Brad Power recently posted a useful piece on the Harvard Business Review blog, How Collaboration Tools Can Improve Knowledge Work. He began with the statement that “managers are focusing ever more on supporting knowledge workers — which these days is just about everybody.” The post goes on to offer ways that online collaboration tools can help. They offer faster access to useful content and the ability to generate it in the process of work and share it to the right people, including those who you did know needed it.
As Brad wrote, the tools also open up communication up and down the different levels of the organization. This cross level communication was often consciously blocked by middle managers or just got lost in the chain of command. Now company conversations can be out in the open for anyone to take them in and join. Collaboration tools can turn Taylorism on its head so learning goes up and down the enterprise and the whole structure is flatted (image of Taylor from Wikipedia). I would certainly agree with Brad’s views here. However, precisely because of this transformative change in communication it takes a cultural change to work, as Brad notes.
Brad offers the positive example of Nationwide Insurance where online collaboration became embedded in the workplace, with the resulting increase engagement by workers. In their system, “Anyone can ask online questions, post comments, make announcements, recognize a peer, or search the network to find answers.”
Leaders are now putting communications into the open tool rather than doing massive email distributions. Ironically this gives them more control over their messages as they remain in the open and are not subject to private filtering and positioning through email.
Nationwide is not alone and as we wrote, McKinsey Projects Business Value of Social Business at a Trillion Annually. McKinsey has already found quantified significant benefits from establishing greater connections within the enterprise. In 2010 they reported, Enterprise 2.0 finds Its Payday. Similar results were found in 2011. In both cases, they found significant quantified benefits from the business use of social media. Now they offer new research, The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity through Social Technologies. They found, “that social technologies, when used within and across enterprises, have the potential to raise the productivity of the high-skill knowledge workers that are critical to performance and growth in the 21st century by 20 to 25 percent.”
So why have many companies not turned to online collaboration tools in the face of these intuitive benefits and positive returns? This is a question that Brad asks. He offers some success factors from Nationwide: senior leadership engagement, clear policies on compliance and governance, and the message that is was okay to be open and try new ideas.
In addition to addressing the people issues (so they are open to connecting and willing to step out of organizational silos), there are some essential technology ones, it is also necessary to get the applications connected so conversation do not occur in technical silos. As I wrote in Putting Social Media to Work, to be effective these systems that support interactions have to be integrated with the systems of record that support transactions. The social tools also need to be integrated with each other or companies are simply creating more silos of disconnection and benefits are not realized.
Application connectors are a major key realizing the business benefits of online collaboration tools and off-the-shelf plug-ins can allow for a major breakthrough in establishing these connections quickly and efficiently. For example, why not have your issue-tracking tool integrated with your collaboration tool? This is one of the main focuses of AppFusions and we offer integrations between Atlassian’s issue tracking tool, JIRA, and a number of collaboration tools such as IBM Connections.