Speaking to Australian CIOs about their current challenges, collaboration is emerging as the ‘next big thing’ for IT departments in Australia. The days of trying to justify IT investments in portals and next generation messaging and communications services are behind us. Now, the business is beating a path to IT’s door, demanding better tools to enable more effective collaboration. So what has changed?
We have moved back into growth mode. Management is looking for the next new product, service, or capability that will help to propel them to the front of the pack as they move out of survival mode brought on by the global financial crisis.
Many of the tools to enable collaboration are already in use. Whether or not you have provided them, employees are already using services such as Skype, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yammer and other social media technologies to connect and communicate with colleagues and customers.
For the most part, CIOs understand there’s no choice but to dive in and provide some of those technologies — smartphones, instant messaging, Web and videoconferencing, wikis, blogs, social networks, and all the rest — to keep up with the competition. Our clients are always asking how to implement these technologies. But they’re often asking the wrong question first. Don’t start by asking which technology to use. Ask first who needs better collaboration services, what you’re trying to accomplish and how you plan to help your employees work differently. Then, and only then, can you decide on technology.
Forrester has developed a systematic, four-step method for launching a collaboration strategy, which we call by the acronym POST:
Start by understanding what employees actually use and need today. Not understanding what people want has led to the poor adoption of most knowledge management systems and is resulting in unused software licenses for applications like instant messaging. Survey employees and undertake a quantitative analysis of their needs.
With that baseline of understanding in place, decide on your business goals. You will need to leverage a decision council that includes IT and business to help you do this. When IT operates with the best intentions but without business involvement, the results can be crazy. Think Second Life experiments, which resulted in uninhabited islands and avatar weirdos trespassing on virtual property. Customers stayed away. Avoid this by getting real commitments on the IT-business collaboration council.
The strategy part of this planning process means mapping the business goals to specific collaboration scenarios that you can improve — no tools yet. It is tempting to jump straight to technology without considering the scenarios that you can address. Expect to spend time on this step, and be prepared to consider the viability of accomplishing each scenario. If the culture doesn’t support information-sharing, for example, it’s probably not worth building a community to share best practices.
The last step is to figure out which technologies improve your most important collaboration scenarios. When rolling out a collaboration tool for half your workforce, be prepared for a few folks to jump on board and most people to ignore it. To avoid that, make sure that the tools are easy to use, that the training is embedded in the system for easy just-in-time learning, and that you dedicate people to listening to objections and adapting the toolkit where needed.
By following these four steps, CIOs will ultimately deliver not IT, but BT — business technology — and further prove the value of technology in driving real business outcomes.
Tim Sheedy is senior analyst and advisor with with Forrester Research’s CIO Group.
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