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Will social media deliver on enterprise collaboration in 2010?

As the end-year reviews and new-year predictions and resolutions arrive in my inbox, I have been thinking about what has been the biggest impact or change in the collaboration arena.

The biggest change I find is that the differentiation between social media software and collaboration applications has almost disappeared from the positioning messages.

Traditional Collaboration Vendors Embraced Social Media:
2009 seemed to have been a validation year for the use of social media inside the firewall with many vendors who in previous years saw little growth actually growing their enterprise customer list, despite the recession. Although many of these enterprises are still in the “pilot” and early phases of implementation, the increase number of enterprise-level adopters of social software led vendors of “traditional” collaboration tools to pay more attention to social media features.

Social Media Vendors Embraced Collaboration: The proliferation of vendors and consultants who are trying to convert the social media’s rapid adoption outside the firewall into revenues from the enterprise adopted “collaboration” as a positive outcome from their products and services. In 2009 many of them saw that adoption pay off.

However, the 2009 collective message insinuates that collaboration will happen if the enterprise deploys social tools, often in plug-an-play packaging. This “plug-and-play collaboration” message undermines the vast differences that exist between sharing, networking, coordination, cooperation, and collaboration—all of which can offer value to the enterprise, but require totally different goals, commitment and efforts.

I can’t help scratching my head when some of the messages also insinuate that collaboration is something new that can be achieved via enterprise’s use of this new technology—ignoring the endless lessons learned on how hard it is to achieve measurable outcomes from collaboration.

The old basic human behaviors that present obstacles for collaboration to flourish under structured environments whose ultimate goal is revenues won’t disappear just because new technology improves staff’s connectivity. But, even recognized Web 2.0 evangelists failed in 2009 to proactively help educate the market on this. As a result, many enterprises discovered that they needed more than expected resources to manage and engage participants for their newly launched collaboration communities.

By its own nature, social media is supposed to allow unpredictable things to flourish under unrestricted flows. Once you impose structure and financial expectations, you are in a different ball game (unless the enterprise has an organizational structure that embraces innovation say ala Dan Pink.)

If you are a vendor, a consultant or one of their existing or potential customers, I strongly recommend you to read CMSWatch’ report The Enterprise Collaboration and Community Software as a benchmark to be more inquisitive of the hype during 2010.

In addition to offering valuable clarification to the confusing social software marketplace, the analysts seem to make great efforts to pragmatically review the very diverse range of vendors and product categories. I found the report is also of great value for the following reasons:

1. Purpose versus requirements:
CMS Watch provides a very comprehensive breakdown of the social software and collaboration market in relationship to each of the technology’s purpose. To further assist in clarifying the confusing proliferation of social software products and purposes, the report offers a series of enterprise use case scenarios that come really handy when comparing vendors.

CMSWatch Report

CMSWatch Report

2. Vendor Intangibles: Considering the capabilities the report rates under the Vendor Intangibles is a must when evaluating vendors, especially for high-stake collaboration projects.

Although I wish the analysts would have gone deeper into what kind of support and skills set a client should look for in a vendor when their projects consist of communities of practice or innovation, the report places good emphasis in two main vendor differentiators: Clear vision and roadmap. I find these to be particularly relevant if you are working with or considering a smaller vendor new to the market.

3. Goals versus measurements: The intense 2009 social media hype has led many astray with very little to show for the invested time and resources. Although some vendors have made improvements in the later part of 2009, most social software vendors have yet to deliver on useful metrics for enterprise decision making process. The CMS Watch’ report evaluates metrics in relationship to vendors’ strength and weakness and this is a great benchmark to evaluate how the vendors address this in 2010.

4. Key Advice: As I mentioned above, the analysts make a great effort to provide pragmatic reviews of the different vendors and their offerings, but their Governance, Culture and Adoption, Business Issues, Technology and Implementation categorization of Dos and Don’ts makes this report worth every penny. You could avoid some of the costly pitfalls if you pay close attention to what they are guiding you on in their key advice section.

And if your project focuses on bringing people to collaborate in communities of practice and innovation, I’ll encourage you to add the following to their Dos and Don’ts:

• Do master the ways and reasons why people collaborate
• Do not underestimate the resources you need to build engagement
• Do not underestimate what competes for your users’ time
• Do regularly deliver positive outcomes that will keep users engaged

If you are a potential or existing client, CMS Watch’ report The Enterprise Collaboration and Community Software provides you an amazing opportunity to understand and compare what is out there and how that relates to your requirements and needs. It also allows you to verify that you are asking your vendor key questions that can affect your success. And remember that when it comes to collaboration, there is no one-fits-all or single killer app, just the right tools for the right goals. CMS Watch provides a good benchmark to evaluate them.

If you are a vendor or a consultant, the report provides a very good set of advice about “Vendor Intangibles” for clients that vendors should also listen to. With so much “community-in-a-box” saturation, a clear vision and roadmap will be key differentiators in 2010.

In 2010 we must be more inquisitive and pragmatic about technology and the value it gives to an enterprise’s collaboration goals so we can start balancing the 2009 hype with 2010 results.

Cross-posted at http://www.collaborativesociety.com

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