Now that I'm taking a new interest in social collaboration, I'm getting a little concerned about people implementing social collaboration technology and then looking for a collaboration issue to use it on (as Lucy Wimmer, Head of Global Corporate Communications at Huddle points out: "It's this idea of the technology becoming bigger than the project that is often the issue with legacy systems such as SharePoint"). Or, worse, I'm concerned about managers possibly thinking that installing collaboration software will magically generate a collaborative organisation without any further effort. Surely, however, no IT group would ever install software as an end in itself and then go looking for a problem to fix with it? Well, in my opinion, there's optimism and then there's experience of life...
So, I've had a bit of an informal email discussion about what we see as the issues around social collaboration with Raheel Retiwalla of Fuzed, one of the more interesting social collaboration solutions. Some of the things that he says have "kept us [at Fuzed] up at night wondering about the use of social within the enterprise, its impact, and about how a solution can help harness the power of social within the enterprise" make interesting reading.
He seems to feel that the use of Fuzed has to be largely transparent to existing desktop workers, so that barriers to its adoption are minimised: "our vision of a desktop app is about using actionable notifications that let the user contribute knowledge instantly without having to go to Fuzed...[this includes] integration with productivity tools like Outlook, Word, Excel and even Windows Explorer" so that desktop workers needn't leave their familiar 'productivity tools' environment. That sounds good, although I do have a nagging feeling that some of these productivity tools aren't really as productive as they are cracked up to be (I'm sure they are productive of documents and/or presentations; but I rather wonder about how productive they are of 'waste' too). Still, they are widely used, de-facto desktop standards; I just hope Open Office, say, is also supported. I also note that Raheel is thinking about the gamification of collaboration software - a successful computer game provides a more supportive user experience than most enterprise software can manage currently - but that's an idea worth an article of its own, I think.
Raheel claims that using the power of social to add context is Fuzed's USP "this is a very unique and innovative thinking we have in identifying other ways in which the value of social collaboration can be tapped. It's the idea that people in a community can contribute and connect related pieces of information together which is a powerful capability", he says. This supports use cases in market research, the development of central idea hubs (to support innovation) and knowledge transfer.
He also envisages a rather richer implementation of the App Store concept, "where customers can connect their existing applications so that key information is accessible and therefore easily shareable from within Fuzed". Information from these applications can be connected to other information - as the 'context' talked about in the previous paragraph. This sounds good but I feel that it needs further investigation - the devil may well be in the detail.
Raheel certainly does recognise the scalability issue. With people belonging to multiple communities and sharing information with any and every appropriate stakeholder, might not social collaboration software simply be a source of yet more information overload? "Our thoughts around this," he says, "include providing all controls to the user so that they control people, communities, content and topics that are relevant to them at that moment. This also includes a facility for pausing notifications and providing subscription-only views". Once again, this sounds good, but I'm not writing an InDetail research paper here and I'll have to look at what this actually means in practice, at some future time.
Fuzed does offer role-based security: "who can do what within a community, who can see what information is in a community and what they can do with that information". I must ask about audit trails and versioning too.
I am particularly interested in Raheel's thinking around feedback. In Bloor's context, social collaboration is ultimately about improving the business outcomes for the organisation, which implies monitoring of outcomes; feedback mechanisms; and process improvement. Fused has tools for assessments, surveys, forms and form reviews so that management can tap into a collective feedback capability which lets them monitor - and promote - the success of these communities. However, the effectiveness of this will come from innovative management vision as much as from the use of tools.
Raheel also reminded me of the licensing issue, which I must add to my evolving social collaboration checklist: "as far as I know," he says, "we are the only ones with what we call an active concurrent licensing model where customers pay us only for the maximum numbers of people that are actively using Fuzed at any given moment in time. We further define the term "using Fuzed" as people who are actively contributing knowledge or interacting with the application. For example, if you are only receiving notifications on your desktop or mobile and not actually interacting with those notifications you are not classified as an active concurrent user". Now, that is an interesting approach and merits further analysis. In particular, it gives Fuzed a real incentive for promoting the active use of its collaboration software; rather than for selling collaborative 'shelfware' (this latter is an established collaboration antipattern, it seems to me).
Finally, Raheel comments on Manageability and Marketing. Fuzed provides tools to enable community owners and technicians to control the collaboration system as appropriate. At first, this may seem rather foreign to the idea of collaboration; but light-touch controls will be needed. To take a couple of obvious examples, if social collaboration takes off as promised in a business, it (or the information it supports) will become critical to business success, which implies that business continuity assurance will be needed; and there are significant legal restrictions on the sharing of, say, personal data that would need to be enforced. Controls, versioning and audit trails will be particularly important for the deployment of social collaboration in government organisations, as well. Fuzed also provides analytics capabilities (which, I think, could be used to help to enable 'light touch' controls). According to Raheel: "we have taken analytics one step forward in the sense that we allow network owners to act on the insights gained from the analytics. We allow that by providing a full featured marketing function that lets network owners engage and target specific messages to their audience based on the analytics".
As I've implied already, this piece is no formal review of Fuzed. However, I think I have identified some useful issues that are important to the designers of Fuzed; and these will contribute to our analyses of social collaboration software - and its use cases - generally.