Improve Collaboration and Documentation
With Social Collaboration Software
IndustryView | 2015
Knowledge management is a critical component of any well-functioning business—yet it can be a daunting task. Increasingly, companies are enlisting social collaboration software (SCS) to help capture, store and track their documents and communication. We surveyed workers who use social collaboration software, whether as a stand-alone application or as part of a larger project management (PM) software suite, to better understand how it can lead to more effective knowledge management.
Today, the amount of information swirling around in any organization is certainly abundant, if not overwhelming—in fact, by 2020, experts predict that more than 5,200 GB of data will be created and consumed per year for each person on the planet. And as businesses grow in scope and complexity, so does the amount of information they store and process. This information, or “knowledge,” essentially comes in two forms: documents and communication.
Managing knowledge means capturing, storing and tracking documents and communication so that companies can learn from them. Because there is no shortage of documents in today’s workplace, and because communication can be difficult to track, the challenges in managing knowledge are apparent, especially given an increasingly remote workforce. Given these trends, more enterprises are implementing some form of SCS—and small to midsize businesses are likely to follow.
So how can company stakeholders corral this knowledge and use it to make better, more informed decisions?
One possible solution lies in the concepts of a familiar, if somewhat unlikely, platform: social media. Workplace social collaboration software uses similar principles and functionality to consumer-facing social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. All are designed to promote user interaction, real-time conversations and file-sharing. As an added advantage, they serve as an archive for past communication—which is an integral part of knowledge management.
Software Advice wanted to determine how companies are using social collaboration software and how its use can enhance knowledge management, so we surveyed hundreds of employees across various industries and business units. We also spoke to industry experts to get their take on the advantages and future of this technology.
Social collaboration software comes in different forms. It can be a stand-alone program that simply facilitates and tracks communication across an organization, an option becoming more prevalent in businesses. It includes modules such as activity streams, profiles, groups and “@”mentions.
Social collaboration interface from Clarizen
Social collaboration software can also exist as an application within a larger project management or customer relationship management (CRM) software suite. In the interest of clarity, this report will refer to all such solutions—including those that might otherwise be classified as PM or CRM software, yet offer robust social collaboration functionality—as social collaboration software.
SCS, much like its consumer counterparts, facilitates business communication in several ways. First, it provides various communication tools, including chat, private messaging and posting in group spaces or threads. Many SCS solutions also integrate with email. Whether it’s a private message or a post to a group about a project, communication within SCS is stored and searchable in a central location.
Social collaboration interface from Convo
SCS also provides a hub for document collaboration. Many SCS platforms integrate with cloud storage solutions and automate document versioning—meaning, when documents are updated, they are assigned a new title. This functionality allows collaborators to easily share and track documents within the software and to identify the most recent version.
Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO of project management and collaboration software provider Clarizen, says the real benefit of SCS is its ability to track what he calls the “asset journey.” Everything you do at work, he explains, essentially contributes to “creating and nurturing the assets you have.” An asset can be as large as a project or as small a document, and its journey is the path it takes from creation to completion, and beyond.
A typical path an asset takes might involve creating and sharing the asset internally. Next, coworkers might collaborate on the asset until they’re ready to execute on it. Finally, they’ll maintain the asset and measure its performance.
For example, say you outline an email marketing campaign, and share it through an SCS private message with a colleague. That colleague makes notes, then posts it to a group thread. More colleagues collaborate, and the outline becomes a process document. The marketing campaign is executed upon and tracked, with minor maintenance tweaks along the way. Later, the success of the email campaign is measured, analyzed and discussed within the SCS group thread. The process document is revisited to see what could have been done better, and changes are made for the next campaign.
SCS allows this entire journey to be tracked in one place. The movement of the asset from one person to another, the comments regarding the asset and any changes made are clear and searchable. This transparency is especially helpful in fostering collaboration among remote teams who don’t have the benefit of personal interaction in an office.
First, we sought to find out how prevalent the use of SCS is—either as a stand-alone application or as part of a suite. We found that while many in our sample (71 percent) still use email to collaborate at work, a surprising 77 percent majority use SCS.
Though it may be surprising that so many are using some form of SCS, it is less surprising that email is still a popular way of collaborating.
“Email is the largest social network on earth,” Nowogrodski explains. “Everyone has an email address, and email is still a point of accountability.” He stresses, however, that email works well only when used in the context of the “work graph.” The work graph is another term for the sum of a company’s workflow.
To better illustrate, consider a conventional city map. Typically, this map will be made up of a great number of roads and streets that intersect and lead to places within the city. Similarly, the work graph for an organization is comprised of a great number of asset journeys that intersect and lead somewhere. Just as it’s important to understand where a road leads in the context of the city, it is important to understand an asset journey in context of the larger work graph.
SCS provides organizations a holistic picture of their work graph, which allows them to identify where certain asset journeys intersect with others, what challenges to be aware of and where efficiencies can be made.
When email isn’t integrated into a larger social collaboration or project management platform, Nowogrodksi says, it is simply unstructured, unconnected information that gets lost. Just as a street on a conventional map can lack meaning without the context of the rest of the city, each asset journey is more meaningful when shared and understood in the context of the work graph.
“The whole vision of collaboration is about sharing. The great thing about sharing is it creates transparency. Transparency gives you visibility to avoid [mistakes],” he says.
Ryan McDonald, global head of product for Convo, a social collaboration software provider, echoes this sentiment.
“When all your conversation is on one platform, and that platform works across all of your devices, that lets every member on the team work together,” he says.
Digging deeper, we asked respondents how frequently they use SCS for document collaboration and file-sharing. After all, collaborating on, capturing, storing and tracking documents in one place makes it easier for workers and companies to make better decisions.
A combined majority (58 percent) use SCS at least once per day to collaborate on documents, with 29 percent using it multiple times per day.
Most SCS integrates with cloud storage solutions—or can act as storage solutions themselves, since many users in our sample note that they regularly attach documents to their SCS communications. This means collaborative documents are archived, and can be searched and curated through the SCS. That is, instead of having to search the storage solution, one can simply open a discussion thread or search within the SCS to access a specific document or find the most updated version.
Some SCS modules help not only to facilitate document collaboration, but to automate it, says Nowogrodski. For example, functionality known as “activity streams” updates everyone on a project automatically when a certain action has been taken, such as when a task is completed or a document is shared, and provides notifications when a task or document is not on time.
Another tool that helps automate collaboration is one many will recognize from social media: @mentions. The idea is that when an “@” symbol is attached to a user profile name, the communication automatically notifies that user, just as it would in Facebook or Twitter.
Example of @mention from Convo
According to McDonald, @mentions “give people an easy way to sift through a large volume of communication and hone in on what actually needs their attention.”
Communication is another integral part of knowledge management. When asking respondents how often they use various SCS communication functionality, we find that private messaging is used at least once daily by a combined 64 percent of respondents. What’s more, 36 percent report using private messages multiple times per day.
McDonald points out that one of the great benefits of SCS is the multitude of alternative communication methods offered.
“[Email] evolved from writing memos, where there’s a long turnaround time, and it tends to be very formal,” he explains. “The kind of norms when you’re writing an email are generally longer than some of these new solutions like chat, where the response time is very fast.”
Private messaging, a form of chat, is usually meant for more informal communication. Since it is a direct message that may even pop up on a user’s screen, it generally involves a quicker response time. Users are likely to choose this option when they need immediate and/or unfiltered feedback.
Group posting can be used for more involved discussions. Posting in a the thread of a project or group page communicates to many at once, allowing multiple people into the conversation and providing greater transparency. Additionally, with an @mention, users can post a message to a group while specifying that a particular user should be notified and/or respond.
“Letting you separate your communication into two different channels can actually help knowledge management, because it helps you to segment the noisy, ephemeral chatter from what is meaningful, company knowledge,” McDonald says.
Both McDonald and Nowogrodski note that within SCS, both private messages and group posts are still traceable, and therefore serve to enhance knowledge management.
“[With SCS] you have traceability,” Nowogrodski states. “To track execution is key for many companies.”
More than anything, SCS provides a way for companies to store and track documents and conversations in one place. Having this knowledge centralized not only makes it easier to use and manage, but also creates efficiencies across business units, as everyone in the company is communicating and collaborating on the same platform. This, in turn, allows businesses to better map their workflow, or “work graph.”
Those in search of a platform to unify communication across an organization would do well to consider SCS. Indeed, a majority of our respondents already use SCS for collaboration on a daily basis. This popularity is likely due to the fact that SCS not only provides file storage and tracking, but also offers several channels of communication and automated collaboration functionality, such as activity streams and @mentions.
As Nowogrodski states, “we are sharing in a different way than the past, and with a transparency that wasn’t there before.”
More distributed workforces producing increasing amounts of information will need sophisticated collaboration tools. Both enterprises and small to midsize businesses can use the tools offered by SCS to help manage this information effectively.
Nineteen percent of the SCS users identify their business unit as information technology (IT). The next-highest percentage (13 percent) of SCS users work in marketing.
To collect the data in this report, we conducted a 14-day online survey of 15 questions, and gathered 568 responses from random workers in North America. For the bulk of our questioning, we screened our sample to only include 191 respondents who use social collaboration software, project management software or customer relationship management software with a robust suite of social collaboration modules. Software Advice performed and funded this research independently.
Results are representative of our survey sample, not necessarily the population as a whole. Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent client vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.
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