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Championing enterprise collaboration



Most CIOs would agree that collaboration is key to the long-term success of IT service management; but as Nigel Martin reports, careful planning is essential in ensuring that we engage effectively with stakeholders inside and outside IT.


IT needs to harness social technology with a clear purpose. Enterprise collaboration tools are gaining traction in other areas of the business and the benefits of a more ‘social’ business are becoming tangible. 


Social collaboration is destined to be the next great paradigm shift in internal corporate communication and co-working. 


However, collaboration outside of their department has not traditionally been one of IT’s core strengths. IT people are natural problem solvers, but they’re inclined to tackle and solve problems on their own. As such, the challenge of making IT more open and collaborative is not an easy one; it requires a change in culture, not just a change in technology.


Businesses know they need to get their people working together to share knowledge and collectively solve problems. Deloitte’s recent CIO survey crystallises the current challenge facing IT leaders: “Now is the time for CIOs to choose whether to remain custodians of core IT systems or become drivers of growth through technological innovation.”


The core issue lies in the latency of allocating the right investment to these enabling technologies. So while there is almost universal recognition that investment in new technology is the right thing to do, allocation of funding is not matching intention. If we look at the CIOs top three elements of their portfolio (delivery of business outcomes through IT services; enhancing the customer experience through technology and building a more agile model) it is clear that without investment in collaborative technologies there will remain a Rubicon to cross.


To stay relevant to the business, IT must cross this divide. Technology is a key enabler and differentiator in organisations large and small, so it’s important that IT and the business collaborate to agree on the technology they need, and IT teams collaborate with each other to deliver that technology fast. Otherwise, business units will quickly take their technology demands to third party cloud and managed service providers.


Effective problem management means finding the root cause quickly, but in large organisations with complex interconnected infrastructures the process of root cause analysis can extend across multiple teams. Collaborative working helps you quickly pull knowledge from different teams to identify key areas for investigation, getting you to the root of the problem faster.


So how do you go about planning an IT collaboration initiative? 


The key challenge of implementing collaboration is taking the first steps and understanding that the optimal route to adoption may be to start small and build momentum. 


The first step is to gain executive support. With the best will in the world, there is no guarantee that collaboration will take off organically and if it is happening already it needs structure to fully leverage, so your collaboration strategy will need the “force of law” behind it. Executives must reinforce that ‘this is happening’ to drive engagement. 


It may sound simple, but start small. Agree on clear and practical goals. It is common practice for new collaboration projects to start within IT, building momentum and laying the foundation for a shift in working practice. Following the ITIL framework, adopting collaboration for processes, such as the Change Advisory Board, can provide a practical starting point.


Examine offline networking activity and pockets of online collaboration that are already happening. This exercise should uncover and inspire use cases - opportunities for the introduction of virtual collaboration into existing IT processes. ‘Baby steps’ is the order of the day; this isn’t the time to re-engineer socially-oriented processes from the ground up. 


Business priorities should be kept in mind when selecting use cases, to ensure that they tackle problems that are affecting the business. Connect with process and service owners to discuss and refine these opportunities before taking them into production.


Clearly, IT collaboration needs supporting tools. The use cases should throw light on the technology requirements, but on top of the functional requirements there is one other key requirement: the technology needs to be integrated into the IT operations tools that people are using. 


The functions need to be front-and-centre in the systems they already use. If they need to log into a different system, adoption will be severely compromised.


It’s at this stage that social mentoring is important, to help change habits and embed the desired collaboration mentality. As users see the value for themselves, they will start to see opportunities for collaboration that haven’t been prescribed to them. They will experiment beyond the initial use cases, using the inherent flexibility of collaborative tools to support other processes and tasks that benefit from collaboration and crowd sourcing. 


This is the tipping point in the adoption of IT collaboration. Where the tipping point lies will depend on your organisation and what you hope to achieve – but you will need to plan out how to get to this point (and then monitor the “health” of IT collaboration going forward). It is not possible to simply drop the technology on people and expect them to navigate their own way through an unfamiliar social maze.


It is important to recognise and reward successes to keep up momentum. Positive peer feedback is a powerful motivator for continued engagement and gamification is also an effective driver. By rewarding valuable collaborative behaviour with points and badges you can establish a positive feedback loop, reinforce the importance of collaboration and optimise engagement levels.

Of course, an IT collaboration strategy shouldn’t just be virtual.  It’s important to mirror digital collaboration with efforts to increase collaboration in the offline/physical space. Remove physical barriers like cubes and private offices. Replace them with open plan desk areas and informal meeting areas.


Once cross-IT collaboration hits a certain level of maturity and IT people are familiar with the mechanisms and social etiquette, it’s time to extend collaboration out to the end-user community. This is the point at which IT can finally begin to build real bridges with the business: engaging with business stakeholders in open discussions around how IT can support more efficient operations and new technology-driven business strategies.



Nigel Martin is VP of Global Marketing at Axios Systems



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