Apple Computer is about to embark on a major milestone, 25 Billion downloads from the iTunes Store. This is just one of many milestones for this iconic company. And like many of their other milestones, this milestone did not happen overnight. In fact, it started over a decade ago by identifying their target audience, a user with the original ipod, a Mac computer and the iTunes application. These were all technologies that the company fully controlled; hence affording them complete control the user experience. Later the company continued to expand its target audience by supporting MS Windows, adding more content to the store and constantly re-inventing their hardware and software.
Adding a collaboration solution to your environment should not be much different than the Apple’s approach. Instead of a generic one size fits all approach, identify your target audience within the organization while keeping a keen eye on the applications that support the target audience. Try to select an application where you control the complete user experience throughout the development process. Once identified, tailor a solution that fits your user’s needs while identifying the common functionality that will serve well for other areas within the organization. Now work to enhance the application with collaboration capabilities that will serve the users best through ease of use and intuitive functionality. Launch this targeted application and begin to expand out to the rest of the organization. As you continue to expand to new organizations and applications, circle back to the existing users and tweak the solution if necessary. Track lessons learned along the way and apply them to the collaborative solutions delivered throughout your enterprise.
You can fully control the user experience by focusing on embedding collaboration services within applications that you completely control. This in turn leads to a greater chance of success for applying collaborative capabilities to your organization. Apple reached 25B downloads with a similar approach – bringing collaboration to 100% of your organization should be your milestone for success.
If using collaboration technology is going to become a truly integral part of your organization, it has to become second nature to your employees. It has to feel as easy and intuitive as any other form of collaboration they engage in on a daily basis, such as using their favorite social networking application to share ideas and pictures with family and friends. The following four simple steps can provide a viral collaborative environment:
- Streamline Authentication and User’s Profiles: Employees won’t want to use a system if it requires using different log-in IDs and passwords for accessing the system or manually copying their user profile information into the environment. Instead, the collaborative solution must be tightly integrated with the corporate identity management solution. The collaborative solution should access the existing information to obtain user profile information such as the users’ names, phone numbers, locations, skills, and group memberships. Since collaborative capabilities will be embedded into numerous applications, a single sign-on solution should be implemented. This type of solution requires that a user complete the authentication process once for the application, thus eliminating the need to re-authenticate for accessing each service.
- Integrate Collaboration with Applications: If 90 percent of your people use one application, if you can incorporate collaboration into that application, then 90 percent of your people will be connected instantly. By taking an inventory of your most-used applications and ranking them according to which get the most use, you can create a good road map for rolling out collaboration. You can start to get a sense of which applications will get the most mileage out of having collaboration integrated into them.
- Choose the Appropriate Functionality: Determine which collaborative capabilities should be integrated into which applications—and where in those applications. Many times, the answer is simply to add presence awareness to the most-used web page (the main launch page or the summary page, for example) and web applications. This way, when users come in on Monday morning and log into one of these applications—just as they did on Friday morning—they’ll, be able to see that their colleagues are online and available to collaborate with via the various collaborative capabilities. With the click of a button they can open a chat room or an IM session with one or more of these users.
- Maximize Screen Real Estate: Try to avoid using a large section of the screen real estate for collaboration services at the expense of allowing users to do their jobs with an application that is already familiar to them. Just a small section of the screen with a scroll bar that shows a thousand users are currently online or shows your Buddy List will be sufficient to get their attention.
It’s important to realize that you are trying to bring collaboration to the user, not create a collaboration tool. Now that you have everyone connected, you can begin to add additional collaborative capabilities to allow employees to work more efficiently together.
This past year has seen several IPOs from companies offering collaboration and social networking solutions. Early last year, LinkedIn went public with an initial value of nearly $9B at the end of its first day of trading. Last month Jive software, a maker of collaborative software solutions for business, went public with an IPO that that valued them at nearly $900M. And this week, everyone is anticipating the upcoming Facebook IPO with valuations estimated as high as $100B.
Numerous companies have launched an IPO with great fanfare only to drop drastically weeks or months later. LinkedIn is down about 15% from its first day of trading, while Jive is slightly down. Some are already asking “Will Facebook be the next Yahoo”.
One thing is certain, the increased interest by investors shows that there is a growing interest in collaboration and social networking technologies in both the consumer as well as the commercial spaces. What is your organization doing to take advantage of these new technologies?