Is your company still trying to figure out Collaboration?


I hear this a lot from IT organizations these days, companies trying to figure out a collaboration strategy.  In many cases companies are reacting to a community who has latched on to a set of tools that enable them to share information, and communicate effectively, outside of IT.  The worst offender in this space by far is Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), Notes databases. 

Governance is a big problem in most organizations, due to the fact that governance by definition means the exercise of authority or control.  This is a sure fire way for your collaboration strategy to fail, and you will send your user base running to the next tool, in most cases it will be one you didn't provide or approve in the organization. 

People do not need or want to be told how to form and maintain relationships and no two relationships are the same.  How to did I jump from collaboration to relationships?  When two or more people collaborate they are forming a relationship on how to best work with each other, that essentially what collaboration is all about, the tools are just another form of communication and sharing information in the relationship.  Who wants corporate IT controlling all of your work and team relationships?  This is why the approach of governance for collaboration is flawed, yes even tool governance.  I understand we need to protect information, and make sure that it is easy to find, manage and report, however controlling how people interact and exchange information will almost guarantee failure or a lot of work put into a document that will be stored somewhere on your corporate network that does not get effectively enforced.

So for purposes of this blog entry we are redefining governance in order to help you be successful.  However keep in mind the golden rule, "Governance does not equal control".  Governance here will refer to a set of policies consisting of the following principals.

1) Automation - "Workflow/Approval are things to which I see benefit as an end user"  I have two words, "self-service".  My team and I know exactly who is in the chain of command and when things needed to be approved and reviewed.  I have no desire to wait for 2 days (or even 2 minutes) to communicate that to the workflow guru outside of my team and wait for a workflow to setup.  If this looks like a solution you have in place today, then you will understand one of the many reasons, e-mail is being used a your primary workflow tool today.  Users will avoid you, your policy and solution you put in place if I do not have the ability to do it myself.  Allow your users to provision workflow, and team sites.  You have the ability to automate monitoring reporting solutions, to alert you when things are out of compliance.

2) Transparency - "Policy should not get in the way of me communicating with my team or the people I work with".  Implementing new tools, rules, and extra steps in which I do not see any benefit will cause your policy to fail.  Implementing just two additional steps and latency into my stream of communication, like launching another application, filling out a special form and waiting for more than 2 minutes will send your users running the other way.  If I cannot upload my document to an area that automatically encrypts the document, or tag it with certain metadata for the search engine and reporting tools, then no need in asking me to do it.

3) Education - "Informed people are happy people" Helping people to understand why certain information must be protected and stored in certain places and the importance to the company, will yield incredible benefits to people working together as a community.  Communities want to make sure the environment is safe and in compliance, however If I do not understand why a particular policy is so important I am not likely to help enforce it.  Education has to be ongoing, create a 20 minute video, place it on your intranet and require employees to view it as part some yearly training, just to remind people of the important of certain policies and how they can participate in helping to keep company and customer information safe and secure.

4) Operations - "A good operations plan allows IT to shine" Now we are back in our element as IT professionals, when it comes to operations.  Here is where you are deemed the hero, savings time, money and hours of frustration.  Implementing a great backup and recovery plan, an approachable solution that allows for self-service, good reporting, monitoring and an enterprise search strategy, is where all it all comes together.  As much as we, "the industry", preach about meta-data repositories and organization information, today we have a mess on our hands.  Information is everywhere, structured and unstructured data.  Having a solid enterprise strategy in place so people can navigate the sea of information out there is vital to your collaboration strategy.  It is important not only to enable relationships (collaborations), but also for me to find new relationships as well as information.  I could have given enterprise search it's own line item, but it is really part of the operations story because the community has no visible role in building enterprise search, it should be transparent.

No of course we have guidance on when to use a file share versus a team site or the enterprise content management solution.  Create a nice diagram or cartoon that illustrates this to your users and have them appear in the top corner of your intranet front page (users love non-technical illustrations), or make it part of the productivity tips in your monthly newsletter that goes out over e-mail.  You are not alone, bring in the tool vendors and have them host lunch and learn, tips and tricks sessions.  Your vendor has seen many implementations of the tools at organizations trying to solve the same problems you are.

In conclusion don't forget the golden rule.