Tapping the Positive from Social Networks for Enterprise Collaboration

Collaboration tools with social features provide a powerful foundation for sharing information and linking experts within your organization.

Social networking and user-contributed content have taken the Internet by storm as evidenced by the popularity of MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn, Wikipedia and Twitter. Earlier this year, we looked at the security risks of social networking on public sites. But that's not the whole story. There's a revolution going on in enterprise collaboration software to sift out the good parts-for example, subject tagging and user profiles-of social networking and leave the threats and time wasters behind.

Enterprise collaboration projects are almost always risky propositions. Storing and sharing information, potentially across departments and across the world, holds unquantifiable rewards for the business. Yet, if these rewards can't be realized by individuals, then the project risks failure. Various techniques are used to increase user adoption-some good, such as appointing internal champions, and some bad, such as making use mandatory (with quotas)-but time and time again we've seen that the collaboration projects that succeed are those that provide users with advantages. And by advantages we mean things that make employees' lives easier such as locating the right person with the right expertise for a project, facilitating the management of that project, and providing a secure place to collaborate on that project using tools such as document management, shared workspaces, task lists and discussion boards.

How can an IT department increase the chances of launching a successful collaboration initiative? Use the tools that have taken the consumer world by storm. Social networking holds a lot of power and potential for online interaction, not just to better connect you with your long lost high school pals and provide you with a place to show off photos of your kids, but also to connect people with business goals in mind. These connections can be formed between anyone from your immediate teammates to geographically dispersed but still valuable colleagues in other parts of the company, or perhaps they can help you establish relationships with partners.

However, as helpful as they are for linking people to share information, public social networking sites are obviously the wrong place for an organization to build these networks and collaborate through them. Issues around control of information, regulatory compliance, governance and other critical aspects of information security abound. As a result, enterprise collaboration software such as Microsoft SharePoint, IBM Lotus Connections and Oracle WebCenter Suite (not to mention offerings from Cisco, Novell and Salesforce) has picked up more and more social features to harness the power of social networking-like interactions. There are many others that have jumped into this space with either software or SAAS (software-as-a-service) offerings, such as Google Apps, Box.net, Huddle.com and Igloo Software.