Collaboration Return-On-Investment

"Competition has its place in the marketplace or against last year's performance -- perhaps even against another office or individual where there is no particular interdependence, no need to cooperate.But cooperation in the workplace is as important to free enterprise as competition in the marketplace.

"Competition has its place in the marketplace or against last year's performance -- perhaps even against another office or individual where there is no particular interdependence, no need to cooperate.

But cooperation in the workplace is as important to free enterprise as competition in the marketplace.

The spirit of win-win cannot survive in an environment of competition and contests. For win-win to work, the systems have to support it. The training system, the planning system, the communication system, the budgeting system, the information system, the compensation system -- all have to be based on the principle of win-win".

Stephen Covey - The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

I get asked a lot in my strategic consulting work to justify and validate the returns that will accrue from investing precious budget money into collaboration environments.

The business world is currently dominated by bean counters, who are bestowing very short haircuts on budgets and operational teams. It's a 20% off everything year: staffing, budgets, and the price of the products.

Against this reality the rationale for collaboration, social computing, Enterprise 2.0 and many other technological business process enablers are scrutinized extremely closely for value propositions that demonstrate the ability to generate profits.

One of the key points to make off the bat is that there are no set patterns, so this advice is highly contextual to specific end user goals. I'm going to frame the following for the predominantly technical ZDNet audience, but it's important to remember that the collaboration utility required varies greatly depending on the users the systems are selected to serve.

We are currently at a point where there is a cornucopia of collaboration environments on the market, from deep behind the firewall installs for large groups to the plethora of 'software as a service' (SaaS) offerings.

This reality has created a situation where it is not uncommon for groups to have unofficial cloud based working environments funded by departmental credit card. Multiply this by a few dozen departments, each using different solutions they have found meets their specific needs, and you find there is a whole new generation of silos filling with knowledge content.

Ironically these contextual cloud solutions, often to project management, fly below the radar of the budget police. Since it's trivial to get up and running with SaaS, which often brings immediate lubrication to collaboration on specific projects, this is often seen as the panacea to larger business problems.

Email is like instant soup: no long term nutritional value but the lowest common denominator in terms of ease of preparation. Dashing off one-to-one or few communication is quick and easy. The next rung up this ladder is departmental cells within SaaS applications, which are often shallow, quick and easy in their usage.

The Steven Covey quote above is primarily about interdependence being a conscious choice made through rational thought about security and goals, and this is also the point where serious ROI discussion is needed for larger strategic collaboration initiatives.

Vendors large and small have a vested interest in selling their solutions as an attractive 'proven' framework to quickly streamline interdependence requiring trivial effort to get up and running before enjoying spectacular results. (This is software sales, after all...). It's not as simple as that.

'Success has many fathers but failure is a complete b*stard' anon

The happy families world of crowd sourcing and enthusiastic grass roots adoption is largely a myth beyond a certain point - middle management don't like to see their relevance diminish and factionalism often breaks out online just as it does in 'real life'. Everyone wants to be associated with a winner and post mortem anything that looks like a loser, which of course was 'not invented here'. I've seen many uninstalled shelf ware and Mary Celeste collaboration environments in the last few months, purchased before the economic freeze descended.

So against this backdrop, what are the attributes most likely to impress those who hold the purse strings? The ROI of larger strategic thinking around Steven Covey's 'The training system, the planning system, the communication system, the budgeting system, the information system, the compensation system' and any other relevant components - should all be aligned to meet existing corporate goals.

Getting everyone singing from the same sheet of music requires serious thought around interdependence and interoperability. Asking for funding for a new silo - 'Facebook for the enterprise' flies in the face of most corporate employees scatter hoarding sensibilities in enterprise content management systems - typically lacks utility and real value.

Despite the best efforts of vendor product designs, most Facebook style corporate apps are used in a relatively shallow manner, since no one wants to be a smaller cog in a bigger machine. Knowledge is power, especially if only you know what that that knowledge is and where it's kept...

For Covey's 'win-win' to work, careful strategic planning is needed to acknowledge existing technologies and methodologies and connect them with an interconnected layer of lighter weight, more agile applications which demonstrate alignment with company objectives.

Multi headed chicken syndrome

Strategic planning cost is trivial compared to painting yourself into a variety of corners with non interoperable systems for different departments, as I wrote about here on my blog.

"Picking a shiny object that best fits departmental needs is increasingly common as basic understanding of Enterprise 2.0 takes root in organizations. Overarching strategic thinking, despite the enormous cost benefit, is less well understood".

Since companies are unique entities with very different mission critical challenges and issues they are dealing with, careful strategic thought pays huge dividends and ensures the utility needed at business unit level is met, in context with other units.

I've recently seen several disjointed collaboration ecosystems where if only some thought had gone into the greater good, there would be fewer red faces within each silo. Admittedly I'm biased as a strategic consultant, but bringing to bear expertise to create an environment you will grow into nicely and which will allow the business to prosper takes a lot of the stress out of ROI justification and is ultimately going to save money.

No prizes for guessing which solution the bean counters prefer...

Image: Dime Cut: 1939 Shorpy

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All