Chatting in the lounge of our Global CIO virtual event this week, one CIO raised his concern about having too many collaboration platforms. A wiki here, e-mail alerts there, a SharePoint group there, and pretty soon the discussion's fragmented, and IT has a bunch more platforms to support.It's a worry I share, and my world's much less complicated than the environment managed by this CIO, who's at a major manufacturing company. (If you missed the Global CIO virtual event, you can see the presentations here. Sorry, lounge chats not recorded!) Here at InformationWeek, we have team members spread across the country, and we use e-mail, IM, and wikis extensively to collaborate. But we haven't exactly cracked the code for what's ideal for each platform. The wiki's wildly effective for managing a shared document-like the lineup of articles we have in the pipeline-but a lot of that information also still gets pushed out by e-mail, so we end up feeding both platforms, and missing a chance for efficiency.
We've indirectly recently written about this issue in two recent articles: one on how ad hoc collaboration fits with formal processes such as product development, and another on how to make enterprise social networking pay off.
A couple consulting firms we know well in this area, Doculabs and Corridor Consulting, are trying to build a Web community around these issues, at sharepointgovernance.org. So I talked with Russ Edelman, whose Corridor Consulting specializes in Microsoft SharePoint projects, about how to know if you're adding too many collaboration platforms.
His advice is to first be clear on what type of "collaboration" we're talking about, since it might cover anything from video conferencing to wikis to more formal content management systems. Next is to define the goals, and that's where many a project goes awry. Says Edelman:
We lean very heavily on a blended perspective of business objectives and 'wif-m' --- what's in it for me - objectives. How do you make employees lives easier? … If it's not drop dead easy, often you might have a technical success of standing up a collaboration platform, but have a business failure. … If you're not answering the question of how you're going to make their lives easier, in addition to making the business more productive, people are absolutely going to choke on it. They'll say 'I'm too busy for this.'"
Collaboration platforms with that kind of lukewarm adoption are deadly. They suck up IT time and support, and they splinter collaboration into those on the system and off it, erasing the productivity and openness they're supposed to foster. The CIO in the chat in our virtual event had it right: Be wary of too many platforms.