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For many content management experts, selling the ROI of enterprise social collaboration tools has become a mission with religious fervor.
And for Dawn Lacallade, the mecca should be the executive suite.
"For companies that have a lack of leader buy-in, it's an uphill battle," said Lacallade, the director of social strategy and content programming at LiveWorld Inc., a social content marketing firm based in San Jose, Calif. "You can have the most beautiful technology solution, but if you don't ... have leaders who actively use the tools and share best practices, it doesn't matter."
Enterprise social collaboration is fashionable these days, but companies are also ambivalent about how to use these platforms. Collaboration software enables social networking and knowledge sharing among employees. Often these platforms enable workers to communicate and share information across geographical boundaries as well as functional silos within their companies.
For companies that have a lack of leader buy-in, it's an uphill battle.
director of social strategy and content programming, LiveWorld Inc.
But many enterprises have failed to convince the business suite of the return on investment (ROI) from enterprise social collaboration efforts. Many have failed to identify product sales and innovation, cost or time savings, or business process improvements. According to SearchContentManagement's 2013 Reader Survey, only 18% of more than 700 respondents expect to spend more on collaboration software this year as compared with 2012.
Other reports indicate a mixed picture as well. A 2012 IDC report noted that, despite its prediction of 43% growth for enterprise collaboration software until 2016, certain factors might slow it down, such as security, regulatory compliance and intellectual property protection.
Still, enterprise collaboration tool evangelists like Lacallade are working to demonstrate the ROI of collaboration software.
Enterprise collaboration tools restructure competitive compensation
Lacallade has spent years working with companies to build buy-in for enterprise social networking at all company levels and to prove value along the way.
At an insurance company based on the East Coast, a 2011 internal collaboration initiative using Jive Software Inc.'s technology upended the existing company culture and presented implementation challenges for LiveWorld.
We had to sell management on an expensive platform, but we had to sell ... the value of collaboration.
director of social strategy and content programming, LiveWorld Inc.
The company's structure included numerous remote employees as well as workers in various geographic offices across the globe, so the technology challenge was significant. There were firewalls and log-ins, as well as questions such as whether employees could log in from a noncorporate asset.
The Jive initiative brought several benefits, including information exchange and enabling siloed, remote workers to become more entrenched in projects and culture. But business units were structured to compete with one another, whereas the collaboration initiative called for information sharing.
"The cultural challenge ... was also huge, because employees are competing with each other," recalled Lacallade.
As a result, the insurer made certain changes to its internally competitive culture. It recognized, for example, that its compensation structure -- which ranked employees in relation to one another to determine salary -- had to be changed to enable people to succeed together, Lacallade said.
"We had to sell management on an expensive platform, but we had to sell it on the value of collaboration," Lacallade said. "While you want to encourage competition, you have to recognize that it's not the best environment for collaboration. That was a challenge, because that was not the culture of the company they created."
Enterprise collaboration transforms business processes
At a manufacturing company, a Six-Sigma-like initiative for process improvement gave way to social collaboration efforts. In the early 2000s, the company wanted to research improvements to one of its manufacturing processes. To do so, the company created a message board for employee input. As a result, some employees identified a change in the sequence of a manufacturing process that could bring business process improvements. The result was double-digit improvement in product creation productivity, according to Lacallade.
But, as she noted, the difference between success and failure was the care and feeding of the project by the entire company. The message board was staffed with people to vet and pilot ideas -- and to provide feedback on those ideas to employees who made the suggestions. All levels of the organization participated in the effort.
Lacallade and her team also worked with an internal stakeholder to prove the ROI.
"We provided case studies and examples of ROI for quality [efforts] and for social collaboration tools," she recalled.
But change agents also know when to quit.
Lacallade is willing to put an end to a company's efforts that are costly and lack the necessary business buy-in. She has gone so far as to discourage clients from wasting precious dollars on half-hearted enterprise social networking projects.
At a pharmaceutical company based on the West Coast, for example, a social collaboration effort hinged on the engagement of five executive leaders whose enthusiasm for social collaboration tools fell along a wide spectrum. While one leader "was on board without hesitation," others dragged their feet. "They didn't carve out the time to do it and didn't throw their weight behind the effort, and it eventually folded," she said.
Despite the fact that it meant the end of a consulting engagement, Lacallade was firm in her guidance to the company to cancel the project.
"I said, 'It's never going to go anywhere until you have a leadership team that gets it and wants to buy into it. It's a financial commitment to do this.'"
Experts also counsel companies to consider long-term benefits, not to try to pin their hopes on short-term ROI.
Rachel Happe of the Community Roundtable, a consultancy that helps organizations create a social strategy, said that social tools create long-tail ROI, but not short-term value. "When you're connecting with people, building relationships, you have to invest for quite a while to see return," she said.
"Companies go from good to great and far surpass their competitors with a solid collaboration effort," Lacallade said. "But it's not something you do because someone else is doing it. The company has to be all-in."
And for collaboration proselytizers like Lacallade, bringing the company all-in cannot just be a mission of conversion. It also has to be a grass-roots effort.
For more on social collaboration, check out our expert's tip on building a successful collaboration strategy.