Many IT pros have moved beyond email toward new social collaboration tools that do more than provide better communication among employees.
These tools take their cues from the popularity of social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. If social networking can help people communicate more effectively in their personal lives, the thought goes, it can have similar benefits in the business world -- especially when it comes to real-time collaboration, sharing data and managing documents.
“It doesn’t have that interruptive mentality of email,” said John Doyle, director of technology and communications for Alure Home Improvements, a contracting company based in Plainview, N.Y. “You can tap into information streams that interest you or get your messages in front of the right people at the exact moment you need to.”
Communicating with employees via email alone has been a challenge for Alure. The company sends renovation crews to various sites, and those employees communicate over email. Some employees are inadvertently excluded, or there are lags in communication between messages, Doyle said.
Now the company uses Yammer, Inc., which is sort of a private, enterprise version of Twitter. It has “broken down those invisible walls” among employees and allowed real-time communication, Doyle said.
Of course, not all employees are keen on social media.
“There was a group that was reluctant -- a mix of old timers and others that didn’t understand it,” Doyle said.
But younger employees who were already highly active on Facebook and other social networks were “all in,” he said. Once the reluctant employees began to see the benefits of their coworkers’ use of social collaboration tools, they slowly changed their work habits, he added.
Beyond SharePoint -- new social collaboration tools
Microsoft SharePoint is the most common collaboration platform in the enterprise, but a growing number of more consumer-friendly applications now allow employees to gather in a central location to communicate in real time, or to work with one another to share data and files.
“It’s intranet 2.0,” said Martin Schneider, an analyst at 451 Research, an IT research firm based in New York.
Unlike traditional intranets, these new tools allow employees to “not just adopt another application” but instead replace “five systems with one,” Schneider said.
There are plenty of other options, such as Jive Software Inc., eXo Workspace, IBM Connections, and Salesforce Chatter. Last week, ManageEngine announced ITPulse, a social collaboration platform specifically for IT pros. And Box, best known for its enterprise cloud storage and file-syncing service, has added more social collaboration features to its platform.
Resistance to social collaboration tools
Educating employees about the benefits of social collaboration tools and convincing them to actually use those tools are two of the main challenges IT pros said they face.
Another problem is that many large organizations still rely on older internal systems and homegrown applications, Schneider said.
In addition, resistance to change appears to affect the success rate of social collaboration deployments. For example, only 64% of companies reported a benefit from using social collaboration tools, because employees struggled to reduce their reliance on email and document attachments, a Forrester Research report showed.
Other factors that inhibit the use of corporate collaboration tools include the use of external social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, and the persistent belief that corporate intranets are a dumping ground of old data, said Brad Shimmin, a collaborative platforms analyst at Current Analysis, an IT consultancy based in Washington, D.C.
More on social collaboration tools
Consumer cloud storage and social collaboration software tools: An IT guide
Enterprise collaboration platforms go social -- or at least try to
Content is king in social collaboration
In response, some vendors are turning to gamification to hook employees into using these tools.
One vendor, Spigit, Inc., which takes a crowdsourcing approach to social collaboration, has built game mechanics, such as badges and an interaction leaderboard, into its platform to entice users, the company said. Jive partnered with Bunchball Inc. last month to add gamification to its social enterprise software as well.