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The Decision Factor offers insightful comments and observations on analytics—from views on new technology approaches and market dynamics to the latest industry trends driving demand for faster, smarter information analysis. This blog contains personal views, thoughts, and opinions from SAP employees, mentors, and friends working in the area of analytics. It’s not endorsed by SAP nor does it constitute an official communication of SAP.

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Making Sense of the Crowded Social Collaboration Landscape

Today’s social collaboration landscape is crowded and complex, and in this post I’ll be exploring key considerations for selecting the right solution for your business.

Many Flavors of Social Collaboration

There’s no shortage of options when it comes to selecting a social collaboration solution. Industry analyst group IDC, for example, offers seven different types of categories: team collaborative applications, social platforms, messaging applications, conferencing applications, integrated collaborative environments, supplier collaboration, and content management.

Similarly, industry analyst group Gartner has three Magic Quadrant reports for social software and has also created a new category called collaborative decision-making (CDM), which brings together business intelligence (BI), social capabilities, and decision-making.

In another view, industry analyst R “Ray” Wang’s vendor landscape for social business solutions illustrates the clutter of solutions and the challenges of differentiating them.

How to Pick the Best Social Collaboration Solution for Your Business

According to Wang, organizations should focus on the nontechnical aspects.

“The train has left,” he says. “Organizations must put together a social business strategy that meets their business objectives, matches their organizational culture, and provides the right level of technological support. Expect reference architectures for social business to emerge that incorporate design thinking, innovative user-experience models, business APIs and deeper vertical focus.”

Wang also explains that organizations can kick things off by:

  • Beginning with the end in mind. Start with the metrics that matter. Agree on what to measure in current state and future state.
  • Aligning with existing business processes. Take the metrics and map back to business processes. For example, identify where social CRM processes meet traditional CRM.
  • Planning for change management. Map out where processes tie back to individuals and departments. Determine how to connect individuals to processes. Break down functional fiefdom.
  • Building the future state. Focus design on customer experience business cases. Identify opportunities to ensure agility and flexibility.

In addition to this, I recommend thinking about collaboration more broadly. It’s not just about employees; rather, collaboration can drive business benefits through working with customers, partners, and suppliers. Industry analyst Susan Scrupski has written several case studies on companies collaborating on their extended business networks, such as this interesting story on Mitre Corporation in which external collaboration is a key to their success.

Thinking about Wang’s “begin with the end in mind” suggestion, it’s important to have the foresight to choose a solution that will grow with you. There are many point solutions that solve a specific issue, such as helping a team manage tasks collectively, but these solutions are frequently short-lived with respect to long-term value and being able to apply the capabilities to other lines of business and processes.

Wang’s suggestion about aligning with business processes leads to a discussion about adoption and the need for people to work “in context”. Business people want solutions that are friendly, consumer-like, and don’t require a large IT staff to set up, learn, and use. Also, collaboration solutions shouldn’t be standalone, but instead related to where people are working in their business processes and with the applications and data they use every day. Google Wave was the poster child for a solution that lacked real world use-cases, which ultimately led to its demise. Collaboration without business context in a siloed application can’t deliver the value business people desire.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, these key considerations are a top priority. Thinking about what you’ll need down the road and focusing on what end users really need can help you avoid sending another solution to the social software graveyard.