What context means in social collaboration

ContextWe it comes to social technologies adoption by end users, context is often mentioned as essential. It’s now recognized as a pillar that gives meaning to technology and makes it seamless for users to use it to get things done.

That’s said, everybody talks about context but – and we can see itĀ  at businesses every day” – the reality behind is often very vague.

Any one can have his own understanding regarding to his matters and job but here’s a quick sum-up based on my experience, on cases where context (or lack of) has been a lever or a lever to social technologies adoption.

I see context from three angles : user, use case and use context.

User context : user profile and cross-platform rights management

User context first. A user logs in a social platform and is recognized as “himself”. Obvious ? Not at all. Of course the fact one logs in makesĀ  him recognized by the platform but the problem is broader. I’ll elaborate more on the idea of identity that is a least as important as context, but that’s mainly what this point is about.

Once logged in and identified, the user inherits rights within the platform. Logical. But many use-cases (and the most valuable ones) are cross-applications ones and value often lies at the crossing of social and traditional business apps. Being recognized as a user in a social platform, most of times an enterprise social network, does not mean being recognized as an SAP, Sharepoint, Oracle or ECM user at the same time. It’s not about being recognized on each tool but about having each tool knowing who one is on any other. That’s key to cross-application use cases like collaboration around a business process, document sharing from an ECM that implies to know who can see what object. If the object becomes social, shareable, commentable and a matter of interactions and actions, the application when interactions happen must take into account some attributes and rights that are hosted in the application the object comes from to enforce them in the application where it’s handled.

As for what related to identity, any user will, of course, have a profile on the social application. He will also have one on many other social applications (what often happens when businesses let initiatives proliferate without any governance). But a large part of the data that compose his identity are also hosted in the HR systems, ERPs and corporate directory. Each of these tools allow to see one dimension of the individual but none can gather all the dimensions to provide a comprehensive view of one’s identity except if they are all exposed in a single place, in the social network profile for example. It’s only a matter of exposure, data being hosted and managed in their master application but it will prevent users from keying the same information many times in different tools while they already did it twice this years in tools that don’t communicate. Believe me, having to to key the same information two, three or more times is one of the reasons why many profiles stay empty, what is a major barrier to people location, a key use case.

Use case context : what need, task, matter ?

Then comes the use case context. It relates to one question : “what am I here for, what do I have to do”. The answer is not “find information” or “share and collaborated”. They’re only means. The answer is an action to perform, a solution or answer to find to move one step forward in a process. Depending on the use case context, one won’t use the same communities, blogs, wikis, functionalities, won’t connect with the same people and won’t share the same information. Depending on the application users “come from” and why they come to the social platform for, some actions and data can be pushed or highlighted and cross-application information sharing and transfer will be made easier between the source (when business activities are monitored) and the target (where business problems are solved.

It can happen in many ways. Of course, the ability to receive alerts in one’s activity stream and be able to act upon. Or the ability to link a social activity to a document or business process event. Or the use social analytics to make it easier to dive in the social and collaborative platform. For example, depending on the product, client, industry, nature of a project, experts and communities can be recommended, information can be pushed. This key step in social technologies discovery and adoption is too often overlooked. Changing work universe to find an answer is less difficult when one does not land in an unknown universe with no idea of what can be done and found. But if they land in the right place with the right suggestions…

Use context : social platforms and “social anywhere”

Then comes the use context. As I already say, social is not a tool anymore (a social network) but a platform and the more successful social implementations will be those users won’t see. Many businesses are still wondering how to make users come in their social network, what is nothing more than attention theft. If the tool and the practices it enables make sense and are aligned with people’s need, there’s not doubt they’ll use it. But there’s still a pitfall. First the number of clicks needed to go from one tool to another : in the consumer web it appears that people will give up after three clicks. Then comes the notion of comfort zone : for many reasons, people prefer to spend their time in their business application, email, project management tool. Exhorting them is useless but bringing social capabilities where they want to work, when they need them is much appreciated. Having analytics based suggestions directly in the CRM to access the right information in one click, following conversations in the email client, see, in a client dedicated community, CRM data about this client, indicators about a project coming from the project management tool, sharing docs from windows explorer by drag and drop…

Concept comes in many forms but is essential. It allow to piece together people’s identity, based on all the tools they use to get word done, to undertake the right actions when and where it’s needed, regardless to the tool they’re in and the source of the information they need. It’s a an adoption and productivity lever that’s tech oriented and related to SSO, Open Social and Open standards but is worthier than many communication, evangelization and exhortation campaigns.

Keep it in mind the day you have to choose a platform for your business..

 

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