When Hurricane Sandy flooded the streets of lower Manhattan, millions of email users were cut off from their servers — and not just in Manhattan. A number of service providers whose services were knocked out support business customers all over the world. And they were offline not just for hours but for days.
And while many of them are still scrambling to move their email services to other providers, I would suggest we all stop and take a deep breath. Really, is email still what you want at the heart of your collaboration and communications strategy going forward?
Email seems so, well, 20th century at this point. It’s not just that “send me an email” has given way to “text me” for quick conversations. A far more significant evolution is taking place: Social applications are taking communications and collaboration to levels far beyond what email ever could. And it’s not just me who’s saying this: Forrester projects that the market for social enterprise apps and related services will grow to $6.4 billion by 2016.
Why use social applications as the mechanism for fostering collaboration and communications? As one who has lived in the world of collaboration and communications for many years, I can give you 10 very good reasons:
1. Synchronous versus asynchronous communications. In plain English, this means instant versus delayed communication. Email is an asynchronous technology. You send a message, and you wait for a response. The conversation takes place over a period of time. Conversely, social apps are generally synchronous communication technologies; you can engage, communicate, share ideas and make decisions instantly. Clearly, faster is better for business!
2. Accessing the collective intelligence. Difficult problems are better solved when multiple people are thinking about them. When something has your organization stumped or you just want the opinion of a broader group, social apps — with their ability to engage on a one-on-one, one-to-many or many-to-many basis — can leverage your organizations collective intelligence quickly and effectively.
3. Anytime, anywhere engagement. Social apps are typically cloud-based, which makes it easy to collaborate from anywhere at any time. How often have you been working on a document or spreadsheet at the office and then found yourself unable to access the document from home, at the moment you realized you need to make a change? Most social apps for business are designed to work equally as well on your desktop, a tablet, even a smartphone.
4. Secured for business. Public social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are not really designed for private business use — but other social enterprise applications such as Zoho, ITPulse from ManageEngine, Google+ for Business, and Cloud Workspaces from eXo are. With private social enterprise apps, businesses can gain the collaboration and communication benefits of social apps without making information public.
5. Little learning curve. Since many users, particularly younger ones, are well-versed in social apps for personal use, there is very little training or ramp-up time associated with introducing social apps into the business. Social business apps use functions such as @mentions, #tags and “likes,” which are already familiar to employees (and make it easy for them to explain to you what these things mean)!
6. Better collaboration means greater productivity. Cloud-based social apps enable multiple users to collaborate on documents in real time. This is a huge advantage over traditional office applications that required users to work on documents in isolation and then merge updates and comments later.
7. Economies of the cloud lower costs. Social enterprise apps are often priced to take advantage of “cloud economics.” They can be much less expensive (even free) to deploy than old-school shared services such as Microsoft SharePoint or IBM Lotus Notes while simultaneously providing much more flexibility.
8. More work, less waste. Social and collaborative apps reduce the need for face-to-face meetings without reducing the flow of information that is supposed to come from those meetings. Real-time document updates and project schedules keep everyone up to date without the frustration of time wasted in meetings.
9. Fostering a stronger sense of community. The workplace is a little more intimate for users of social and collaborative apps. Employees who are physically thousands of miles away become much closer. You gain insight into the vibe and sentiment of your organization in ways that never come out in email.
10. Let ideas feed ideas. Social apps enable employees to participate and contribute ideas in a broader variety of ways. They can respond to surveys, add their thoughts to ongoing discussions, even just “like” or add a comment to another employee’s post. A “like” is a very public display of support, and it encourages everyone participating in the discussion to add their own thoughts and participate that much more. In the end, that’s valuable — and quite rewarding — for everyone.
Companies are always searching for productivity gains. It really is the controllable variable to increased output. When companies can increase productivity by going after “low-hanging” fruit, it should be plucked, and new social collaborative applications present just such an opportunity.
How are you using social collaboration tools? Don’t “send me an email” — tell me in the comments