Is the Future of Enterprise Collaboration Now?

People don’t share enough information.  It’s a well-documented behavior. Sometimes they horde because they have been led to believe that “knowledge is power” and centralizing data access will increase their personal value to the firm.  Luckily, the primary reason for lack of sharing is due to legacy information systems which are sub-optimal for sharing and discovery and not bad behavior.

It’s been two years since McKinsey Global Institute published The Social Economy.   In that research, McKinsey concluded that use of social technologies could provide 2x the value in enhanced communications, knowledge sharing and collaboration within companies over traditional methods.

“By adopting these organizational technologies, we estimate that companies could raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent. However, realizing such gains will require significant transformations in management practices and organizational behavior. Social technologies can enable organizations to become fully networked enterprises—networked in both a technical and in a behavioral sense.” McKinsey Global Institute

Most businesses understand that enterprise social networking is one component of a solution to improve workplace efficiency.  And despite that these tools have been around for what seems to be a dog’s age, their adoption has been growing slower than what McKinsey predicted in 2012.

Interestingly, the notion of enterprise collaboration is as old as the enterprises themselves;  however, it is only recently that information technology has been able to support the concept.   In the 1980s, companies began using desktop productivity technology such as word processors and spreadsheets.  The early 1990s was the advent of basic messaging tools such as e-mail and and later chat.  In the 2000s, the capability moved to increased team productivity supported by wikis, blogs, and conferencing facilities.   But true enterprise-level productivity achieved through making the right connections at the right time has remained an elusive ‘holy grail.’

For those of us who design information products for use within companies, it was assumed that McKinsey’s research would cause an explosion of firms looking to capture untapped productivity through using Web 2.0 tools inside the firewall.  Even though the pace of companies embracing enterprise social collaboration has been increasing,  it’s not as rapid as every study I’ve read in the past few years predicted.

But I am sensing a sea change in companies both large and small.   The value of enhanced workplace collaboration is now simply too large to ignore.

And the primary driver is coming from how companies are reshaping themselves.

How you say?

Companies are flatting their hierarchies.  That’s a trend that’s been happening for years.  And the effect of this trend is that ‘management’ decisions must be made by a more engaged, informed and autonomous workforce.   The flatter the organization, the greater the need to share information more broadly throughout the firm.

As leadership functions continue to become more distributed, the workforce will need ever greater access to key information to  make the right decisions without access to line manager authority.  In short, the workforce must become more empowered.   And information DOES equate to power… but only when hundreds of people can find the information they need and can put it to use.

Zappos announced an approach where there are embracing a new management called Holacracy which organizes around the work that needs doing versus around people and titles.  There are a number of these new matrixed workforce structures all of which are targeted at reducing organizational inefficiencies.

And the primary technologies that will make these flatter management structures succeed are precisely the social / Web 2.0 collaboration technologies that McKinsey predicted in 2012 will become pervasive within all successful firms.

So maybe, just maybe… the promise of Enterprise 2.0 is soon to be realized.

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