We talk a lot about collaboration software and all the problems we have with it: getting IT to play along, finding the budget, and even getting people to use it in the first place. But one question has always nagged at me. What are the people who sell this stuff thinking?
My post last week about how your team should approach technology to keep people in touch got an interesting response from someone who actually makes and sells software, and our conversation was intriguing. So much so, I thought I'd share it with you so that you can see what goes on in the hearts and minds of the people who spend way more pondering these things than you and I do.
This isn't an endorsement of any one product, just an honest conversation with someone who eats, sleeps and breathes this stuff.
Pankaj Taneja is a marketing specialist at HyperOffice (one of many collaboration software providers out there and one we've mentioned often in this blog). He sent me an email last week, mentioning that my post struck a nerve, and they've been re-examining their approach to selling collaboration.
Here's part of our conversation.
Why have collaboration tools traditionally suffered from low (or at least slow) adoption?
There are multiple reasons for this, but among them are:
- Flaws with the user interface (a geeky way of saying they aren't intuitive and people don't feel natural working with them)
- "Software as a Service" sprawl. This can be seen as a failed user experience where users need to contend with multiple logins, passwords and tools for a single task. Frustration kills adoption every time
- The company doesn't have a coherent plan, so things get put in place haphazardly and don't work together easily
What are some of the biggest mistakes vendors in this space make—and did HyperOffice make any of them?
Vendors in IT tend to fall into the "feature trap". Features and software are important, but customers react best when tools are presented in the context of solving a business problem. Customers basically say, "Don't tell me what cool things it does. Tell me what problem you'll solve, and I'm more likely to be interested".
Looking back, we made the mistake of offering customers only one option - the entire suite of applications, instead of offering subsets of the application as additional options. Customers, especially small and medium businesses, are simply more comfortable with the route of easing into collaboration with one or two applications and gradually expanding to other apps within the same framework when they're ready.
We also should have focused on the trial and customer on-boarding experience. We have now started educating customers as early and often as possible and offer extensive training and customer service to help people ramp up quickly.
You told me you recently had an epiphany as to how collaboration really gets adopted in companies (as opposed to how designers think it should). Care to share?
We believe that the recipe for team success has five ingredients:
- Recognize the context for collaboration to succeed and be persistent in your efforts
- Set rules and a framework within which collaboration can be achieved. A company needs to lay down processes, establish policies and define responsibilities and accountability
- Recruit people who are capable and committed to their work, are really team players and will make an effort to use the tools necessary to accomplish the job
- Re-tool when necessary. Periodically survey the work environment and make sure you're using the right tools for the job. As people become more competent, version upgrades or increased sophistication actually may help
- Refine and reinforce. Collaboration is an ongoing effort. Policies need to be refined, positive behavior needs to be reinforced and the possibilities created by new technology need to be taken into account.
While we don't endorse any particular vendor, and there are plenty of collaboration suites out there, I thought you'd appreciate a chance to ask one of these folks, "what the heck are you thinking?"
Thoughts? Let's hear from you. What do you use and how's it going?