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The Social Business Collaboration Lie

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.


Selling social business collaboration tools by quoting industry results, can cause decision makers to jump for the buy button. While it shows what the leaders in social business collaboration can achieve, just implementing collaboration tools without a strategy to combine social, business and IT will lead to project failure.

Planning and Effort Required

In an article for CMSWire, Kevin Conroy shows what these leaders consider when embarking on social business transformation. Key factors to achieve success include focusing on sharing business-critical data rather than easy-to-access data and making internal experts highly accessible and identifiable. Furthermore, securing mobile access to collaboration tools and enabling project management beyond data and document sharing are essential.

A theme that runs throughout each of these factors is leadership adoption and engagement. If leaders from all areas of the business are not actively using the system and acting as its champions, then a perfect-fit social business system will struggle to return value for the investment.

Conroy argues that all success factors must be present for a successful business collaboration solution to occur, since a social business initiative is no different than any other business investment. The right solution must serve the business and fit with the culture; conversely, there must be a business cultural change plan. Labeling it as a social project does not remove the rigor required of any other technology investment or business change.

Technology Temptations

Social business technologies can be tempting for IT professionals because the IT department is the home of early adopters, where people are able to envision how a new technology solves a standard operational use case. However, comfort with technology may not be consistent throughout the entire business, since resistance to change or discomfort with new technology can run deep outside of IT areas. The perfect fit technology is less obvious when there is no motivation or reason to change what is not universally viewed as broken. Simply providing technology without planning and a guided business cultural change led by the C-suite does not equal adoption.

Middle Road to Success

Success stories for social business collaboration implementations may be difficult to find, but that may be due to the rush to adopt before fully understanding the business benefits. Very small companies may have the easiest path for implementation, as the use of collaboration tools simply mimics existing office dynamics and does not necessarily add value. Large companies will need significantly long lead times to overcome the cultural silos between internal departments as well as their wider geographic distribution.

Midsize businesses straddle these two realities: they are small enough to generate a common social culture if one does not already exist, yet large enough that the addition of an easy path to cooperation and collaboration between different firms or physical areas will add value to the business. This value is more than an electronic version of a communal lunch table for random chitchat, because it fits with the way business is performed and solves existing business needs.

Build it and they will come only works in the movies. The real world takes planning and effort.

This article was written by Jason Hannula.

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