Summary : The Real Story group has recently issued its report on social networking and collaboration solutions. A very well documented and precise work that shows an understanding of the matter that’s much higher than the average and allows to get the real stakes before making one’s decision. It also avoids a trap that’s very usual in this kind of document : with a very clear segmentation of a diversified market it does not compare things that can’t be compared and shows that all the solutions that at told being one-size-fits-all products don’t address, in fact, the same kind of needs.
Real Story Group sent me their last report on collaboration and social software. So here’s a quick overview of their work with some of my takes.
The first things I have to say is that I really appreciated the way they defined the scope of their investigation. As a matter of fact, if “collaboration” has been considered as has been for a couple of years, it’s important to understand that collaboration and social networking are not the same thing. Experience shows that businesses who thought that the the second is replacing the first and covers the same kind of needs were quite deceived by what they got in the end.
So, as I often do myself, they define collaboration like the fact of working together toward a business goals while social networking means interacting without a business goal. This distinction matters for two reasons :
– while designing and rolling-out the project, it shows the need for linking both sided at the risk of ending with an approach aiming at socializing without a purpose, without impacting the organization even if tools are widely used. With the risk of seeing the whole project collapse once the vanity of the approach becomes clear for anyone.
– while choosing tools :some tools have collaborative functionalities, others have social ones, others have both, others define themselves as add-ons bringing social on collaboration platforms. It’s very important to understand one’s current and future needs to make the right choice and not leave a large part of the scope uncovered because one thought all these tools were covering the same scope. Seeing people that have been seduced by a nice looking conversational side a of tool ending very disappointed the day they realised they had neither blogs, wikis nor collaborative task management functionalities.
On this second point I find that the report has a smart way to assess the platforms. As a matter of fact I’ve seen too many reports comparing apples with pears which make businesses choose a tool that may have lots of qualities but not the ones they need or that are incapable of meeting their expectations as their needs evolve over time not to be very happy with the Real Story Group’s approach.
Then comes a list of benefits one can expect from such tools. They’re well explained, split between measurable and intangible and come with a warning on the limit of such social approaches. Readers will learn that even free technologies can become very costly over time and that costs and benefits needs to be carefully weighted before starting anything. Understand : the more tools are integrated and the organizational change impacts the organization processes the bigger the ROI is. So if one has neither the means or the courage to undertake what’s needed, the resources allowed to a good-enough project may be better allocated elsewhere.
Then a long list of all the points on which these solutions should be assessed follows. Integration, task management, record management, openness, respect of standards….the list is quite long and exhaustive. I found it much better than models relying on concepts that are so new and nebulous that neither IT nor Biz people will understand what it’s clearly about.
The report ends with hundreds of pages of assessments where all the solutions that matter are deeply analysed, where their strengths and weaknesses are explained as well as the vendors’ strategies. I won’t elaborate more of this point : since it’s the core value of the report, I highly recommend you to buy it or get the free summary.
What I can say is that, even if I know most of the mentioned solutions from a global standpoint and only 3 or 4 very deeply, nothing I read in this report looked irrelevant to my experience, even if it’s always possible to argue on details. Each tool comes with its culture and I don’t think they could be compared point by point. The reading of all the criteria (that are vey well explained) allow to understand the analysis not like a benchmark but as deep dive in each tool, making it easier to assess it taking its philosophy into account.
To end, a last good point : the RealyStory Group spares us with one more quadrant or matrix that despite of being very popular try to make pears, apples and bananas fit in a single model and are often incomprehensible, confusing and misleading.
So that’s a very good report on which either business or IT people can rely to make decisions provided they are aware of the limits of any document of this kind. On a market that moves at a very high pace, there are many chances that a new version of many of the tools has come to the market after the report was issued, fixing some lacks. So check with your favorite vendors…