Avanade collaboration study, and what can we learn from it?

In the beginning of June, Avanade published a study on collaboration practices (press release [PDF], executive summary [PDF]) in enterprises. Here are some of the key findings from the study, spiced with some of my own views.

  • Target group: 538 executives, IT decision-makers and business unit leaders in 17 countries.
  • 80% of executives see enterprise-wide collaboration as a key element necessary for business success.
  • 35% feel that the communication and collaboration tools have made it easier to work with others.
  • 75% of companies plan on increasing the use of collaboration technologies in the next year.
  • The collaboration tools’ importance was assessed as follows (percentages indicate the proportion of respondents considering a given medium as “essential”):
    • 90+% email
    • 89% phone calls
    • 74% shared disk volumes
    • 62% corporate portals, intranets and team sites
    • 57% conference calls
    • (too bad there’s no data on instant messaging!)
  • 44% of companies think that collaboration technology must pay for itself in 24 months. 42% do not measure cost benefits, but this certainly doesn’t mean they wouldn’t name cost savings as a key driver.

On the negative side:

  • 38% of respondents think that people equipped with collaboration tools solve less problems on their own. In the US, this number is as high as 54%.
    • The fear centered on the idea of people offloading responsibilities and work onto their social network.
  • 25% of executives and IT decision-makers were “dreading” collaboration because of the amount of time and energy it wastes.
  • In companies with less than 1000 employees, 12% of employees consider collaboration to slow down their work. On the other hand, in larger companies only 6% find collaboration a slowing factor.
  • Also, C-level executives consider collaboration a slowdown three times more likely than IT decision-makers or business unit leads.

So what?

I think we’re looking at a significant cultural change here. I definitely agree with the 80% of executives holding collaboration as a key factor in business success. Simultaneously, I can clearly see a significant part of the workforce using social networks to avoid responsibility. But these are the people who were avoiding it all along anyway.

Collaboration tools (team sites, instant messaging, unified communications) aren’t really a revolutionary change, perhaps with the exception of IM and cheap video conferencing for geographically dispersed teams. Rather, they are an accelerator. A SharePoint Team Site, for example, can potentially combine data from dozens of applications and provide it in an easily browseable, offline-usable and shareable format.

But that doesn’t make anyone more lax or slow than before. What slows people down is either the improper control of work flow (see the classic Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork and the Myth of Total Efficiency for the typical stories) or the lack of competence. Collaboration tools make social, energetic and determined individuals shine, leaving less accomplished persons more alone. Social tools can be used to alleviate this loneliness, perhaps causing the phenomenon the upper management fears.

Now, that is a workplace problem worthy of C-level executive attention, but it’s hardly a tool question. It can be mitigated, but it requires a cultural change. C-level officers, often further away from the daily hum of the workplace, often see this as a structural problem. It rarely is; effective use of collaboration is probably best facilitated by first-level managers and middle management, driving their team culture towards effective working model.

To facilitate this, compliance and governance rules laid by the top brass should be simple and generic enough to allow relative organizational independence. The corporation never dictated the agenda of team meetings, so why should all team sites be forced to the same template?

Gold rush ahead?

There’s a whole bunch of work to be done. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a gold mine for everybody. First of all, while the late recession left companies yearning for innovation in technology (in fact, the Avanade study says 80% of companies have become more open to new technology due to the economic turmoil), building a credible business case for collaboration tools isn’t exactly trivial. Apart from the obvious reduction in travel expenses, the financial gains are hard to measure and prove.

I think there are two types of vendors benefitting from this next wave.

The first ones are the big ones who actually can provide a credible enough story to convince the top management. This approach breeds the traditional enterprise adoption problems.

The second ones are the small ones who empower smaller units within a corporation by providing a solution that actually turns out to be effective, becoming a phenomenon within the company (see an example of enterprise micro-blogging spread, from my previous OfficeTalk post).

Also, there’s going to be intense competition from the cloud, particularly within the second group. Services like Basecamp provide an excellent bang-for-the-buck ratio, and the setup is easy enough to enable adoption even without centralized support.

Winners in this game are those who not only setup the tools, but also facilitate the cultural change required to use them successfully.

June 24, 2010 · Jouni Heikniemi · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Information Worker

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