Archive for the ‘Social Collaboration’ Category

Finding the best metaphor for social business software

We are all suckers for memes and metaphors. A great metaphor helps us instantly grasp a difficult concept, rolls easily off the tongue, and encourages us to share the idea with others. Metaphors are invaluable in our world of software, where we need to convey technical concepts to an audience which is not tech savvy. Here are some efforts to find the best metaphor for social collaboration, the big thing in information technology today.

Structured vs. Unstructured Collaboration

One metaphor we often use, is “structured vs. unstructured collaboration”, which leaves various prospective customers, partners and analysts with the enlightened “I get it” smile. Traditional collaboration tools, with their structure of workspaces, folders, and project hierarchies are a reflection of the traditional mechanistic organizational structure with pyramidal management levels, business divisions, departments and offices. Social tools on the other hand, will have none of this keeping people apart. They encourage anyone across the organization to connect with anyone else, and talk and share away to glory. The underlying belief – this “unstructured” and informal environment will not result in recipes being exchanged, but real value for the organization where people will spontaneously share their skills and experience.

However, this conceptualization is not without detractors. First, even amongst the early enthusiasts of social business, there is an increasing consensus that this free exchange of knowledge needs to be conducted on a template of processes. How else would a company be able to track and measure the value created? How else would managers nudge effort towards business goals?

It might even be a stretch to say that social tools introduce “unstructured” collaboration. Email achieved exactly the same, where anyone could in-fact bypass organizational structures and processes, and reach out to anyone else in the organization to ask a question (Hey Joe…), share a document (please find attached..), or seek help (help!). In fact, email could achieve most of what social tools can do – cross organizational communication, and the ability to monitor activity (you could always subscribe to documents and projects and get email notifications). However, social tools by virtue of their design, are vastly more efficient, and importantly, they encourage transparency. By default, people can see what others are talking about, unless conversations are explicitly set as “private”. Social tools are therefore more enablers of unstructured collaboration than inventing it.

Conversations before Content

My personal favorite metaphor of what social tools really do to collaboration is to put “conversations before content”. It’s now not so much about the content stored in the collaboration environment (documents, projects, contacts) but the conversations that happen around this content (I changed the structure of the document because.., I don’t agree with the second para because..). So two people in different divisions can easily start a discussion via social messages, and pull content into the conversation when appropriate (say a document). Although content might be the end product of a collaborative effort, the real meat of collaboration is in these discussions which social tools so effectively capture.

Again, it’s not as if people didn’t talk before the advent of social tools. These conversations still happened, through email, IM, phone calls, or in person. But only the end product of these conversations, content, was captured in the collaboration environment, while the conversations around it were either scattered or forever lost. Or in other words, context was lost. Social tools capture content AND context. Which makes me think, even “from content to context” is a good metaphor.

What is your favorite metaphor for social collaboration?



2013 state of collaboration – Report

Collaborative Strategies, a leading consultancy which closely follows the collaboration software market, just released its annual report on the “state of collaboration” in 2013. Companies looking to implement collaboration software, or already using it, will take a lot away from this study in terms of experiences of other companies.  The main findings of the study are as follows (with my comments):

1) Users said they mainly used a collaboration solution to coordinate work with others, keep on top of project status, and keep track of colleagues.

2) 82% felt “cutting cycle time” and “improving teamwork” were the greatest benefits of using collaboration software.

3) Surprisingly, in terms of satisfaction almost 50% were somewhat happy with the collaboration/social tools they were currently using, but 35% were not very happy. This is a strong message to vendors that there is room to improve user experience.

4) The industries where collaboration tools were used the most were Sales and Marketing, IT, Operations, Customer Support, and R&D.

5) There is a concerted movement from using collaboration software for internal use to using it for collaboration with partners, clients, sub-contractors, etc. outside the corporate firewall. This makes sense because people are frustrated with using email for external collaboration, and finally it is easier to do via collaboration software.

6) 60% of the members of management said they understand the functions/benefits of collaboration software compared to just 10% in 2009.

7) 65% of users felt ease-of-use was more important compared to 24% who wanted more features. At HyperOffice we try hard to arrive at a balance. We call it “keeping it simple without losing value.

8 ) Many of collaboration tools in the market are now best categorized as collaborative or social “suite” tools, i.e. many functions integrated, rather than a tool that focuses on one function and tries to be “best-of-breed.” HyperOffice has always taken this approach. We were one of the first “integrated” solutions in the market and believe that teams work most efficiently when business information and tools are unified in a single interface (read our whitepaper about the benefits of integrated collaboration software)

9) Most solutions in the market average $15-25, but a number of companies do “disruptive” pricing including Podio ($9/u/m), Teambox ($5/u/m), MangoSpring ($6/u/mo), Apptivo ($10/user/mo) and HyperOffice whose pricing starts at $7/u/m. Interestingly, 57% of users surveyed felt that collaboration/social tools should cost less than$10/user/month.



What is your collaboration style? French Garden or English Garden? (Infographic)

Two top managers disagree profoundly. Abel, CEO of a happening young startup, believes that if he gives his team room to be creative, everything will fall in place for the company. Abraham, President at a large real estate agency, won’t hear a word of it. According to him, you need to give people context – in terms of clearly defined responsibilities, processes and roles –  so that they can channel their creativity to improve the organization.

Neither of them is completely right. They are right in their own situations. Through a gardening metaphor, the following infographic studies these two broad approaches to collaborating in organizations. Which one are you?

(click to enlarge)

I swear it wasn’t me, it was email

Have you ever emerged from an email conversation feeling socially shamed and made to look like an expert commentator on last year’s news? Well, then we understand each other.

Here’s my story. I was just part of an email thread involving important people who did not know me, and evidently, I was eager to impress. After carefully drafting my reply, which (I thought), evoked mental images of me as a seasoned professional with enlightened views on all things important (all suited up, reflective expression, albeit with a hint of disdain?) I leaned back with a sigh of contentment.

Until I realized the conversation had moved much beyond the email I had responded to….

After chewing on my tie a couple of times, I frantically typed out another message to save the situation the best I could.

And I realized I had done it again…

ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

After reprimanding the universe for conspiring against me in the choicest terms, an epiphany struck me – it was not the universe, or me, IT WAS EMAIL!

In email conversations, scattered across a multitude of folders and emails, everyone eager to be heard, what hope do I, mere mortal, have of keeping up?

If only, my next thought was, IF ONLY, we could have conversations like we do on social walls, where everyone posts their opinion in a single place, and the conversation refreshes in real time; I would say the right thing at the right time, and be well on my way to respect and professional ascendancy.

And I ask of thee…WHY NOT?

P.S – Share your email pain with me in the comments section.

McKinsey Study – The Value of Social Business

2012 brought in scores of real case studies of companies of all sizes implementing social business technologies and reporting benefits. Conceptual models abounded and debates around the use of social tools at work built to a crescendo.

To follow up on all that, McKinsey released a report quantifying the industry-wide benefits of social technologies in business. This should be an eye opener for those who haven’t considered social technologies yet, and a validation for those already down this path.

1) Based on an in-depth analysis of 4 key sectors representing 20% of global sales, McKinsey found that social technologies could potentially contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value across the four sectors. The potential benefit across is even greater when extrapolated to other industries.

2) 2/3 of this potential value lies in improving collaboration and communication within and across enterprises. This is the exact area we address with HyperOffice Social.

3) The average knowledge worker spends an estimated 28% of the workweek managing e-mail and nearly 20% searching information or finding colleagues to help with specific tasks. Using social media can cut down this time spent searching for information and people by 35%.

4) Companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity high-skill knowledge workers by 20 to 25%.

Are you reaping these benefits yet?

Guest Post – Why Social Media is Essential to the Success of any Small Business in 2013

Of all the technologies that have changed our lives in recent years, none has done so more than social media. Social media has taken root as one of the most influential and most used forms of communication around the world. From politics, to entertainment, to personal and business, there is not one platform as accessible and widely used as social media. With Twitter and Facebook, to mention the most popular, you have a way of connecting with people from all over the world, and in the same neighbourhood with the strike of a few keys.

And the best part is that it is free. While individuals in their personal capacities have been quick to latch onto the idea of social media, businesses and particularly small businesses have been less interested, and to their detriment. Big companies have a dedicated marketing budget with a full time marketing department, a small business simply cannot afford this, so it is time to realise that social media is the best and most useful alternative.

The whole world is using social media, and without it your small business is out of date and simply won’t grow. Yes, business and the market are constantly changing but in order to keep and expand your client base you need to be consistent. As odd a paradox as it might seem.

So, how can you use social media to benefit your small business?

1. Realise that the persona you portray on your business social media page, is not the same person that you portray on your personal page. You can be yourself on your personal page, but on your business page you need to portray confidence and success. Don’t spread yourself too thin either, concentrate your social media presence on the three main social media platforms, this is usually Facebook, Twitter and Google+ but do your own research.

2. Make your profile interesting. Images can be extremely useful in reinforcing the image of your company so be careful in choosing them. Make sure you look confident and welcoming. Don’t upload personal photos, keep it professional.

3. The pages that you like and share and follow will give your clients an idea of your business profile and so it is important to find out who the leaders in your field are and follow them. You want your clients to see your business as part of this greater, successful network. So sign up for good industry blogs and comment and get involved. Then share this on your social media pages.

4. Plan ahead. Have a plan for the year ahead and then increase the number of stakeholders interested in what you are doing. Give people small pieces of information to get excited about and to start talking about. Ask for people’s opinions and collaborate with people you respect; this will double or triple the people you are able to reach.

With the economy starting to rebound, it is a good time for small business. But the only way to succeed and thrive in the current climate is to take advantage of the resources that are available to you. So don’t sit back and think that social media is for young people. It simply is not, it is for everyone and if you don’t jump on board you are going to get left behind.

How2become is the UK’s leading career specialist with the simple goal of helping people prepare and pass tough recruitment processes in order to secure their dream job whether that is a police officer, train driver, firefighter or paramedic. How 2 become currently offers over 150 different titles across a wide range of careers providing insider information to help you prepare effectively.

What is social task management? How is it an improvement over traditional project management?

HyperOffice had the privilege of being featured in a recent report on “getting work done with social task management” by expert analyst Alan Lepofsky.

As the “team work” market evolves at a dizzying pace, and throws up new memes left, right and center – social collaboration, social business, social intranet, enterprise 2.0, enterprise social networking – end users are understandably lost. The natural question to ask is – what “social” solution meets my needs?

Social task management is suitable for companies which are mainly looking to coordinate the activities and effort of a team spread across locations and company boundaries. The emphasis is on “projects”, where everyone contributes a specific part, at a specific time in a chain of activities.

The “project approach” is important in modern businesses, so project management software has been popular and around for a while. These software let you create the structure of a project, lay out the exact sequence of activities, set milestones, specify complex relationships between activities, assign tasks to the right people, set priorities, attach resources and so on – a massive improvement on managing projects doing this through Excel spreadsheets and email.

However, traditional project management software suffers from the some major drawbacks, which social task management improves upon:

What about the conversations? Projects don’t operate in a vacuum. Often, intense conversations between managers and the team happen before the project, and even during the project, as the project often evolves to a form quite different from how it started out.  While project management software is good for getting organized once the project is underway, it completely ignores the conversations.  Conversations end up taking place disjointedly on email, IM, or through verbal conversations and are forever lost once finished.

Social task management begins with conversations. It’s open, conversational environment, allows everyone to get together, discusses issues, and then, at the appropriate times, tasks and projects are set up and assigned  on the fly. And the conversations don’t end there, they continue right up to the end as new issues arise, specifications change and deadlines are altered. These conversations are forever captured for anyone else who might want to look at the project.

Emails are inefficient for updates. Even traditional project management software needs to keep the team informed about changes in the project. Say, if someone completed their task, people further up the chain and the manager need to be notified. Traditional systems use email for these notifications. This however, has disadvantages, where these notifications might get lost in a sea of other email, and the recipient still has to log into the PM system to get more details. With frequent updates coming in, and so much else to work on, these extra few clicks make all the different where people never log in and end up missing deadlines.

Social task management systems have a feedback loop built in, where everyone can have conversations, get change notifications, and access and update their tasks all from a single place – their project walls. Not only that, this is a single place they can access everything across projects, not just a single project.

Project management systems are not share-friendly. Traditional project management systems mostly confine every participant to their specific part of the project. There is no easy way to show your task to other people, get their advice, or even get clear visibility to what others are working on. In a real business situation however, activities are never demarcated in neat packages, and everyone helps everyone else in a joint effort to drive the effort to completion.

Social task management solutions bring with them the openness and free sharing of social tools. Inviting others to look, advice and contribute to your task often means just a click.

As Alan Lepofsky lays out in his report, social task management systems come as pure social task management systems, or broader social business suites with task management as a component part. HyperOffice represents the latter approach, because we feel that task management, even with a social layer, is not independent of other collaborative effort – meeting coordination, document collaboration, workflows. Companies, as they grow in size, and take a strategic view of their collaboration software might prefer this approach. You make want to take a look at our social collaboration tools.

Why Social is an improvement over Email – Our take

Albeit a little belatedly, I got wind of a very interesting debate spurred by Alan Lepofsky of Constellation Research, where he compares email to social messaging as a notifications and communication system. We’ve spoken to Alan before, and were privileged to be featured in his recent report – Getting Work Done With Social Task Management (a must read for forward thinking managers). Alan is one of the thought leaders in collaboration and social business and we have high regard for his depth of knowledge.

Alan brings up 3 important points, which we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about ourselves. He feels that some of the touted benefits of social tools over email are, well, BS. They replace one kind of chaos with another. Our responses:

Alan 1. Email feels mandatory where social networks are voluntary. BS! As companies adopt internal social networks the pressure to “check your stream” is going to be just the same as “check your inbox”.
Agreed. Moving from email to social tools at work is simply a question of moving your digital “home”. Email is our default home because today, it happens to be the hub where all important work related activity is taking place. In the past decade, there have been efforts to make other tools the workers’ digital home – the intranet for example. That didn’t go over so well. However, we believe that making your social wall your digital home brings some marked benefits, and warrants this move:

1. You keep track of only internal activity on your work related social walls. Email on the other hand attracts every imaginable communication and notification from the outside world. Important internal communications get lost in this sea all the time. Although modern business social networks do let users monitor some external information, this information still comes through filters. Email, in contrast is the playground of every scammer and marketer in the world.

2. Email is siloed. Every email exchange exists in a block, available to only the sender and receiver, which gets buried soon after it was created. The business knowledge captured in an email is forever locked away and can almost never be used to benefit the business in the long term. On the other hand, social tools are open and encourage even people not in the original conversation to participate, and transform that information into new unexpected forms that will benefit the organization.

3. Email is inefficient, in that every exchange creates a new block of information. Information is therefore duplicated exponentially, as it is sent back and forth time and again. Social tools on the other hand pull people to central copies of information.

4. Social tools have a superior structure. The overall information design of social tools with activity streams, comment threads, profiles, seems to be vastly more user friendly than email, as amply proved by the success of services like tools like Facebook. Social tools bring further benefits like linking you right back to the object notifications relate to – for example in HyperOffice, you can access a task right from the task notification.

Alan 2. You can check social networks when it’s convenient as opposed to feeling like your inbox is waiting for you 24*7. BS! As companies adopt social networking people’s expectations will be that you’re always monitoring the stream.
Agreed. But monitoring a social stream is easier since it mostly relates to internal activity or highly filtered information.

Alan 3. Any reduction in the number of emails is a good thing. OMG I hate this one. Now instead of checking my inbox I have to check Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Yammer, LinkedIn, etc. Uggghhhh.
Adoption definitely suffers when people are expected to manage work through multiple software. However, when we refer to social business tools, we are talking about a single internal social network. Keeping on top of multiple networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin is indeed becoming important for modern businesses, but that is more in the domain of social media marketing and social CRM. Social business software relates to working together with colleagues and partners. So even if you mainly use email, you still have to use Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc. for the above purposes.

My arguments relate to the superiority of using a private social network over email for internal communications and monitoring system. However, to interact with the outer world, email still seems to be the best tool, simply because different email systems can interact with each other through standard protocols. Social software is not yet at that level of maturity. We fully recognize this reality, for which reason email remains an important cornerstone of our HyperOffice suite.



Hierarchical (Group) vs. Social Collaboration

Collaboration software, starting with Lotus Notes, have mostly been structured into “groups”. A “group” is a gated pocket of information and tools, accessible only to members of that group. This structure is a reflection of how organizations are structured – into “divisions”, or “departments”, or “teams” or “offices”.

Designing collaboration software this way is a massive improvement over the previous (and still persistent) generation of collaboration software – email.

The email approach to information sharing is by its nature unstructured – every time you need to share something with someone, you simply create a new email and sent it out. It in no way distinguishes between people within a group, outside that group, or even outside the organization.

However, in a company, a “group” is a coherent unit, with a defined purpose, with people who need to work together closely, often on repeat activities, sharing the same information much of the time (a Sales team accessing a standard contract form for example). It is massively inefficient to create a new email everytime you need to share information with a colleague.

A “group” in the collaboration software provides a dedicated online environment to this closely knit unit of people to accomplish joint tasks – a team calendar to coordinate team schedules, project management functionality to schedule team activities, document folders to allow access to documents and so on. In addition, it also includes tools which are not purely task related, like motivational tools (displaying an exceptional performer for example) or tools relating to employee development (gathering employee feedback).

Social collaboration – an alternative?

But this approach is not without demerits. In a real business environment, although people within a group need to work together closely, they are not self-sustained or disconnected from the rest of the organization. These groups often need to work together with and access information from other groups – cross departmental teams for example, or have ad-doc collaboration needs (Sales needing a collateral document from Marketing, for example). The “group” structure can sometimes be restrictive and siloed when it comes to these inter-group information flows.

Social collaboration is a new approach, which combines elements of both email and group collaboration. On the one hand it spurs ad-hoc connections across the organization, but is also geared for groups of people – you can browse other people’s profiles, post messages, invite others to the conversation, attach documents etc. It seems to be suitable for modern organizations, where information freely flows across the organization, and temporary cross department teams often come together to complete projects.

The best approach then, is not social collaboration OR group collaboration, but a combination of the two. Group collaboration tools allow closely knit teams to work together. Social tools layered over these collaboration tools allow team members to access information within their group, and share it with other groups, insofar as they have rights to that information.

5 dirty Sharepoint Online secrets revealed



When you go through vendor feature datasheets, you get a view of features at a very high level. It’s only once you dive deep and actually start using the software do you get a sense of how it works. The experience might sometimes yield unexpected surprises.…

So while you might have absorbed some of Sharepoint Online’s marketing hype, here are some things they failed to mention.

1) You can’t cut/copy and paste documents and folders (let alone drag and drop). Sharepoint, supposedly a sophisticated enterprise grade solution, has somehow overlooked this very elementary functionality. The way you move information in Sharepoint is by using the “send to” function, which requires you to actually type out the entire url of the destination. Convenience be dammed!



2) Designing pages using the Ribbon pane is a pain. The default editing option for designing a page in Sharepoint is the famous Microsoft “ribbon” pane. The default view is a basic WYSIWYG editor of the kind you see in blogs and wikis. You can add Sharepoint modules by going to a separate “insert” tab, which opens a new navigation with a myriad choices. Inserting modules just dumps the default views into the page. You can customize how they look, but that requires still deeper digging. In this era of usability, there is no way to simply drag and drop elements and add information. Simplicity be dammed!

3) Sharepoint Online’s structure means features within features within features. The above themes are repeated throughout Sharepoint Online. Sharepoint Online admittedly has depth of functionality, but finding features means diving through layers and layers where each feature has sub-features and more sub-features. Sharepoint Online, keeping with its enterprise legacy, almost shows an IT expert’s disdain for user friendliness.





4) Sharepoint Online is fragmented. Beyond feature accessibility, Sharepoint’s broad structure is laid out in the following manner:

A default team site section with its own navigation structure

A “my site” section a link to which is tucked away in the top right corner (not very obviously). This section has its own navigation structure with no obvious links back to the team site section.

A totally different account management console with a different url

Usability demands that everything a user needs should be easily and intuitively accessible from a single interface. And what this interface displays should be dependent on the users’ role. For example a site admin would have ready access to the account management section, the administration section, and the portal functionality itself, while a user would have access to only portal functionality, while a group admin would have something in between. In Sharepoint’s world users do all the hard work.

5) Social features in Sharepoint Online are primitive. Though Microsoft has emphasized that social features are an important part of Sharepoint’s roadmap, the current social features can be described as Neanderthal at best. In a world of slick social tools like Facebook, where we can easily communicate and get updates on people, information and groups right on our social wall; social features of Sharepoint Online feel like managing the software administration screens of yesteryear.  There is no concept of “following” specific documents or projects (you can get feeds on “tagged content”), no ability to comment on wall activities, and no concept of “groups” in the social context.

If all this daunts you, and you would rather prefer dragging and dropping for files and folders, drag and drop designing of intranet webpages, cutting edge social tools, a unified solution experience, and importantly, a solution which is pleasing to the eye – we invite you to try HyperOffice instead.