in a talent landscape that is the most competitive I have ever seen. To the people that understand today's technology standards, your organizational toolkit makes a difference. And you want to hire the ones that know the difference. Those people may be digital natives, but they definitely have educated themselves on the commoditized world of technology. Their phone might be faster than the computer you offer them to work on, and they will expect that they can use their phone or tablet for most tasks that they are asked to do.
The pace of work and the way people work has changed dramatically and so have the tools to do so. Just like that old Apple Quadra my photo editors worked on, your intranet or customer portal may need an upgrade, or maybe you are thinking or moving to Office 365 or Google Apps and don't know where to start. One of the things you can do is go over this short readiness checklist to decide if your organization is on the right path to make the next step in your business collaboration efforts.
Social Business Readiness Checklist
1. (People) Do you have the right talent?
A. I can't overstate the importance of an experienced team of subject matter experts (SMEs) who know a little bit about creating a thriving social business environment and the current communication methods. If you don't have some passionate and knowledgeable people in place to be champions and advocates for the good of the project, this initiative will die on the vine.
B. People are the life blood of collaboration, and the adoption of these tools is dependent on everyone knowing why the business invested in this project and what the tools are used for. SMEs and project champions will help with the change management at all levels of the organization.
2. (Process) Do you have process in place to support it?
A. When someone uses a company collaboration tool to bad-mouth a leader, or to simply talk negatively, do you have a process in place to identify and remove poorly thought-out comments? Do you leave them up? Knowing what to do when things go a little off the rails is important for your business liability as well as the integrity of the platforms. The more open your guidelines, the better.
B. Does everyone know what is stored where? Do you have a clear path for people to learn how to interact on your technology? Your team will feel more comfortable if you have defined some of these guidelines in advance. Think about things like the best process to start a project or the ideal types of documents to share.
3. (Policies) Do you have policies and guidelines in place to support employees' social behavior?
A. An established and overarching corporate social policy will help guide employees when they start using the social channels on the intranet and online. How to act and how to treat others online, is a key component of a social ecosystem. You will want to help set the ground rules for how people interact with each other that foster engagement and give employees some ownership, without which this initiative couldn’t succeed.
B. Having a social policy should also help the business mitigate risk and define what the horizon should look like when employees start representing the corporate brand online. It should cover things like exposure of company data, confidentiality, and of course, personal responsibility.
4. Technology – Do you have a platform(s) selected?
A. Evaluating software packages for business needs is an exceptionally complicated process. You have SLA agreements, licensing models, features sets to match business use cases among other things. All of these items need to be taken into account when evaluating the best packages or platforms to drive social collaboration at your workplace. It is best if you have clarified your vision for the tool to guide the decision-making process.
B. If you aren't exceedingly familiar with the tools available and the best practices across the industry, it may be worth considering a technology partner to help with the process. From my work on these projects, I have helped as early as first defining if a collaborative tool makes sense. From there, I clarify and identify the many variables from my experiences with other companies. With the benefit of historical knowledge, the business leader can make an informed decision.
Of course, once you make a selection and ready your business for the change, you will want to ensure that any social tool is implemented to work with your existing technology. That's one of the reasons why Springthrough has a process dedicated to both strategy and implementation has a process dedicated to both strategy and implementation. We help companies not only evaluate the best social technology solutions, but then we can implement the solution to make sure your end vision is fulfilled.
The process can seem daunting, but the end result can be a tool that not only makes your employees more efficient, but also makes their work-life more enjoyable.