Governance and urbanization choices, which condition the use of collaborative tools, depend on many factors such as company size, structure (which may or may not be centralized), culture (which may or may not be inclined to encourage local initiatives), and the powers the IT and digital management departments hold. Existing software and digital know-how of teams are also considered.
Global vs. local
In terms of the urbanization of the collaborative information system, two major approaches exist. One seeks to promote a single platform, generally based on the Microsoft or Google suite, and including its own social dimension. The other grants greater autonomy to entities’ own collaborative tools, including the choice of enterprise social networks (ESN). This debate mainly concerns medium and large companies, with small companies benefiting from a single ESN chosen for their targeted needs.
Scenario 1: a single ESN with the advantage of consistency
In this scenario, the ESN is imposed on all employees. Employees share the same tools, facilitating information flow throughout the entire organization. Operational entities (subsidiaries, departments, teams) are invited to abandon third-party software and shift their practices to the new platform. This shift can come with reluctance and varying degrees of success when the ESN doesn’t fully meet their expectations. Employees aren’t always ideally equipped to organize knowledge sharing and capitalization within an R&D department, for example. Finally, the single ESN may not offer such a successful user experience for exchanging information between colleagues in a mobile situation.
Scenario 2: a composite social information system
This second scenario favors local efficiency rather than overall consistency. As a result, several ESNs are sometimes required to coexist within the organization. One is generally assigned to cross-functional missions (communication, profile management, coordination of large thematic communities, etc.). The others serve more business and operational objectives.
However, companies are led to articulate these tools with each other, provide gateways for information flow, and—at the very least—share authentication mechanisms.
Two complementary integration paths
Urbanization issues are not limited to the relationship between ESNs. They also address the need for exchanges with other collaborative dimensions and, above all, with business applications. This is the main challenge, and a conviction shared by many market players. ESN editors regularly enrich their catalog of ready-to-connect applications. This is a first response to the need to simplify users’ lives.
Increasingly, companies are exploring another complementary path: that of Digital Workplaces, to offer users a personalized interface with centralized access to their applications, including their ESN. This is the option chosen by many large firms like Solvay or Saint-Gobain, but also smaller ones including the accounting company In Extenso (5,000 employees).
“Shadow IT”—a reality that must also be considered
The collaborative information system doesn’t have to be limited to company-provided tools. Called Shadow IT, the use of software not approved by the CIO isn’t new, but it’s made easier by the widespread use of SAAS (software as a service or remote) solutions—particularly in the use of digital tools for private purposes. Companies are not always aware of the extent of the phenomenon and may discover it haphazardly. For example, in one chance meeting, a transformation director of a large energy company discovered that 1,500 employees were meeting on Facebook.
Governance, a structuring choice
Governance has a direct impact on how the ESN is used. In the area of governance, practices, from the most structuring to the most permissive, vary considerably from one company to another.
Giving free rein to field initiatives
At the Centre France media group, the innovation unit in charge of accelerating digital transformation and supporting the adoption of its ESN doesn’t alone decide to renovate practices of this or that service. It prefers to encourage initiatives from its 1,600 employees by providing them with support and expertise, and relying on virality and mimicry to spread best practices.
For example, an initiative from one young recruit—the creation of a community of payroll managers—inspired a specialist in legal and social issues who followed suit with the same approach. Even initiatives outside the platform such as WhatsApp groups are welcomed within the media group. Blocking them would generate frustration and hinder the emergence of new uses. The same logic prevails at Air France-KLM, where several collaborative software are available. The message spread to employees is: “Take hold of collaborative tools and ESNs and use them as you see fit!”
Framing the creation of communities
In the industrial sector, approaches are generally more structured. Creating a community is subject to prior approval. This validation stage aims to maintain a certain consistency throughout the ESN by avoiding communities dealing with the same subject from competing with one another and creating confusion among users. It’s above all an opportunity to get the community’s creator thinking about the approach: specify the objectives sought—then define the means to be implemented and the resources to be mobilized. For example, facilitation efforts are regularly underestimated even though they’re the primary cause of a community’s failure. In this governance model, there is obviously no room for alternative solutions.
IMPORTANT: distinguish between Shadow IT and Alternative IT
To be sure, Shadow IT has its share of critics. It’s accused of jeopardizing the very coherence of the information system and raising security and confidentiality concerns. The criticism is partially well-founded. Arnaud Rayrole, general manager of Lecko, points out that a distinction must be made between consumer software and professional software. “In Premium mode, the latter offer the same guarantees in terms of administration and data rights as the large collaborative platforms deployed by the company.” He prefers to talk about Alternative IT. These tools, when they fill gaps in the information system, deserve to be integrated into the service offer the company provides.
✔ 62% of users want all IT and non-IT services in their company to be unified and accessible from a single portal or mobile app. (Digital Workplace study by Econocom/IDC from April 2018)
✔ 67% of employees use Shadow IT applications to communicate and collaborate with colleagues. (YouGov/Lecko study, January 2018).
✔ 1 shared space for 10 employees is the ratio observed in large companies by combining project spaces and communities of best practices, business projects and shared interests.
✔ 20% of a full-time position, i.e. one day per week, is the minimum time that should be devoted to running a community.
Governance best practices
Whatever the mode of governance, supporting the community creator in the online space configuration and, above all, reminding that person of the sustained effort over time that a community requires.