Enhancing collaboration within the enterprise is a goal that no leader would argue, yet it can be both elusive and taken for granted.
Part of the challenge is that it’s inherently difficult to measure the incremental value derived from many individuals working together. It’s also tough to predict what tools and technology will work within a firm’s unique culture.
Over the past several years, I’ve had many conversations with Centric’s Enterprise Collaboration Practice Lead Aaron Aude. We’ve talked about our firm’s strategic objectives, worked together on innovation initiatives, and traded countless emails on ideas on opinions. Whether we’re supporting each other’s perspective or challenging each other’s thinking, I’ve enjoyed all of our interactions. Given his charge of leading and defining Centric’s Enterprise Collaboration Practice, I thought it’d be great to have a focused Q&A and share it with you.
How do you define “Enterprise Collaboration”?
We’re interested in making people more effective, helping them work better together and do their jobs efficiently. We’ve found (and research shows) that organizations directly benefit from an empowered and engaged workforce.
So when we think about enterprise collaboration, we think about what work people do, who they work with and what kind of information they need to do their job. We use this understanding to then determine how to leverage technology the right way.
There seems to be a transition occurring in the technology P&C marketplace, with tools evolving to complement the entire collaboration process versus a single aspect of it. One example that comes to mind is Microsoft’s Office 365 strategy. What’s your take on that and on the technology ecosystem in general?
We’re seeing a significant shift in the workplace that started in mid-2008 and continues to gain speed. “Knowledge workers,” individuals whose main capital is knowledge, have been increasingly working inside and outside of geographic boundaries, technical products and across teams of individuals. This shift is amplified by the influx of millennials, seeking to conduct their work ‘out loud,’ sharing information and collaborating with others across a more social context.
Within Microsoft’s Office 365 toolset, SharePoint is clearly poised to directly augment these knowledge workers’ workdays. The tool allows users to access and interact with content wherever they are and conduct business through a social collaboration platform. We’re also finding an interesting convergence of cross-functional use on Delve and the Office Graph API.
These tools bring information together not just from SharePoint and Microsoft Office content (Word, Excel, email, etc.) but across an enterprise-wide set of tools (Salesforce, SAP, MRP, CRM, etc.). It’s this aggregation of information built using SharePoint tools that we believe will empower knowledge workers.
What are some other technology tools or platforms that are worth knowing about?
There’s been a significant investment in digital strategy development and execution over the last few years, and we’re seeing the results of these as organizations seek to replace, renew or rebuild their web and content management tools.
As such, we’re finding that picking the right web content management (WCMS) platform is key – and, often the cornerstone in advanced content personalization (adaptive personalization, for example). We’re also finding that organizations need to strike a balance between capabilities ‘good enough’ within the WCMS for inbound marketing automation and those available in external tools.
We’re also finding that WCMS tools are used more often as a content service. That is, the core WCMS product is service enabled, and some other rendering tool serves up content and/or attaches customer data to it before rendering. Would it be reasonable to use Sitecore, for example as a service enabled WCMS with Liferay as our front end Portal?
Beyond the technology, what are the 3 or 4 key questions that need to be answered for successful collaboration efforts and ongoing target audience engagement?
First, it’s necessary to understand why an organization wants collaboration. Is it a core value? Is it a cultural need? Is it just a fad that can actually be diametrically opposed to the organization?
Then you need to determine what collaboration can be used for. What kinds of business processes can be improved with collaboration? What kinds of things do we do in our business that can benefit from others knowing what we do, what we’ve done or are planning to do?
Finally, look at the how you’d build out collaboration. Is there already technology in place to do this? Are they using JIVE, Sitrion, or Yammer? Are they excited about Salesforce and Chatter? What kinds of tools are available, and how can we use them?
Often collaboration efforts start with the ‘HOW’ or technology and work into the ‘WHAT’ often skipping past the ‘WHY.’
Being up in New England I want to touch on something that’s quintessentially ours, lobster. I understand you have some academic history with lobster – what’s the scoop with that? How has your intellectual curiosity served you in your Practice lead role at Centric?
That’s right, I’ve had my fair share of time with lobsters – Homarus americanus (American lobster) to be specific. My undergraduate degree is in biology with a minor in chemistry, and I was blessed to get published as a junior with work on studying cardiac output in the lobsters as they walked.
Picture a treadmill with a lobster on it, then picture the lobster with a small hand built scuba tank on its back, a 30-gauge needle (hand built thermocouple) in its main artery and a small tube directly in its heart. Consider that all of this instrumentation was also attached to analog to digital converter and then connected into a Macintosh Quadra running SuperScope II.
This setup allowed me to conduct work that had been previously published but using crude, pen-deflection and caliper measured techniques. For one of the first times, I was using digital data and could calculate more accurate cardiac function and respiration in the lobster.
Fast forward 24 years, and I’ve had the opportunity to consult with many different organizations, solving problems in as creative a way as possible. Intellectual curiosity is key to our work – our clients are expecting as much. Building a practice around helping organizations creatively work better together is a dead-on bulls-eye for my background and passions.
Can you do Portal or Collaboration independently? What observations – through your experience – do you wish more people recognized?
Absolutely, but there’s likely (really good) collaboration already happening within the organization. At some point, however, there will be a need to integrate that collaboration with some type of portal, site or intranet to take full advantage of more technical functions – document sharing, enhanced communication, workflow, etc.
Many companies are adopting flexible working arrangements for their employees. How important is a collaboration strategy in that process?
Flexible working arrangements and the ‘sharing economy’ have become the norm in some areas of the US. A virtual office where employees who are geographically disparate and teams that produce may never see each other are also quite common. For all of these cases, collaboration is critical. Technology, however, is not the solution, and can often impede collaboration. Simply placing a set of tools at the doorsteps of these needs without governance, norms or direction can create friction and lost productivity.
A collaboration strategy, starting with ‘WHAT’ and then moving into the tools and technology is effective. Considering the needs of a flexible working arrangement between three individuals is imperative to select the right tools, rules, and guidance. Understanding how a social feed for a disparate R&D team will work to keep each group involved requires a series of pilots.