Having been at the heart of social and collaboration since 1996 (no, I’m not kidding) it is interesting to see how large organizations that are doing social well (>80% employees are active) actually are doing it.
The interesting thing is most of these organizations are not using just one service or platform. They are using two or three, often with some additional small solutions for niche situations (niche for them). They are also not planning on migrating to one solution (most tried and it didn’t go well), at least for any foreseeable future.
There is No One Way
The reality of doing social well is embracing the understanding there is no universal, no master narrative, and no one right way. Yes, we are all human, but we are not all wired exactly the same. The different personality types, different mental models, and many different cultures in an organization (and world outside) that comprise reality require embracing that reality with more than one approach.
No organization started out to do this, it just happened. This begins with IT often wanting just one solution that works for everybody, as that makes their job more manageable (often they select something from a vendor they already work with). Often what IT provides for the organization doesn’t work well enough for sections of the organization (often large portions of the organization), as it didn’t meet their needs nor mental models. Over the last 5 to 8 years getting a good social / collaboration solution needed relatively little effort for a division or group as it often runs in the cloud (meaning it doesn’t need IT) and could fit on a credit card for the team or a division’s PO so it is small enough to fly under the radar, so getting a right fit solution has been easy. Not only was it easy, but it has worked rather well, as it fits the needs and people use them rather heavily.
Where this has ended up after 2 to 8 years is many different social and collaboration services in an organization, that until recently haven’t really talked to each other well. Teams, groups, divisions, etc. need to talk and work together and so IT was getting back involved to get everybody on one solution. The trouble is, you can’t remove what works from the different parties.
Why There is More Than One Solution Working Well
When you try to remove a well used solution you realize it is really difficult to move to one platform. While it is a pain the most difficult piece is not porting the data, interactions, and differing privacy models. It is not retraining people (if heavy retraining is needed the selection made may really be the right selection), but this is just a symptom of the real issue. The biggest hurdle is there isn’t one universal model. There will never be a universal model that works, unless is it heavily based on adaption, but no vendor remotely close to delivering on that yet.
Most of the well used social and collaboration platform vendors have understood they really need to understand their users well. They did user testing and mapped their products to their user’s mental models and needs. But, the thing is their users are not universal (they are a subset of the whole) but tied to the people and personality types that have long bought their software / services. The users they researched and tested on have been those parts of the organizations that buy their products. This is not the whole of the organization that they focussed on, but the slice that is their customer base.
This is why Salesforce Chatter works really well for sales and marketing, but the other 65% to 80% of the organization won’t go near it nor live in it the way sales and marketing people do. Similar for SharePoint as it is honed (and really not well) for tech centered folks or needs to be heavily optimized, but there are extremely few organizations with the depth of roles needed to modify SharePoint to get it to be easily usable widely in an organization. Jive works really well for knowledge workers (and even information workers). The innovation and leading edge teams and groups (it doesn’t scale up yet and works best with smaller groups) are often using Slack (there is no chance in hell you can remove Slack and they are likely the best minds and change makers in an organization whom you really don’t want to piss off and have leave - if you don’t think you have Slack users you either don’t have highly productive innovation folks or you aren’t looking hard enough). There are a myriad of smaller targeted solutions for a wide variety of roles, functional areas and personality types that are perfect for their niches (some with millions of users - with around 2 billion technology enabled people on the planet it is quiet easy to have a niche of a few million users).
So, What Do We Do Now
Organizations that are moving toward doing social and collaboration well fall into two camps: 1) One social platform that is decent, but not great usage is doing great in parts of the organization, but untouched in others; 2) There are many platforms in the organization and there is a strong need to get people working together across the now disparate groups.
The first step is realize there is no getting to one system. Be fine with that reality. But, realize you can likely reduce the number of systems.
Now, the harder goal, is getting products integrated, which is beyond just simple traditional integration. To do this well it takes deeply understanding the different personality types, roles, and mental models in the organization and not following a tech schematic that most integrators use as their blueprint.
The first step is to bring in people who understand the differences in the social platforms, beyond what the checkboxes say and vendors say. These people usually have strong social science backgrounds, have worked in large organizations along the way, and have been working (helps if managed, designed, and / or developed) with social and collaboration services more than a decade.
Likely this person (or people) will be from outside the organization. It is rare such a person will be inside, so getting them access to the services will be required - as many organizations have rules against outsiders having access to platforms but it is needed for research to get honest insight and feedback with good research non-disclosure guidelines in place.
“We Have One Solution” Organizations
If you are one of those “we have one solution” organizations, I’m hoping that one solutions is one that plays well with others, as those are a great starting points. Right now the best of these is Jive, as it seems they understand they are not out to rule the world, but play very well with the world and all the needed tools and services that employees use to get the job done. Jive also has a well laid out plug-in and module mindset that includes Open Social (this only is a partial solution so far as it isn’t full interoperation capable yet) to get outside content in. But Jive and Salesforce Chatter can integrate and work relatively seamlessly (if the right versions each are in place) with each in their own platform and well honed interface for their own user’s mental models. This is a really good example of where the future resides.
With the one solution that may not have really broad adoption, work to sort out who in the organization is not participating or has lower use rates. Spend time gathering the data and mapping patterns. It will likely start to frame divisions, roles, and personality types that are rather clear to see representing those not using it (also refine the understanding of who IS using it, as you don’t really want to mess with success of employees along the way).
Mapping the gaps where people are not using the tools, as well as why not, will start as a guide. In this mapping and research there will be other solutions used that may not be known (sometimes these are used widely - beyond 10% of the organization is where wide starts) and capturing and understanding what they are and why they are used is going to be essential. Finding and understanding the myriad of options out there to map to roles, sub-cultures, and personality types, as well as interoperation will be essential. Trying a few different options and having change management and internal communications involved will help things as well.
“We Right Fit Solutions” Organizations
The first step with organizations that have many known solutions is to do a full capture and audit of all platforms and services used, as there are likely more than what is known. Also be comfortable with the reality that there will likely be more than one solution at the end, but hopefully they will play well together.
In the capturing what is being used and by whom, learn what they do, how they do it, and why. Learn, what could they live with out (or what they rarely if ever use) and what is essential. Watch people work. One of the most important things is discern if they are working in closed groups, open groups, or if they are using one of the rare platforms that allows reseting permissions so to start closed and once honed and vetted they share more openly (this is a valuable capability in a solution). Map the differences between groups and tools (a serious benefit of having outsiders do the research and mapping).
Once everything is captured and mapped the hard work begins. The solutions is going to be different for each organization, but interoperability is going to be a key component. There will likely need to be a tool or service at the center that other systems work into, out of, and around. Understanding the multiple cultures, differences, capabilities, privacy, security, user work needs, underlying data models, and availability of APIs are going to play roles in working through to a workable solution. Depending on the organization mobile, what tools (the non-collab and social services) it integrates with and how, organizational make-up (including if an organization that has been acquiring other companies and / or has plans to), virtual work environments and needs, data / document storage models, adaptive to change, and much more are going to play very important roles in working to a good way forward.
It is important to keep organizational external boundary crossing in mind. Working with clients, consultants, and other valuable external resources in a closed system is really helpful. Having few services that are used with outside resources is a good thing from the perspective of keeping external parties confusion to a minimum. A services for document haring (like Box) along with a community and / or collaboration space is a good fit and keeps confusion to a minimum.
While There Is No One Way There Can Be Fewer
Many organizations hope to get to just one platform, but getting to a few that are optimized for large portions of the organization and their needs are going to be really helpful. This gets the advantages of productivity gains and efficiency that can come form services honed from solid user testing from vendors that match the people working in the tools (there will always be more user experience optimization needed, but it will be much less).