Collaboration in the enterprise comes in many forms, but no trends have shaped the market more than social media and mobile technology. The ongoing convergence of smartphones, always-on connectivity and ubiquitous social media lifts collaboration to new heights.
While effective corporate collaboration is a worthy goal, it's often too ambiguous. Business managers and consultants are eager to talk about collaboration, but many of them simply check the collaboration boxes on their to-do lists and move on to the next task. Collaboration can, of course, be an effective means to accomplish a task, or it can be an ongoing objective, as long as it's done the right way. Even with a plethora of tools optimized for mobile devices and designed to simplify and utilize the popular attributes of social media, collaboration has to begin with the right strategy.
"You need to have a strategy to figure out, 'What is our goal, what are we trying to achieve, what are we trying to be?,' and align that with the broader learning, talent and collaboration strategies where these types of tools would have a big impact," according to Nisha Sharma, managing director at Accenture Mobility.
"It's not just about using a tool, it's about integrating those tools and embedding them into your core business processes," Sharma says. "And one of the goals of mobile is to transform those business processes."
Sharma says mobility isn't about using a mobile device just for the sake of using a smartphone or tablet; instead, it's about transforming the way you work, via mobile tools.
"If an enterprise doesn't really incorporate this into their work, then sometimes those tools become more of a burden than a useful tool," Sharma says. "That's why it's important to integrate these tools into your work so that it just becomes nature, rather than 'Oh, I have to go here and do this additional task.'"
Mobile Helps Realize Collaboration's Full Potential
Collaboration is ultimately about focusing on a specific task and fulfilling associated responsibilities in cheaper and more efficient ways. Collaboration is also a buzzword and can mean different things to different people.
"Don't just look at these collaboration tools as about chatting and sharing... it goes way beyond that," Sharma says.
Today's collaboration tools can be used for a variety of additional purposes, according to Sharma, including the following:
Structured learning and performance support, such as remote IT access to help employees resolve issues
Interacting with colleagues conference calls, screen sharing and virtual whiteboard sessions
Real-time collaboration, such as the use of wearables among technicians working in the field
Forrester Research Senior Analyst TJ Keitt says businesses generally make better decisions when they're based on conversations or discussions between many people. "Mobile devices open up participation, because they allow those who aren't sitting at a computer to join the dialogue," Keitt says.
Mobile devices negate the need for fixed desks and workstation that access information, so companies can expand their definitions of what makes an information worker. "Now more people can access data and tap a deeper pool of knowledge as desk-less employees can contribute their expertise," according to Keitt.
Collaboration as an Efficiency Tactic
Keitt says getting people to work together shouldn't be the end goal. Instead the interactions between employees should advance an organization's underlying mission.
Collaboration tools can help businesses enter new markets, roll out new products and retain high-value employees. Goals frequently change, which makes finding the right tool for the task all the more important. However, little progress will be made without an enthusiastic user base that's committed to the challenge and opportunity.
"These tools should not just be an IT initiative," Sharma says. "You need to include all the people that are going to use this or have some voice in how it should work, and what it should be used for. It's not just about you, it's about all the people you're working with."
After a business determines its requirements and understands its unique challenges for employees, it can begin to search for the appropriate tools and capabilities, according to Sharma.
Many companies' plans get derailed during implementation. It's best for businesses to use simple, intuitive tools, but the need for training and ongoing support is also crucial, Sharma says.
Collaboration Represents Potential Threat to CIOs
CIOs can lead collaboration efforts and potentially elevate their roles in the process. Collaboration can help every employee within a company succeed when it's done well, so CIOs could help affect each staffer in the same consistent and cost-effective way, Sharma says.
However, many social technologies are being integrated into business applications that are not controlled by IT, and this poses a threat to CIOs.
These types of tools and collaboration apps "could potentially be part of a larger trend toward IT, and by extension CIOs, not controlling elements of the employee technology portfolio," Keitt says. To mitigate the threat, CIOs can argue for the unification of social streams, to eliminate information silos that prevent rapid decision making, according to Keitt.
"That would require either consolidation of social collaboration tools or the integration of disparate technologies, both of which provide a management role for the IT group," Keitt says.