Think you're using social collaboration? You're probably not

There's a mismatch between what users and managers think they are doing with enterprise collaboration tools, and what they are really doing.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor

Business leaders, IT decision makers and end users are all convinced they are already using enterprise social collaboration tools — but research tells a different story.

Nine out of 10 IT staff and about two-thirds of managers and users say they are using social-networking technologies at work, according to a global study by Microsoft- and Accenture-owned services firm Avanade.

However, when pressed to identify the products they are using, the only social platforms used by more than half of respondents turn out to be Facebook and Twitter. Actual enterprise collaboration tools, such as Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Connections, feature lower down the list.

"Business leaders and users are saying, 'Yes, we are [using enterprise social collaboration tools]' but when you scratch the surface and understand what they're doing, it tends to be the consumer social tools that we're all familiar with, such as Facebook and Twitter," said Andy Hutchins, director of content and collaboration at Avanade UK.

He said the widespread use of such social media tools was leading to a false sense of accomplishment.

"If you ask the questions, 'What are you using social for? What strategic business objectives is this supporting?' it becomes more difficult for them to answer," Hutchins said.

Popular social networks such as Twitter and Facebook had benefits for businesses, he said. For example, people in IT departments might find Twitter a valuable source of technical information, which added some value to the organisation.

"But a key point here is in the capabilities of these technologies," he said. "Certainly Facebook and Twitter aren't integrating with wider collaboration activities. They're not integrating with documents, with organisational data, with the communications and directory services of an organisation. So you're not really connecting to bring an organisation together and connect its people and work with real data."

Usefulness of social collaboration

Not only are respondents in the survey of 1,000 business and IT leaders and 4,000 end users misguided about their adoption of social collaboration tools, even those using the technology tools hold a poor impression of its usefulness.

Of the business and IT decision makers who have adopted social-collaboration tools, 24 percent believe they waste time or distract employees from their core jobs.

"That business decision makers who are using social tools actually don't see any value in them to the point that they think they're a waste of time — that raises a flag with us and says these tools are not being deployed to achieve, or align with, strategic business goals," Hutchins said.

The study suggests a larger number of IT and business decision makers can see the benefit of such tools, with 47 percent saying they make it easier for employees to generate ideas collaboratively, and collaborate with external customers, partners and vendors. Some 41 percent said the technology improved employee engagement.

According to Hutchins, because social collaboration is seen as a hot topic, organisations are examining it to try to understand what it is and how it can help.

"So some of these users are most likely just evaluating the technology with small tactical projects to see what it can do. Hence we can see some disillusionment that it's not maybe aligning with strategic goals," he said.

Hutchins argued that it was essential to create a platform and then to use communications and adoption support to get the most value from it.

"But it comes back to the classic 'What's in it for me?' scenario. People will use these tools if there's value and if there's not they'll ignore them," he said.

"It's really understanding what you're trying to do, making sure that joins up with business goals, making sure it adds value for users and then really providing the metrics and the support to push through on it to achieve the value, because adoption is a long journey and it can be a tough one."

Over the next 12 months, business and IT decision makers say the top two products they want their organisations to adopt are Microsoft SharePoint and Salesforce Chatter, both cited by 23 percent of respondents.

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