Challenges to Collaboration Deployment

And you thought I wasn’t going to blog anymore…WRONG! Just getting practical. I’m also going to be dumping my half-crazed ramblings that I started writing but never got into a coherent state. This is the first of those. Enjoy…

There is a lot of uncertainty in the Information Management space these days. Is Case Management the future of Enterprise Content Management? How much will SharePoint 2010 impact the market? Where is all of this Enterprise 2.0 and Cloud hype going to take us? The one factor that has not changed is the need for people to collaborate online to get work done. The real question is, why is it sometimes so hard to deploy a collaborative solution?

The Big Collaboration Picture

Collaboration, simply put, is multiple people working together to accomplish a goal. They could be working a case, using SharePoint to manage a project, or leveraging the Cloud for content sharing. In all situations, they are working together. Take the solitary case worker who collaborates with others simply by searching to find similar cases to the one sitting in front of them. Even if the person that worked the old case is no longer around, they are still collaborating to some degree.

Knowledge Management efforts of the 90s were based around this model. The challenge was how to capture the knowledge of employees and convince them to enter it into the system. Needless to say, this failed. Part of the failure was because it just seemed like more work to the people involved, which it was. They had to take time out of their day in order to enter information for little gain to themselves.

While many blamed the technology and the lack of incentives, the core of the problem sometimes comes down to culture. The first question you need to ask yourself is if people want to collaborate on their work.

A Collaborative Culture

The question to be asked before any technology is even considered is, “Do people want to collaborate?” To those that grew up with Facebook and MySpace, this seems like a silly question, but it is of utmost importance. Even older people that have no problem sharing what they did over the weekend online may have a completely different pattern of behavior at work.

You can tell people that collaborating will help the company operate more efficiently and build a usable knowledge base of information for everyone to draw upon, but most people don’t care. They want to know how it will make their job easier or get them more money. If collaborating with the new system makes them more replaceable, they are less likely to use it. If they can see how their job will be easier by eliminating frustrations and allow them to focus on getting things done, then they will listen.

Let’s look at two examples.

In the U.S. Intelligence community before 9/11, collaboration was limited. It wasn’t that people didn’t want to share information; there just wasn’t a mechanism to enable that level of sharing. Afterwards, management removed many of the barriers and Intellipedia was able to enable cross-agency sharing. It was a situation of a collaborative community just waiting for an enabling technology.

Let’s look in a large insurance company. Some people have worked there and have gained a reputation as the expert in all of the rules and regulations regarding the Ad Review process (which is not simple). In fact, they may be jealously guarding that expertise as a form of job security. Usually when I encounter a situation with an expert like this, I can be sure that there are many more experts that have spent years becoming indispensable within the same company.

In the second situation, it doesn’t matter how good the technology deployed is because people aren’t going to use it without a compelling reason.

Making Collaboration a Core Business Value

To accomplish this, there needs to be clear gains for people.

Let’s face facts; there are some people that will never want to collaborate. It isn’t in their blood. If you can make the organization much more open to collaboration, those people will eventually become less critical in executing the daily business. While losing people is never a good thing, achieving a collaborative organization that is more nimble and working together is worth that sacrifice.

This isn’t just about using a “new” system. This is about people realizing that collaborating and working together is good for them, not just the company. This is the core of Organizational Change Management and it is something that needs to be addressed before bothering to invest in any of those fancy Enterprise 2.0 tools.

[Note: This was going to be my CMS Wire article for March 2011, but I got frustrated with it. I instead wrote Social Media, Information Management’s Dream]