Collaboration tools: How to avoid project rollout pitfalls

Companies have a wealth of options, but that doesn’t guarantee success after rollouts. Here’s what you need to understand before spending big on collaboration.

gears integration seamless collaboration

As team collaboration gains ground in the enterprise, companies are finding a vast array of products designed to connect staff and improve productivity – from the latest group chat applications such as Slack to enterprise social networks, task management apps and video conferencing tools. Spending in the booming collaboration software market is expected to reach $49.5 billion by 2021, according to Markets and Markets, almost double the $26.7 billion spent in 2016. 

For companies, rolling out new collaboration tools can be tricky, both in terms of employee uptake and making sure productive interactions between staff actually occur. Enterprise social network deployments, for example, are often dogged by low adoption.

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is rolling out software without a strong understanding of how it will used, said Carrie Basham Young, CEO at Talk Social to Me, a service provider that specializes in enterprise collaboration deployments. “The biggest failure point is when a tool is rolled out without understanding the impact that is going to have on an end user's day,” she said.

When companies push collaboration without explaining the business value and purpose for the tool, projects tend to fail, she said. An application becomes “just another place you have to check, or a place that you ignore. For me that has been the biggest continual failure over the past 10 years.

“The most important thing is going out and actually speaking with the employees that need to connect and collaborate with each other,” she said. That means understanding employees’ individual use cases, their pain points, how they want to collaborate and how they are going to connect with each other. 

1.  Understand your workforce collaboration needs

One size does not fit all. So understanding workers’ specific collaboration and communication needs means taking into account the different roles that exist across an organization. Smaller businesses may have a lot of homogeneity in their workforce, but as organizations get larger, the types of roles become more diverse – and more specialized. As a result, collaboration software often has to cater to a range of roles, from IT teams to finance departments, accounts, and sales and marketing employees, since each job type may have different methods for collaborating, or may prefer different tools. 

Collaboration tools can help to define the characteristics of groups of employees, said Richard Edwards, Freeform Dynamics service director and distinguished analyst. These groups break down into three main categories: knowledge workers, sales or service employees and finally deskless workers, such as field technicians. 

“Thinking about those three categories of user helps avoid some of what I think are very obvious challenges and pitfalls when it comes to implementing some sort of collaboration solution,” said Edwards. 

Although vendors are starting to cater more to deskless workers, frontline staff have typically been the most neglected portion of the workforce when it comes to provisioning collaboration tools. Deskless workers are those employees who generally work outside the office. They could be anything from emergency workers to construction laborers, nurses, retail workers or service technicians – workers who usually have a smartphone but don’t routinely need access to core business applications.

“They are very important to some organizations,” said Edwards, “yet the collaboration tools that have been in place really just don't address any of their requirements. They themselves might not have any company-provided equipment other than a telephone that is stuck on a wall somewhere.”

Given the variety of roles at many companies – and the potential geographic spread of workers – a single application rarely meets the entire collaboration needs of a company, particularly for larger organizations or for those with specialized needs.

“One of the recurrent challenges is this issue of ‘Do we adopt a one-size-fits-all approach’? Or do we have a portfolio of tools that have some overlap but address the specific requirements that people might need when working within their business functions?,” said Edwards.

What might work well for small groups of staffers may not be the right tool for the whole organization, said Basham Young. 

“Collaboration happens in small teams and collaboration can happen at a division, region or company level. And the tool that is best for teams is likely not the tool that is best for the entire organization or for an internal communications push, for example. So respecting the fact that there are different needs and types of collaboration at an organization is critical to choosing the right toolset.” 

2. Be clear about business benefits 

There is a bit of a wild west atmosphere in the collaboration market at the moment. Last year saw the group messaging market evolve particularly quickly, with Slack now competing against Microsoft Teams, Atlassian Stride and Cisco Spark – among others. 

While there may be compelling reasons to start out with some of the latest products, jumping on the latest trend doesn’t always make sense. John F. Milazzo Jr., CIO at Kodak Alaris stressed that it can be easy to get lost in technology for technology’s sake when it comes to collaboration software. 

“First and foremost, ask yourself why are you doing this,” Milazzo said. "If you don't have that case for action, then it is change just for change's sake.

“There has to be a case for action,” he said. “If you keep chasing the latest technology, you are going to constantly put your company in churn; they will constantly be looking at new tools and asking, ‘When do I use this tool versus that tool…?’ You will just end up with this mishmash of tools.”

Going slow and sticking with seasoned technology may fly in the face of an IT team’s inclination to chase the latest software, he said – even if they see clear advantages to newer tools. But it is important to keep business benefits in mind when considering new collaboration projects.

“Ask some of those basic business questions: Are we going to sell more product, are we going to reduce cost, are we going to become more productive? I want to hear the answers to those questions so that I can then portray that back to the corporation and say, ‘This is why we are going down this route.’”

Bob Fecteau, senior vice president and chief information officer at SAIC, added that while a cutting-edge tool may appear to be easier to use, it also must be right for the organization. SAIC, for example, deals with a lot  of sensitive government data, so cloud-based tools are not necessarily best suited to the company's needs. 

“[Businesses should ask] is it compliant?” Fecteau said. “Does it meet the security that the company has to run on? And if it doesn’t, then what changes do you have to make to those security standards, and does those constitute acceptable risk in the enterprise?”

3. Collaboration is about culture, not just technology 

There is almost always resistance to change in the office, so change management is a key part of success. “You have to be able to describe to the employee base why it is a good thing for the company and why it is going to be better for them," said Milazzo.

A company has to communicate: “We are not doing this just because we want a shiny new tool, [we] are doing it because a business will save some money, be more productive. Any change is painful so you have to keep going back to your case for action.”

Providing the right tools is only part of the equation. Selecting the best technology means nothing without a strong culture of collaboration. 

“Most of the challenges are not technical, but are cultural,” said Mihai Strusievici, director for IT, North America, at commercial real estate firm Colliers. “They are human nature in general.”

Colliers uses a range of collaboration tools across its organization, from Sharepoint for file sharing to Skype for Business for instant messaging and presence. Yammer is also used, while the company has also been testing out Facebook’s Workplace enterprise social network.

But the applications themselves have a limited impact on their own, he said: “The team collaborates when there is some kind of a leadership that spends a significant amount of time pushing the culture towards that collaborative way. 

“More than technology, I think it is a process that helps collaboration. If you figure out the process that you can put in place – and it is not one size fits all – to figure it out domain by domain, then the process is more likely to support collaboration than tools.”

Fecteau at SAIC agreed, saying ultimately that culture trumps technology when it comes to successful collaboration initiatives

“In most cases, the cultural adoption is the issue - it is never the technology,” he said. ”The technology generally does everything that you want it to do…. [The challenge] is always the ability of the organization to absorb change at the rate that it is coming at them. 

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon