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Increasingly, collaboration is seen as part of enabling business success. Partly, it seems, because of a need to reduce what people at Salesforce.com sees as the disconnect between structured data and “unstructured [i.e., differently structured] content; and partly because it can bring together teams separated by geography and time zone (and I’m sure there are other benefits). Which is why everybody is trying to sell you collaboration software – but collaboration is very definitely a people and culture thing; any software is only an enabler.
So, I was interested to hear Kuoni, the travel experts, talking about its implementation of Salesforce.com Chatter. I have just enough space here to run through what I took away as the key points:
First, that you need a real issue to address – and some executive sponsorship for addressing it. Your biggest problem isn’t going to be a software feature your collaboration tool doesn’t have or the quality of its UI, its going to be people who are frightened of collaboration, frightened of saying things in public their management (or peers) might disagree with. That’s a cultural issue – probably a cultural change issue, and you need to put resources into addressing it
Second, start with issues that deliver quick returns for not much effort. Sounds obvious, but collaboration evangelists have been known to pursue something that would make a great PhD dissertation and might change the way business operates; but is hard (expensive) for the business to implement and harder still for ordinary users to get their heads around today and see any immediate benefits arriving. Kuoni, which is a B2B travel specialist, chose sharing of market knowledge; market updates, travel experiences—and the induction of new employees.
Then you move onto low hanging fruit (target obvious benefits, that need, but also justify, a bit more effort)—for Kuoni, this included timely knowledge-sharing, across a global business and across time-zones.
Avoid like the plague what Kuoni calls “fools gold”: interesting collaboration opportunities that will take a lot of effort to implement and have no obvious benefit in the short term—and no executive sponsor.
Third, choosing tools. The vendors probably won’t like me saying this, but if you have a vision and executive sponsorship for collaboration, you can probably make any tool work for you; if you haven’t, you’ll probably fail with the best tool in the world. Which isn’t to say that choosing the right tool for your situation won’t make things a lot easier (although the tools selection process probably needs an article to itself). Kuoni chose Salesforce.com Chatter, because its early adopters already used the Salesforce.com CRM app and Chatter fitted into their work pattens (and screen GUI) with minimal disruption.
Fourthly, start small and grow with demonstrable successes (and, oh yes, and I’ll say it again, start with informed and enlightened executive sponsorship—not just an Exec who’s read in the Times that “Facebook for the business” is the coming thing and doesn’t know any more than that). Kuoni started small with the CRM users in just one area, it let the group discover what it could achieve easily and quickly with Chatter (see point 2) and then expanded participation, using its early successes to help people “get the message”. It now has some 1600 users, of which some 600 aren’t also CRM users. There will be people who can’t see the point of Facebook and Twitter (I must confess to some sympathy there—I simply don’t need to know that some friend has just bought a Big Mac on the way home), and will need to be persuaded by their workmates that one can actually get something useful out of more business-oriented collaboration.
And that’s just about enough for now. I’ll just mention that Salesforce.com Communities don’t replace Salesforce.com Chatter, they complement Chatter use cases and extend them outside of the company to customers and partners.