The factory, the beach and the Bermuda Triangle. Or the challenges of integration

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In the comments following this great piece by Hutch Carpenter about 2010 trends, someone relevantly drawn our attention on the importance of integration.  I agree and would like to sum up some ideas about all the integration challenges which are much wider than we can usually think.

Notice : when talking about integration we usually think about software integration. That’s of course a key dimension. But I also pay much attention to the human side integration, what I call behaviors and practices integrations. Any reason to that ? Asking people to collaborate and change behaviors and practices according to whether they are in real life or online, according to the tool they use, may make them become schizophrenic and, even worse, push them to reject what they’re proposed or use it poorly. In my opinion this dimension gains more and more importance as the space for communication and exchange tools become as important as the one for process tools.

I can see three challenges for integration (the two dimensions of integration being highly intermingled).

Face the technological patchwork

At the beginning there were our traditional tools. Not much things to say even if making them live together was not always that easy due to functional redundancy issue. But all what we used to know in terms of redundancy is nothing compared to what’s waiting for us in the social software field.

First came the email, Mother of exchange tools and social network primus inter pares (to such an extent that it’s the favorite notification tool for other SNs). Then came tools 2.0. I’m using the plural in purpose since, contrary to email, ERP, CRM…there won’t be only one. As I said in my predictions for 2010, a given company may use a bunch of enterprise 2.0 tools (with a risk of overlapping) or a global platform where everything is integrated. But even in this last case, the problem is only postponed.

As a matter of fact, for specific needs, we’ll see more and more ‘”activity-specific social applications” which will have the same functionalities as global platforms (or most of) but will be organized a given problem or workflow.

On the other hand, traditional tools are gaining more and more social functionalities. I already mentioned Salesforce Chatter and I was recently pointed 12Sprints by SAP. That’s only a beginning.

Depending on the addressed need, an employee may have to juggle with many tools doing providing more or less the same capabilities and on which he’ll find sometimes his whole ecosystem, sometimes only a part of it. Even f this septation often makes sense, information may have to fly from one tool to another without needing to be keyed one more time depending on “who’s where”.

The first example of this kind of situation is coming with the refexion about the future of enterprise social network.

Face rigid boundaries

Whatever some may say and even if enteprise boundaries tend to become everyday more porous, companies are not spaces where wind can come in through any window (and are not supposed to be). However, one reason for which they implement social tools is exactly because they wan to collaborate outside their boundaries (even if turning the discourse into action once the tools are deployed is sometimes more difficult than they expected).

Organizations use tools for internal purposes. In this case, and even if Saas can be a credible alternative, many still prefer on premise deployment for reasons that may be sometimes relevant…sometimes less.

Organizations also use these tools with the external world, customers and even general public. Some dare opening their on premise platforms to external people. But in most cases, they prefer to welcome external partners and customers in spaces hosted outside of their insfrastructure. When it’s for a general public audience, Saas is always mandatory.

Things become even more complicated for joint uses : collaborate internally with external tools, communicate towards the outside with external cools…but what’s about collaborating with external ? Open accounts on on premise tools ? Use externally hosted tools ? That’s a grey zone when anyone does things his own may, keeping their behind bewteen two chairs.

Of course, although the purpose is the same, different tools will be used for internal and external collaboration most of times because little of them are both available on premise and on the cloud. (Ex : Lotus Connections or Sharpoint inside, blueKiwi with customers).

Face the need for coordination

Social tools are often choosed to make coordination easier : the more anyone has visibility on what the others do, the more he can adapt by responsive small adjustments, what means less need for supervision and coordination, most of all for minor tasks.

Imagine you’d have to make internal teams collaborate with external people (partners, clients, provider…). Either you put everybody on an external platform and internal people loose their habits and informations that are on the internal tooln, either you invite everybody inside the firewall and everything is perfect, or each team keeps its own platform. In this case things may quickly become very difficult for the one or two that will have to bridge the two teams.  Last solution : internal work together on the internal platform and joint work is done on an external one. That will make everybody wonder about “where to put / share / say what”.

To some extent the same issue happens internally when people are one feet on their gloabl platform and the other on an activity-specific social application.

You find it confusing ? That’s what happen in more an more organizations and that’s one of the reasons why people are more and more reluctant.

So here comes the human side of the problem.

Face a raising schizophrenia

The above described situation is far from being comfortable but that’s nothing compared to what follows.

In most of cases, employees are asked to have radically different behaviors according to the context. If not, the lack of clear guidelines makes them doubt about how to behave.

Internally it goes from to “we’re between us, it’s comfortable” to “I prevent myself from doing anything that may put me at risk” to “I can’t do anything without my manager’s approval”.

Externally, to communicate toward the general public : from “be relax and show you’re in the mood”, to “standing to attention, nothing without approval”, and sometimes “you are the company’s voice…do what you want but be ready to assume if you do anything wrong”.

In the grey zone :” it”s external…but it”s about collaborating on a project so….we don’t know”.

Even inside a given organization, expected behaviors may vary depending on wheher people are collaborating with their own team or on a cross-functional project. Fear of colleagues in other departments is not a myth.

Knowing that, how would we want employees not be lost and reject all that as a whole ?

Conclusion

Take the employee that does not know where to go, how to behave and IT managers that see this patchworks slowly growing under their eyes. Add the risk of seing new silos emerge, information lost, governance issues and you get 1001 reasons why someone one day may say “stop, I give up” or “Stopthis bloody mess and make it cleaner before going further”.

This is the perfect context to kill valuable initiatives.

Employees, managers and IT depts have to manage rules and tools in three zones :

Internal (or the factory” : platforms under control, monitored by the IT dept, known (and sometimes pre-defined) scenarios and the pursuit of organization performance.

External (or the beach) : external platforms, sometimes general public tools like Facebook, engaging behaviors, communication and marketing driven.

In-between ( or the Bermuda Triangle) : neither one nor the other of the above case, hence a certain confusion about tools, practices behaviors that have to be adopted.

Let’s call it integration or cohérence…it does not matter. What matters is to bridge all these things in terms of tools and sense. If not, the expected benefits may never show up. Let’s build bridges, even if they need gate keepers.

Note : I wrote this note weeks ago, before going to Lotusphere and discover, among other, LotusLive, the concept of hybrid cloud and, more globally, an unified collaboration and coherence strategy that may address part of the question. I’ll go further into that in a few days.

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Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
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