This week has been interesting because several clients have raised the same issue in the context of their document management/collaboration goals. Each client has finally reached the same conclusion – the successful implementation of their new technology solution is not going to be dependent on the quality of the software we select or even entirely on the brilliance of our design. Success is clearly dependent on getting the users to use the new solution by making it incredibly easy to do so without a major change in their business processes. Can this be done? Well, even companies that make these solutions apparently have problems.
I have written a lot about the fact that the hardest part of collaboration solutions isn’t necessarily getting the design perfect the first time or even selecting the best software platform, it’s integrating the solution seamlessly into the way people work (or as seamlessly as possible given that you are asking people to do something differently from the way they used to do it). I was intrigued by an article I read this week in KMWorld that talked about a recent study on the document collaboration segment of the enterprise content management market that covered 10 leading collaboration tools (www.butlergroup.com). It included EMC, IBM, Microsoft, Open Text and Oracle. Each vendor was asked to create and review the report using their own collaboration software. But, 8 of the 10 vendor participants gave up and resorted to using e-mail!!! If the software vendors of collaboration solutions can’t find successful ways to leverage their own technology to collaborate, what does that say for either their solution analysts or the ease of use of their products? Basically, it says that changing behavior is hard and that organizations that want to successfully deploy collaboration software need to ensure that their project plan includes a sufficient amount of time and energy devoted to addressing the issue of integrating the use of the software into the way people actually get work done, maybe even by defining procedures for when using e-mail to collaborate is, in fact, perfectly OK.
I’m not sure that any of us in this space have completely figured out the holy grail of online collaboration, clearly not even the people who make the software designed to support it. However, I know that the answer lies in seamlessly integrating the software solution into existing work processes not trying to change work processes dramatically to adapt to the requirements of the software.