A few years ago, Gartner research found that some 80% of investments in collaboration technology failed to deliver the results expected of it. But we also know that collaboration is essential to good business. In fact, in a recent editorial, strategy+business highlighted clarity and collaboration as the key determinants of organizational effectiveness.
The editorial says research has shown that effective collaboration can do wonders for everything from productivity to loyalty, whilst also reducing the churn rate associated with disaffected employees.
So how do you choose what collaboration tool is best for your organization?
It’s over a decade since enterprise 2.0 emerged. The market has grown considerably, and is now worth tens of billions around the world. As such, the sector has become very competitive, with dozens of vendors each claiming to solve all of your problems. Those claims can be tempting to believe, but here are some things you should take into account when making your decision to help ensure that your investment is truly a successful one.
Is your culture ripe for collaboration?
Whilst the financial cost associated with buying collaboration software is substantial, the political costs can be even greater. When you ask people to collaborate with one another there has to be a level of mutual trust that each side is working for the collective good. The moment there is any breakdown in trust, any hopes of collaboration evaporate.
If employees are ultra-competitive and their salaries are based upon how well they do as individuals then it is unlikely that any kind of collaboration will succeed. Getting the right software is undoubtedly important, but you also need to give considerable thought to the softer aspects associated with collaboration.
For our purposes today, let’s assume your organization works in a team-oriented environment. With that as our starting point…
How do your teams work?
The first step is to understand precisely how your teams tend to work. Are projects handled in a very structured way with lots of standardized workflows and frequent project meetings, or is work a lot more unstructured with tasks completed on an ad hoc basis? This is a crucial first step so that you can ensure you get the tool you need to support your employees in the most effective way possible. Once you’ve figured out how your teams usually work, you can begin to explore what goals you want your software to help you reach.
What do you want to achieve?
Broadly speaking, you should be looking to achieve three main outcomes from your collaborative efforts.
- More sales;
- More innovation; and
- Better processes.
Collaboration is a means to an end—never forget that. Your priorities among these outcomes will have an impact on the kind of tool you want to consider to support staff, because collaborating over new ideas is very different from collaborating to generate new sales. From there, these three outcome goals should allow you to clearly measure your collaboration and determine how effective it is. Doing this will enable you to assess which of your collaboration efforts are worth continuing, and which need to be ditched.
How user-friendly is the tool?
The purchasing of enterprise software is usually in the hands of the IT department, and so it’s a common trap to assume that the rest of the organization has the same level of skills as people in the IT team. There have been some considerable improvements in usability across the industry as the sector has matured, but it still varies, so this is certainly something you need to consider when selecting your tool.
How important is security to you?
The importance of security is likely to depend heavily on the purpose of the platform, the industry you work in and the job roles of users. Whilst most platforms will attempt to address basic issues around privacy and data management, if you have specific regulatory requirements, then you will likely require a vendor that specializes in your industry.
This will be especially urgent with regulations coming into force such as Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) affecting a wide range of industries and how they manage customer data. The regulation, which takes effect in 2018, has had a long lead time so I suspect most vendors are prepared for it, but it’s important to make sure the available tools align with your internal processes for data governance.
How easy is it to integrate with your existing IT system?
Enterprise IT systems are complex beasts, and so it’s crucial that whatever collaboration tool you use integrates effectively with the legacy systems you already have in place. Whether it’s managing documents, communicating with colleagues, accessing customer information, or understanding project progress or budget issues, a host of software tools already support your employees’ work.
There will typically be a sliding scale for this integration, as some tools won’t integrate at all, whilst some integrate perfectly (often because they’re made by the same vendor). You will almost certainly need to undertake a change management process regardless, both from a technical standpoint and from a user standpoint.
And the winner is…
You! If you consider all these criteria carefully before you invest, your organization stands the best possible chance of successfully choosing, integrating and benefiting from a collaboration tool. Don’t be a statistic. Be strategic!
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