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April 02, 2013
The Future of Enterprise Collaboration is Social – and Seamless
By: Michael Biltz

Enterprises are always looking for ways to help employees communicate with each other more effectively. The reasoning is simple: better communication leads to faster and higher-quality work, which, in turn, drives increased productivity.

The rise in social networking has breathed new life into efforts to improve internal collaboration. Social technology has changed the way consumers interact, and enterprises naturally want to harness that proclivity toward better communication and collaboration within the enterprise. That’s why seamless collaboration is one of the emerging IT trends in our recently released Accenture Technology Vision 2013 report, which outlines our predictions on which technologies will have a significant impact on organizations—for both their IT departments and their businesses overall—in the next few years.

However, many enterprises are viewing social collaboration trends through the wrong lens. Consumers widely use Twitter, but deploying Twitter to employees won’t solve the communication challenges a company faces. Facebook’s e-mail and document-sharing features are not enough to make the wildly popular social network appropriate for the corporate world. At work, people are motivated to get their job done as quickly and effectively as possible. Using social tools as designed today, to follow coworkers en masse, often becomes more of a time sink than a time saver.

But social technologies can and do work for enterprises. A 2012 study by Nucleus Research found that adding social capabilities to CRM drives an average increase in sales staff productivity of 11.8 percent. The key to capturing the benefits of a highly collaborative, social workforce lies in integrating social technologies into the systems and processes that employees use every day.

For example, adding the ability to comment, instant message, or follow a product through its activity stream within an order fulfillment application promotes a free-flowing exchange of ideas otherwise absent within a distributed supply chain. It facilitates dialogue and education, enabling colleagues and business partners to easily share knowledge and learning.

Embedding social collaboration into business processes
Some packaged-software developers are already adding these new capabilities to their applications. SAP, with its Jam tool, and Oracle, with its Social Relationship Management platform, now allow companies to connect collaboration tools into their ERP and CRM packages. In addition, Salesforce.com has integrated its Chatter collaboration tool into its PaaS and SaaS applications. Collaboration platform Jive allows companies to layer collaboration on top of specific tasks, such as software development. The ultimate result: embedded channels combining search, knowledge management, workflow, and collaboration, which deliver the prized ability to help users more easily and effectively do their jobs.

By tying the integrated collaboration experience to business processes, disparate channels evolve from separate applications into a single user experience. For example, startup Clearspire is using social technologies to reimagine how a law firm is built. It has created its own cloud-based platform that embeds social and collaboration efforts between lawyers and their clients into the processes. Matter diaries, budgets, and task applications are shared seamlessly with those who have access, allowing lawyers and clients to work on their cases collaboratively from any location. The collaboration technology isn’t layered onto the process; it has become the process.

Such integrated systems deliver a richer experience for individual users. But just making a tool available doesn’t mean employees will adopt it. If the usefulness of a new tool isn’t obvious, businesses will never see any ROI. Embedding collaboration requires a cultural shift within the enterprise to change the way it looks at both its workers and its business processes.

What seamless collaboration will look like
The new face of collaboration will show up first as social interactions are integrated into business processes. When employees are able to chat, share information, identify specialists, get recommendations, and find the right answers to their questions directly within the context of their work, they’ll quickly become smarter, more responsive, and more productive. It will be clear who’s participating and contributing, just as it is on social-media sites today, and it will be easy for employees to reach out for information.

But that’s just the start of what’s possible. As part of the broader movement to consolidate siloed IT capabilities into business processes, we expect to see deeper convergence of search and knowledge-management activities that complement collaboration. The underlying challenge is to create a user experience that helps employees get the information they need when they need it.

Enterprises that take advantage of converged collaboration have an opportunity to see significant productivity gains. By enabling employees to work smarter, they are more aware of important context for their decisions and actions. Workers will be more likely to identify problems sooner, reliably find the fixes they need, and share the solutions with the right people.

Further, as enterprises quantify their collaboration efforts, they will reveal a more complete picture of how their employees and their business processes actually work—and they’ll be able to make them even more efficient going forward.

To learn more about seamless collaboration and other 2013 IT trends, download the Accenture Technology Vision report.

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