Corporate Executive Board

The Technology-Collaboration Disconnect


Advanced social media and communications tools have made it easy to connect with friends across the globe at little cost. This ease of collaborating online is rarely experienced at work. Of those companies that do deploy collaboration programs, 75% consider them fair at best.

The gap between how we use information technology in our personal and our professional lives is growing, leading to higher employee dissatisfaction with corporate IT departments that "can't seem to catch up" with new technologies.

Most companies go wrong by thinking first about the potential of the technology. Instead, successful leaders should think first about behavioral and structural factors, such as the development of trusted relationships. Among more than 50 large organizations assessed by The Corporate Executive Board's IT Practice, the best have begun with an understanding of the capabilities knowledge workers need, not the capabilities new technologies provide.

Collaboration underpins business productivity. Leaders are developing cases around the following four productivity questions:

1. Innovation: Are we capturing creativity from across our extended R&D network?

2. Cost: Will the coordination costs of working with external service providers erode our cost savings?

3. Execution: Is the proliferation of virtual teams breaking our decision making?

4. Talent: Are working conditions attractive for the brightest or more progressive workers?

To capture value from investments in collaboration and social media, leading companies are following these six principles:

1. Foster collaboration around how employees really work. One Fortune 500 company created "Networks of Excellence," within which work groups of 20-30 people focus on specific business challenges. The tools became a resource to allow teams to work better rather than a task on top of assignments.

2. Roadmap the capabilities users need, not just the enabling technologies. Identify and prioritize the capabilities teams need and then translate them into the appropriate technology choices. All discussions can then focus on the needed outcomes not whether a specific tool should be deployed.

3. "Market" fewer, high demand capabilities that provide 80% of user benefits. Many collaboration tools are over-loaded with functionality. Identify the highest-impact capabilities and promote and train on these capabilities. You dilute the message by promoting everything the tool can do.

4. Be proactive to avoid information loss. Avoid investments in collaboration and social media at your peril. People will find a way to bring tools into the enterprise. You can reduce the risk of external data leakage and undocumented collaboration by guiding users toward a controllable environment.

5. Make feedback an explicit step in service rollout. Test how receptive people are to collaboration, both initially and over time. Many new collaboration ideas look promising at the start, but quickly lose usage as people revert to old collaboration patterns.

6. Create one version of the truth: Consolidate future product plans into a single technology roadmap. One company created a single view with simple directions to order the "Digital Worker" packages. The result was to reduce the ad hoc investments happening across voice, video, data, knowledge management, and mobility solutions.

By following the principals detailed above, companies can lever social media and communication tools to promote collaboration and spark productivity.

What the Best Companies Do™

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CEB specializes in helping companies drive corporate performance by identifying and building on best practices. The organization offers data analysis, research, and advisory services relevant to business leadership. CEB's client and member network includes 85 percent of the Fortune 500, 50 percent of the Dow Jones Asian Titans, 70 percent of the FTSE 100, and 80 percent of the DAX-30. CEB membership encompasses 50 countries, 5,300 individual organizations, and 225,000 business professionals.

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