Small, medium or large collaboration headache?

Who's going to be the primary technology 'parents' and who will be the 'children' in order to solve the fragmentation and information filtering issues that are plaguing efficiency in many larger firms? More importantly, who is going to be responsible for this important task?
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

Map of New Testament Social Networks

Map of New Testament Social Networks

The old understanding of what constitutes a small, medium or large business are getting very blurry indeed.

An enterprise is typically thought of as a firm with over one hundred million in revenue in most western world business circles, but of course many of them are made up of dozens of smaller decentralized business units, creating lots of separate P&L centers, some connected together and some not. Add relationships with other businesses and the playing field is typically pretty complicated.

Small business software is often used on a departmental level to solve specific business problems within large companies, but of course this doesn't usually scale or interoperate well with other business systems and software. A business colleague recently wrote within a social network about her current new job work coal face

Officially feeling overwhelmed with the onslaught of social media/2.0 productivity tools….Google Docs, Google mail/Calendar webUI, Apple mail/Cal, Yammer, Twitter, Zoho crm and projects, Box.net, Dropbox, Facebook, Linked In, Jira, 5 different chat ids thru Adium, Google webUI chat, Skype and various other VOIP solutions, FaceTime....and those good old standbys: Word, Excel, PPT, MS Project.

Sound familiar? Adding to this for many are 'social' application overlays such as Jive, Socialcast, Socialtext, and/or Confluence, plus knowledge base wikis and content management systems, all of which combine into a formidable knot of information flows, user names and passwords.

I wrote back in late 2009 in a post titled 'Understanding Enterprise 2.0 Tolerances & Scale'

Mature larger companies are often akin to large cities. Los Angeles or London for example have grown over time to consume and incorporate the towns around them, forming a complex network of places within a greater whole. The navigation systems connecting this urban fabric develops to match the travel patterns of inhabitants. Enterprise information architects in equivalent large companies should be like town planners watching traffic patterns closely and anticipating need.

This approach helps firms grow organically into pre determined use patterns as they expand.

A key goal of the original Enterprise 2.0 movement was to encourage greater information flow for users who were prepared to take advantage of the agility and flexibility of modern 2.0 web technology and the explosion in mobile smart phone technology (…There's another paragraph full of fragmentation in the mobile area, but I think we all get the idea).

Importantly most people on the planet aren't particularly technologically sophisticated - or interested in technology -  and expect to be provisioned with tools to do the job they were hired for. The vast majority don't live in Silicon Valley either literally or mentally, or keep up to date with the latest tech trends.

Since few Enterprise information architects and collaboration strategists have the luxury of working with the broader enterprise - despite the latest round of techie 'boil the ocean' shiny new enthusiasms for social business/enterprise ideas - the vast majority of initiatives are as discussed above, departmental or divisional in scope. Products such as 37 Signals Basecamp, which used to be cutting edge, easy to use cloud applications are now looking rather clumsy and long in the tooth. As I mentioned in a previous post there's a world of difference between the empty 'staged show home' space that empty fresh technology environments exude and the lived in realities when you've filled them up with all your stuff.

Interestingly the new generation of small business applications - Mavenlink, Huddle, Work Etc or Podio for examples - are in some ways a fresh wave of departmental 2.0 thinking that supersedes some of the feature bloat of the first generation applications, and are remarkably complete and mature compared to that first wave. Mavenlink for example has sophisticated tie ins with invoicing and book keeping (and 256 bit security) that are very attractive for a small business.

The old guard big vendors are hamstrung by legacy applications support and interoperability issues, as evidenced by Oracle's issues around Fusion and the significant challenges SAP continue to face. Even Microsoft, typically late to most technology waves, are still looking weak in the mobile world despite the continuing success of the Sharepoint/Microsoft Office digital filing cabinets use. Efforts by large vendors to roll up innovation with tactical purchases and feature offerings as adjuncts to their core business, which is running ERP and other industrial strength systems.

The way in which the cultures and infrastructures of companies of all sizes evolve and crystalize around core work processes are fundamental to the effectiveness of the technology pathways used to communicate and collaborate around them.

Despite the historical needs HR technology has supported in the past, I continue to believe there is a giant opportunity for that sector to play a far more important role going forward, not least to help simplify the knotty problems outlined above. In the business technology world parent/child dependencies between systems are as common as org chart hierarchies. The multiple technology languages spoken in different parts of the typical company is increasing fragmentation, and for those companies who haven't thought these issues through with conscious collaboration strategy and intentions this is arguably a significant performance drain.

Regardless of business size or trajectory (growing, stasis or shrinking) system of record and people management (HCM) is as literally 'social' as it gets on a formal level. If the HR Tech sector chooses to step up these could be very good times indeed, and an opportunity to break out of past siloed perceptions.

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