Slack, Facebook at Work and the future of social collaboration ?

In last may I was a speaker at the Enterprise Digital Summit  and if many of the topics we discussed used to be around for years, a couple of new ones emerged as real concerns for organizations. Among them there’s the irruption of new solutions and players in the field of communication/collaboration that disrupt the established landscape.

So we talked a lot of Slack and Facebook at work since the first already has a substantial amount of users and the second is starting to gain a lot of traction and seems to be destined for a great success.

The future of collaboration is not a matter of functionality

Paradoxically, we all agreed that neither Slack nor Facebook at Work were personifying the future of collaboration solutions. Slack (and even if some are beginning to see the limits of the solution) because it’s biggest asset is its ability to aggregate feeds from other solutions, Facebook at Work because it’s more a communication solution than a collaboration one. So, is there nothing to learn about all that ?

Not at all. The success of these two solutions (even if Facebook is very recent lots of organizations are testing the preliminary version) tells us many things.

I consider that social collaboration solutions did not evolve a lot over the last years but that’s not criticism. Over years they all acquired a large range of functionalities to become quite similar even if the starting point was not the same. There’s obviously very little room left for functional improvement. The next battle will be on AI and cognitive computing. It’s already obvious when you look at what IBM or Microsoft are doing and there’s no doubt that Facebook Chatbots will soon arrive in the enterprise version.

I even think that the trend is about functional lightening. By getting richer and richer to cover more and more use cases at the request of clients most solutions became to “heavy” to support the most basic and simple use cases. When people only need to share two lines of text and a link nothing compares to Facebook. Sometimes the difference lies in only one small detail but when one has to repeat the same operation tenths of times a day the detail becomes heavy. Talking about that I think that Facebook should avoid doing what its competitors on the enterprise collaboration market did and not try to please every client at the risk of losing the easiness of use that is the cause of their success today.

But why are businesses betting on solutions that do less than others ?

First because the myth of the single platform that does everything for everyone is dead. We wanted to believe that was possibe because it was the most rational and desirable solution it did not work. What matters is not functional richness and large range of use cases anymore but interoperability. Users want simple tools that cover less use cases but cover them very well.

Then because all enterprise applications now embed social collaboration functionalities even if the result is a fragmentation of the generated knowledge. Here again we failed à bringing business processes in social networks so collaboration moved to where the processes were.

Towards lighter social collaboration platforms

Last, and that’s the consequence of the two previous points, because if we consider the scope covered by a solutions designed to do everything and if we remove the collaboration part (joint execution, work organization) and knowledge management, the only thing left is communication and putting information in motion. I’ll elaborate more about this point in a future post because if there’s something businesses are struggling to and need a new generation of tools to succeed at it’s really internal communication.

Hence this trend I’m observing in more and more organization : collaboration moves to dedicated tool and businesses are asking for simple communication tools. The very rich platforms they chose 3 or 5 years ago are poorly used, some functionalities become irrelevant in this new context and, in they end, they think about replacing them with lighter and easier to adopt ones. Platforms that are only good at one or two things but do it well and are often pushed by employees instead of being imposed by the company. Businesses have lost the battle of the consumerization of the digital workplace.

The collaborative work environment is the new far west

At the end of the conference I was also part of a panel on the building blocks of the collaborative work environment. That’s really a wide issue and we’re at a tipping point where things are very unclear and most certainties we used to have are collapsing. However we nearly all agreed that :

• the digital workplace will become more and more fragmented. Hence the need for interoperability.

• end users will themselves choose the tool they used based of their need at a given moment. The job of IT will be to provide a large range of “validated and certified” solutions if they don’t want shadow IT to become the new normal with all the consequences regarding to data governance, security etc.

• the challenge is to build a stack of shared services (search, cognitive, bots..) that will be used by the entire portfolio.

Waiting for this to happen, we’re at the tipping point between two eras and we can expect the digital workplace to be a kind of new far west for a couple of years. Surely scaring but unavoidable.

It raises questions about usages, governance and, beyond that, about the management and valuation of key intangible assets. No one mentions this last point but I consider it as critical and it’s cooling the happiness I have to see things moving. I’ll go deeper into it in a future post.

Photo credit : collaboration par via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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