This is my 5th post in a series of tips on how to build a successful enterprise social network (ESN). In this post, I’ll address the importance and place of the decision regarding the platform to be used. Tip #5 is:
Pick a good platform, but don’t focus on the technology.
In this tip, I allude to two concerns: the role of IT in the decision-making process, and the capabilities of the platform itself. First, let’s consider the role of IT.
The decision of which ESN platform to use is too often determined solely or largely by IT departments in an enterprise. That’s a mistake. Of course, IT departments have to be involved in the decision-making process as a stakeholder, especially if the ESN is installed on the company’s servers and not provided by a hosted solution. Even in a hosted solution, though, there will be matters related to integration with other platforms and security considerations that necessarily involve IT.
However, IT is just one stakeholder among many in an ESN, and in my opinion they are not the primary stakeholder and should not have the dominant role or decision-making authority in the platform decision. Why? Because an ESN is about communication. It’s about connecting people. It’s about developing relationships. It’s about learning and changing the way we work. IT isn’t the right area to drive any of those initiatives in an organization.
Consider for a moment the typical problem in a company of “we don’t collaborate or communicate well enough together.” What will IT’s solution to that be? They’ll purchase another tool and install it, or they’ll spend mass quantities of time and resources developing another tool or contracting with a big name vendor to consult about the tools and processes they need. Then the next year when the same complaint arises again that “we don’t collaborate or communicate well enough together,” they do the same thing again, and again, and again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The people problem never gets solved because they aren’t the right ones to solve it.
The list of ESN stakeholders includes IT as well as areas such as HR, communications, learning, marketing and others. ESNs are used to build a community of connected people. IT isn’t the right business area to be driving that. IT should have only a supporting role as technology security and integration partners in the process. If an ESN is about connecting people and getting them to relate and work well, then another business area has to drive that – one that understands the people aspect of the experience. That includes selection of a user-friendly, effective platform that meets the business needs and takes into consideration how people relate to one another and what effective, modern communication looks like from a human – not just a technological – perspective. In most organizations, I suspect that will be either HR or internal communications or some combo of the two.
The second aspect of this tip deals with the capabilities of the platform itself. This will, of course, be driven by the business requirements that are hopefully thought out and agreed on by all the stakeholders in advance of the purchase decision. But beware of a danger here. You do not necessarily need the latest and greatest ESN with, for example, 60 fantastic features when your users will on average use maybe six of those features. Know the difference between must-haves and nice-to-haves. Understand that users can be overwhelmed by interfaces that offer too much as opposed to friendly interfaces that are beautifully simple and intuitive to use.
In our environment at work, it’s important for people to post messages, comment on and like posts by others, create and participate in special interest groups, follow people, share public and private messages, integrate streams into various other platforms, create custom streams, give kudos, and a few other things as the main, day-to-day uses. Having 50 other capabilities would not improve the user experience. In all likelihood it would detract from and complicate it.
Do your homework about the platforms available. You’ll find a variety of vendors offering solutions from those that are stand-alone to those that are completely dependent on integration into other products. You’ll find on-premise and hosted solutions. You’ll find that most are really strong in some areas but have weaknesses in other areas. Talk with clients of any platform you are considering to find the good, the bad and the ugly so that you can make an informed decision. Use published comparison studies such as the Forrester Wave for Social Depth Platforms, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace, compiled lists like the ones here, here and here, and this one that focuses on ESNs and their mobile clients. We’ve even had an #ESNchat on the subject of platform comparisons you’re welcome to check out.
Know your users and what you need them to be able to do. Don’t be enamored by the bells and whistles of the latest platforms. Know what you need in a platform to build a community, help connect people, and enable people to do their work more effectively and efficiently. Your ESN needs to easily be integrated into where and when and how people do their work, so the platform needs to support that. Do not go with a stand-alone platform that ends up being yet one more destination for people’s already busy work lives. You will quickly be disappointed in its limitations. (I’ll write much more about integration in a later post in this series.)
Picking a platform is an important decision. Who makes the call in choosing it is a bigger decision.
In the words of tip #5, Pick a good platform, but don’t focus on the technology.
See the following posts for previous tips in this series: