#TipTuesday – Pick a Good Platform, But Don’t Focus on the Technology

|   Oct 6, 2015

This is my 5th post in a series of tips on how to build a successful enterprise social network (ESN). In this post, I’ll address two important matters regarding the ESN platform decision. First, the tip:

Pick a good platform, but don’t focus on the technology.

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In this tip, I have two concerns: the role of IT in the decision-making process, and the capabilities of the platform itself.

The decision of which ESN platform to use is too often determined solely or largely by IT departments in an enterprise. That’s a mistake. Of course, IT must be involved in the decision-making process as a stakeholder, especially if the ESN is installed on the company’s servers and not provided by a hosted solution. Even in a hosted solution, though, there will be matters related to integration with other platforms and security considerations that necessarily involve IT.

However, IT is just one stakeholder among many in an ESN, and in my opinion they are not the primary stakeholder and should not have the dominant role or decision-making authority in the decision. Why? Because an ESN is about communication. It’s about connecting people. It’s about developing relationships. It’s about learning and changing the way we work. IT isn’t the right area to drive any of those initiatives in an organization.

Consider for a moment a typical problem in a company concerning collaboration. Someone says: “we don’t collaborate or communicate well enough together.” What will IT’s solution to that be? They’ll purchase another tool and install it, or they’ll spend mass quantities of time and resources developing another tool or contracting with a big name vendor to consult about the tools and processes they need. Then the next year when the same complaint arises again that “we don’t collaborate or communicate well enough,” they do the same thing again, and again, and again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The people and collaboration and culture problem never gets solved because IT tackled it with a technology solution.

The list of ESN stakeholders includes IT, but it also includes HR, communications, learning, marketing, legal and others. ESNs are used to build a community of connected people, getting them to relate and work well together. Therefore, the business area needed to drive that is one that understands the people aspect of the experience. It requires selection of a user-friendly, effective platform that meets the business needs and takes into consideration how users relate to each other and what effective, modern communication looks like from a human – not just a technology – perspective. In most organizations, I suspect it should be either internal communications or HR or some combo of the two who owns the ESN. Take a look at the 2015 State of Community Management Report from The Community Roundtable and you’ll see that Internal Communications was the single most likely area responsible for an ESN in this year’s report (although there is a large “other” category that suggests emerging or unique combos of ownership).

So main thought #1 in this tip is to get the right business owner(s) for the ESN, and be very cautious about allowing that to be IT. Other areas are better equipped to help develop the relationships the community needs to thrive.

The second aspect of this tip deals with the capabilities of the platform itself. This should be driven by business requirements carefully considered and agreed on by all stakeholders in advance of the purchase decision. But beware of a danger here: you do not necessarily need the latest and greatest ESN with, for example, 60 fantastic features when your users will normally use six of them. Know the difference between must-haves and nice-to-haves. Understand that users can be overwhelmed by interfaces that offer too much as opposed to friendly interfaces that are beautifully simple and intuitive to use.

In our environment at work, it’s important for people to post messages, comment on and like posts by others, create and participate in special interest groups, follow people, share public and private messages, integrate streams into other platforms, create custom streams, give kudos, and a few other tasks as the main, day-to-day uses. Having 50 other capabilities would not improve the user experience. In all likelihood, it would detract from and complicate it.

Do your homework about the platforms available. You’ll find a variety of vendors offering solutions from those that are stand-alone to those that are completely dependent on integration into other products and many in between those extremes. You’ll find on-premise and hosted solutions. You’ll find that most are really strong in some areas but have weaknesses in other areas. Talk with clients already using the top 2-3 platforms you consider so that you discover the good, the bad and the ugly and can make an informed decision. Use published comparison studies such as the Forrester Wave for Social Depth Platforms, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace, and compiled lists like Alan Lepofsky‘s list here. If mobile access is vital, then study this comparison of ESNs and their mobile clients. I hosted an #ESNchat on platform comparisons you’re also welcome to check out. Google is your friend is finding ESN comparisons others have already written much about.

Know your users, your business requirements and the use cases that shape what you need the ESN to do. Don’t be enamored by the bells and whistles of the latest platforms. Know what you need to help build a community, to help connect people, and to enable them to do their work more effectively and efficiently. Your ESN needs to easily be integrated into where, when and how people do their work, so the platform needs to support that. Do not go with a stand-alone platform that can’t be integrated elsewhere. It will end up being yet one more destination for people’s already busy work lives and you will quickly be disappointed in its limitations. (I’ll write much more about integration in a later post in this series.)

Picking an enterprise social networking platform is an important decision. Who makes the call in choosing it is an even bigger decision. Choose wisely.

Pick a good platform, but don’t focus on the technology.

[This post has been modified from the original version first published at jeffrossblog.com.]

 

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