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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Enterprise Social Collaboration = Email #FAIL

If you don't understand the "social" significance of the title of this post, all hope is lost for you.

What applications do you regularly have open on your work computer? If you're like the majority of those I asked, your answer is a web browser (flavor independent; IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari) and an email client (Outlook being the most popular since all those I asked were on an Exchange/Outlook solution, but Lotus Notes or others also count in this regard).

The charge that I've witnessed to push social software into the enterprise has been at best small pilots and at worst an utter failure. Why is that? Because when I (and I use "I" as a generality - I don't have a Facebook account) use Facebook, it's about sharing pictures and status updates and in the enterprise, that is utterly useless. We need to share documents and presentations and don't care about "likes". And of course, we already have the most powerful collaboration software for sharing ideas and documents - email!

For enterprise social software to succeed, it needs to deliver a web-based, content-driven interface that incorporates communications and collaboration. That's not my bright new idea - that's the general industry consensus. My take is that's only half the picture. For enterprise social software to succeed, it needs to also take the focus away from the email client, which today is the de facto enterprise collaboration tool.

When I first started my career, our laptops were issued with Eudora as the email client since Microsoft Outlook wasn't released yet (am I dating myself). In the early 2000's, Outlook (and others) did wonders with regards to incorporating the social fabric of the workplace - appointments, meetings, contacts, scheduling of people and resources, task tracking - into an intuitive and integrated work space. If one were looking at the technology evolution from afar without context and information about how and why events unfolded, one may argue that a sine wave of innovation in enterprise IT forced a swing of innovation into consumer IT as the 2000's went on. After all, who was using Google Mail, Contacts and Calendar to share personal schedules (the way I would do with my work schedules in the enterprise) in 2002?

We are now in the next upswing of that sine curve driving new consumer innovations back into enterprise IT. And as social software tries to find a fit within the enterprise, there is no missing gap to fill for many of the ensconced enterprise employees who have developed a sharing and collaboration system based on the emailing of documents.

I have no argument that the existing method is better; in fact, I've railed against it for years begging for people to just send a link to a file share where the common document could live before Sharepoint found a way into enterprises and became the uber content management system. Still, people continue to maintain local versions of documentation and proliferate copies with obscure file names that act as a poor man's version control. No one has taken the time to learn check-in/check-out features of Sharepoint, and why would they - we're not software developers where this type of collaboration has its roots.

The evolution in enterprise social software that I'm looking for - to pick on Microsoft for example - is "Shoutlook", a merging of Sharepoint and Outlook that delivers a web-based interface for projects, work streams and sharing of documents and incorporates my email and calendaring into one interface. Real-time group editing of the documents is supported as well as the integration with a unified communications solution for quick voice/video/sharing ad-hoc conference break outs and logging to the active activity stream. No one does this. Well. Yet.

Enterprise social software is not going to see success by keeping available the crutch of a bloated email client for "old-school collaboration" by those resistant to change. The problem with new enterprise social software adoption is the lack of existing enterprise social software (email client) abandonment.

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