Collaboration functionality in Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions is changing daily office life and corporate culture. Read which factors matter most.Brigitte Järmann
In the digital world, social contacts, networking and business correspondence are all increasingly being handled on the digital stage. Nevertheless, there's still plenty of untapped potential for digital communication — such as in Enterprise Content Management (ECM).
Digital archiving systems have long since replaced paper archives at many companies. A wide variety of software solutions are available for professional Document Management Systems (DMS) and Enterprise Content Management Systems. ECM systems can be deployed flexibly in a variety of business applications, including ERP, CRM, CAD and email as well as in programming applications for various operating systems. Together with new tools and features, they have become the lynchpins of leaner administrative and organizational processes.
Which is precisely why it makes so much sense to build social feeds into ECM systems. They allow users to engage in interactive discussions on a project or even document-specific level, presenting all previous experiences in a transparent and centralized way. Employees are likely to be familiar with the technology from their own private use of Facebook, LinkedIn and Xing.
The new feed functions from ECM systems are based on the same core communication principles used by social networks such as Facebook, albeit implemented for a corporate context. Users can open up custom feeds for a document, comment on existing feeds or group relevant items using a timeline. The feeds can also contain posts commenting on entries or actions. Some tools can even display the entire change history in a convenient chronological order.
The feed function forms the basis of social collaboration. This encompasses all of a business's internal and external cooperations: from knowledge transfer to shared administration and processing of digital documents and media, as well as active collaboration between employees on projects, regardless of time and place.
The goal is on the one hand to promote interactive sharing of knowledge and experiences, but also to record document-specific communication, results and changes in a comprehensible manner. The approach also makes it possible to highlight activities relevant to business processes, including via workflows, clients or external applications such as ERP and CRM systems.
Under normal circumstances, new business software and the potential fit into existing IT infrastructures are assessed solely in technical questions, and as such fall primarily under the responsibility of the IT department. For social collaboration, by contrast, it is crucial that teamwork and internal communication function properly — quickly making it into a question of corporate culture. When introducing such tools, the executive team and HR management bear a special responsibility for establishing a culture conducive to the use of these new instruments.
Most employees are likely to be familiar with the use of social networks. But there are differences between those private experiences and the rules of communication involved in social collaboration in a work environment. There are also issues of motivating employees to use social feeds to benefit the larger team. Software solutions, applications and modules are only as good as their implementation within the company and the acceptance of the employees who must use them. And that acceptance level is often decisive for later usage. In many cases companies buy in expensive solutions that fail because not enough users actually use them.
Sustained and successful implementation of a social collaboration project will live or die based on the following points:
1. Employee participation: Collaborations thrive or wither based on the motivation of the individual team members. For this reason it is important to involve them as early as possible, such as during the process of needs documentation, selection of new collaboration tools and definition of communication rules. It's also important that during this process that emphasis is placed on the benefits of the new applications for the employees. The more the employees perceive the application as a positive, the greater the chances that they will accept it.
2. Training: Employees who are active in their private lives on Facebook and Twitter are fundamentally familiar with the concepts of social media and their applications. Other employees will need more support in learning about the new functions. One person on the project team should be tasked with providing help here as needed. This promotes acceptance during the introduction of the new module.
3. Centralized communication channel: To ensure that all team members are always up to date, document and project-specific communication should be conducted exclusively via the feed function. The goal is to avoid parallel or doubled provision of information via email. This not only creates greater uncertainty, double work and confusion, but also prevents the new tools from establishing themselves quickly.
4. Establish rules for content: efficient collaboration depends on discussions on social collaboration platforms running in an orderly manner. Unlike public social media platforms, private opinions, evaluations and small talk are taboo here. The same applies to posts featuring excessive links and hashtags.
5. Privacy protection and internal regulations: The transfer of business processes to software and online tools requires clear privacy and security rules. Employees should be informed transparently on general privacy protection regulations and internal company policies, such as the handling of feeds from ex-employees.
6. Depending on where your operations are based, the roll-out of social collaboration software may require approval by the employees and/or their union. If so, it is highly advised that the works council be invited into the process early. This includes early invitations to participate in either the entire process or in the decision making. Here too close collaboration can ultimately be very helpful to the overall success of the project.
Sharing and networking of knowledge is one success factor for teamwork, and an important prerequisite for a company's competitiveness. This is precisely what social collaboration tools promote by establishing a centralized digital platform for information and knowledge. The communication principle behind social feeds will be familiar to many users of public social media, making new functions quick, easy and intuitive to learn. It's the human element that represents the real challenge: usage behavior and the establishment of a new communication culture within the company.