When IT leaders perform a thorough analysis of the target audience's workflow to make sure key integration points among applications are identified, they will avoid the common mistake of simply layering collaboration tools on top of existing applications that workers are expected to use. If collaboration and social software tools are not integrated with other critical applications, workers must shift context — which slows them down — or duplicate effort (e.g., cut/paste from one application to another).*
Collaboration or the use of collaboration applications does take time, but it needn't take additional time. What collaboration does take is different time. Two changes need to occur for an ROI in time saved: processes need to be streamlined through the use of collaborative technologies, which means integrating applications and reengineering the processes they comprise, and changing the behavior of people to make collaboration part of their regular routine.
The statement from Gartner above couldn't be more correct in that overlaying collaboration tools on top of applications without thought to the workflow will yield negative results. For example, if you have six business applications and simply overlay a portal or list of bookmarks the time saving isn't going to be great as users are still moving from application to application, shifting context and mentally managing where they are in the flow. At best, you may save time with single sign-on and not having to launch each application separetely. I'm a big believer in mashup applications and that automating the information exchange among applications removing "sneaker-net" activities is critical to optimizing business processes that involve collaboration.
I think a greater challenge for seeing the ROI in time savings (or productivity) is in changing behavior to be more collaborative. If you're going to build a social media repository of information, you need people to participate in that practice. The most direct way is to define the processes that encourage participation. For example, if a team call is performed the usual behavior is to read an agenda, discuss the topics, take minutes and e-mail those minutes to all concerned at the conclusion of the call. What happens when somebody misses the call or doesn't receive the minutes; they reach out to somebody on the team with questions. What if an important topic was inadvertently left off the minutes; e-mails may fly bringing awareness to the item. What about action items; they're recorded in the minutes, but unless they're tracked they may fall through the cracks. In a collaborative social environment participants would be able to update the agenda in the days leading up to the call, and the call would be recorded for all concerned to listen to afterward and the minutes could have additional information added to them and notices would be automatically sent to concerned participants in the form (e-mail, text, post, etc.) they wanted.
The rub in this has to do with the behavior of consumers and providers of information. If the consumers don't have the behavior of searching for the minutes and listening to the call, but instead ask participants directly for information, the participants are less likely to want to provide information as the value of the social environment isn't being realized by them. It is a bit of a chicken and egg- why provide the information if nobody is going to consume it, and why search for the information when it's more direct to go to the source. These behaviors must change.
At first this approach may take more time, but as the process became more streamlined and natural and as behaviors change to use the tools as part of the process a time savings will be realized. Gone will be the redundant questions to the same people as those asking the questions are enabled to find the information themselves as the ability to make the information available becomes more automated from those providing input.
Click below to view the earlier posts in this series:
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