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What derails enterprise collaboration software initiatives?

Enterprise collaboration software can boost efficiency, but only if employees embrace the technology. Deployment planning that targets practical issues can help.

Enterprise collaboration software offers a variety of features that can make companies more efficient, but the return on investment often hinges on the extent to which employees embrace the technology.

It's fairly common for companies to invest in tools for file sharing, intranet or enterprise social, only to see the initiative fizzle out due to low worker adoption. What are the principal obstacles for companies adopting collaboration software?

In the end, the success of enterprise collaboration software -- either in real life or digitally -- is based on the benefit to the collaborators. Whether someone chooses one piece of software or another depends on the value they see in the tool. As a result, the biggest obstacle to adoption is demonstrating the value of a specific tool and the associated processes to the greatest number of collaborators.

Most organizations fail to create a value statement for their chosen tool. There will always be early adopters and enthusiastic cheerleaders. However, the real progress occurs when a company provides enterprise collaboration software that addresses the collaborative challenges that most employees suffer. Further, the new tools and processes need to overcome these challenges in ways that don't create additional barriers or perceived burdens to the user.

Unfortunately, there are no universal answers to collaboration challenges. Manufacturing companies with a largely plant-based employee population will need a different approach than a consulting firm. Enterprises with a mobile workforce will need to use different adoption techniques than a firm with an office-bound population. And in almost every case there isn't going to be a homogenous population within a singular firm -- salespeople are mobile, finance is largely office-bound and marketing will need to include non-employees (adding another dimension to the collaboration requirements list).

In short, firms need to think broadly along the following lines:

  1. Make the tools and processes relevant across the organization.
  2. Don't overcomplicate the process of employee collaboration. Too many steps or a perceived burden to use a tool will kill adoption.
  3. The tool should be accessible in multiple ways -- desktop, mobile and Web.
  4. Adoption requires constant communication and encouragement. It's not a one-time event.
  5. One tool may not meet all needs, but employees should not have to make decisions about which tool to use for specific needs. Using multiple tools should feel seamless and easy.

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What challenges have you faced/overcome when rolling out new collaboration software?
We use a number of collaboration tools. Company-wide, we use Sharepoint for the internal company website, file sharing, and wikis for knowledge bases. 

We use a lot of email (Outlook) and chat (Cisco Jabber) for internal communications. Meetings are hosted in WebEx. 

Specific to the software dev teams, we use Rally for iteration tracking and project management. We also use IdeaBoardz for idea sharing.

That's a lot of tools! I would say that Rally and Sharepoint were the most difficult to adopt. Most of us had no input in the decisions to use them. In my opinion (shared by many others here) both are big, clunky tools. Sharepoint is also ugly as all hell, and the WYSIWYG editor for pages is just awful.