Huddle impressions: collaboration pain-points

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Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt

The trouble with collaboration software is that it is really hard to assess without using it in a real community – with real pain points that collaboration can help with. However, a good demo can give you a feel for a product and the attitude of those developing it – which is why this is about ‘impressions of Huddle’, based on talking with Chris Boorman (Huddle’s CMO), James Pipe (one of its product managers, focused on mobile and desktop) and Jonathan Howell (its CTO) and not a review.

My meeting confirmed my original impression that Huddle was very much targeting the Enterprise (i.e., collaboration at scale) – although its approach is to start small, with experienced mentors, and grow on the basis of demonstrable success. I think this is an excellent approach, especially as there seem to be a lot of anecdotal reports around the failure of collaboration initiatives, so you need to achieve confidence and buy-in at the grass-roots level, as well as convincing top management. Personally, although there are real differences in collaboration software, I don’t believe that failure is usually due to problems with the software tools (at least, as a primary effect). Building a collaborative culture implies changing company culture and, possibly, treading on the toes of vested interests who may have engineered personal power out of exploiting silos and distrust. I suspect that many failures are due to lack of investment in managing cultural change; mismanaged politics; and the belief that buying and installing the right collaboration tool is all you need to worry about in order to achieve a collaboration culture. In other words, I think that a company that fails to install and get benefit from, say, SharePoint may well also fail with Huddle – for similar reasons – unless it learns from the previous failure and changes its approach.

Which leads me to possible pain points that Huddle might encounter. After a lack of maturity in its customers, and the consequent political and people issues (which its ‘start small and grow with success’ approach may well be addressing), I think that the difficulty in measuring success could be a real issue. Companies like to look at ROI, but Roger Whitehead (with a great deal of experience in this area) has commented that concentration on ROI too early can stifle a collaboration culture. So, given that good management includes tracking and managing investment in collaboration, what is ‘success’? You can measure collaboration using surveys, but collaboration is not really an end in itself: it should deliver business outcomes. But one can fail to achieve these for other reasons besides poor collaboration; and if one does succeed (in business and monetary terms) after a collaboration initiative, how much of this can be allocated to the collaboration initiative and how much to the workers who were able to exploit what collaboration made possible? At the beginning, morale; use of collaboration software; and so on is probably a good-enough metric; but, longer time, I’d expect (on average) that firms with an effective collaboration culture would succeed in business more than other firms – but that might be hard to measure.

Personally, I’ve suggested that Huddle sets up an externally-facing Analyst community in Huddle, to communicate with us all. The analyst community has sufficient egos and politics to make this a useful proof of concept for us, I’d think.