The CIO of one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers: “For us, collaboration is the main factor for the (accelerated) development of successful products and simultaneously the key success factor for implementing the digital transformation at our company.” How we create is what we create.
This is achieved with new forms of collaboration and new forms of technology - summarized under the term “Social Collaboration”. But the question remains: can these wishes and hopes also be supported with hard facts, and can the positive effects be confirmed with concrete numbers?
First German Social Collaboration Study
The recently analyzed results of a large new study on Social Collaboration, conducted by the Technical University of Darmstadt in 2015/2016, help to shed some light on this issue. More than 150 companies in all industry sectors, mainly consisting of larger medium-sized and large companies, participated in the study with more than 330 participants, almost of half which work in upper and medium-level management.
An initial surprise was the clearly-formulated objectives pursued by the companies: Almost three quarters of participants (73%) intend to use Social Collaboration to change or improve their corporate culture. Almost half of respondents intend to use it to promote process innovations (47%) or production innovations (43%).
The Social Collaboration degree of maturity looks at which and how intensively companies use collaboration technologies. In addition, the study also asks about perceived work efficiency and the relevance of the scenario to daily work routines. As expected, responses were dominated by “exchange of documents” and “communication and coordination within the team”. A high degree of maturity in implementation reflects this important priority. But the surprises do not end there: these two scenarios, which are considered top priorities, are followed by “search for experts” and “exchange within interest groups”; these are mentioned before “mobile work” or “internal company information” (Intranet). In terms of the degree of maturity and implementation, these scenarios are however in last place, which highlights a major discrepancy between importance and reality. The search for experts and knowledge continues to be overly characterized by analog work methods!
But the study also provides arguments to counter the concerns raised by sceptics: Document-centered collaboration demonstrates the big impact from the actual use of technology - not to be confused with the pure provision of technology: Companies that make intensive use of modern technologies, such as virtual team work areas, are almost 50% more efficient (48% higher perceived work efficiency compared to companies that provide the technology but are not using it to any great degree). Or put another way: In companies that offer a high level of maturity in terms of social collaboration, employees and managers are much more satisfied with regard to managing their tasks.
Medium-sized Companies Need Catch-up
Some catch-up requirements are evident in the segment of the larger medium-sized companies: Companies with up to 20,000 employees fare worse than large companies in all scenarios with respect to perceived work efficiency as well as the level of maturity in terms of social collaboration. But this also means that there are more opportunities in this area! Let's take a look at the following example: Medium-sized companies that successfully use technologies such as a company-wide search function or Enterprise Social Networks in their search for knowledge achieve 58% higher work efficiency. These are surprisingly high numbers.
The study results also suggest something that we see on a regular basis: medium-sized companies do not limit themselves as much to individual scenarios and local improvements, but rather aim for a comprehensive Social Collaboration strategy. Based on our experience, this approach is frequently supported, and in many cases carried, by top management.
We recently had an opportunity to discuss the results and consequences from the study with decision-makers and CIOs in a small group setting in Hamburg. This lively round of discussion can be summarized as follows:
1. How we create is what we create
The main success factor - bringing together different experts, different areas of the company and different locations or national affiliates! Really new things only emerge from a diversity of ideas and experience.
2. Less (i.e. fewer tools) is more (benefit)
A development manager reports that “our company offers more than 25 tools that can be used for social collaboration”. Are they trying to create a situation in which employees are faced with too many choices? A comprehensive social collaboration strategy provides clarification regarding competitive or redundant tools; initially, competition between solutions is a good thing. But then the competition has to boil down to: which tools should be used to implement which use cases? Your employees have a right to clear answers!
3. Social collaboration and corporate culture
Social collaboration technologies have a lot to do with a changed corporate culture. They are cause and effect simultaneously: on the one hand, the values that are relevant to management and collaboration are changing in many companies. The importance of hierarchically-implemented or hierarchically-dependent processes is declining. The importance of common values, goals and a common vision is increasing, and shapes particularly those companies that master or even lead the coming digital transformation process. This requires integrated exchange processes and variable forms of communication, and also requires the use of new tools and social collaboration technologies such as SharePoint or Yammer. In turn, these technologies can also accelerate the transformation process. The internal use of social media components leads to other forms of collaboration - something that is also confirmed by the study.
4. Management of Change
The management of the transformation must be organized and supervised - but not with the large-scale roll-out of training measures. Rather, a large number of smaller but coordinated measures is the key. It is the only way to ensure that employees will actually participate in the process. Most employees have a good feel for the actions of their managers: Are they serious about this? Do they also take an active role? Do the managers themselves benefit from social collaboration? This will decide the success or failure of any social collaboration technology.