Building a Collaboration Hub

One of my regular activities is sorting through the ever-growing backlog of digital content across my many machines at home, purging or re-classifying content from 10+ years back. I still have digital edits of articles written in the late 1990’s, and much of the content and concepts are still relevant — and a quick tag or two as I move the content out of documents and into OneNote will make it all much more accessible when i put together the next article.

What is interesting is that much of my content from 2002 (when I started officially blogging) and forward surrounded the idea of building a “collaboration hub” for the enterprise. A little different than the modern Intranet you’ll find within most organizations, the idea was a combination of knowledge management and social platform. At the time, I was working for E2open as a product manager, and lead the product management effort around their Collaboration Manager platform….which in many ways looked and functioned like SharePoint 2010/2013.

While some of the terminology around collaboration and Intranets has changed, and the vendors in the space have gone through a transformation, the basic ideas for capturing, tracking, and collaborating around our knowledge assets have remained consistent. In many ways, the collaboration hub is a central piece of your overall Digital Workplace strategy.

It should be, anyway.

However, let’s be clear: document collaboration does not equal a collaboration hub. A lot of companies get that wrong, grabbing the most popular tools off the shelf and then wondering why it doesn’t solve all of their needs. Enterprise social networks fall into this same category — solving one major problem, but not replacing the need for a more comprehensive solution (although you’re getting warmer with social). Depending on your business requirements, your collaboration hub might be a lot more complex than just those two workloads — each of which, on their own, represent multi-billion dollar segments of the market.

When I launched my personal blog ( back in 2004, my goal was to explore the growing set of tools and vendors within the broad collaboration space, and catalog their differences and similarities, investigating and reviewing the various technologies and providers of the core components that make up an enterprise collaboration environment. What amazes me over all the years has been the limited scope of so many of these solutions. Do companies set out to create fads, or is their goal to satisfy end-to-end business needs? Unfortunately, more often than not it’s the former.

When a company sets out to build a collaboration hub as part of their broader Digital Workplace strategy, what should they be looking for? I’m going to attempt to keep things fairly broad, but here are some of the initial categories you should be thinking about as you create your plan:

  • Connectivity. There is the infrastructure side of things, for sure, but what I really mean by connectivity is how we connect with our data sources. Data comes in all shapes and sizes, some on prem and some in the cloud. There are companies doing some fairly innovative things with storage, business intelligence, and with data visualization.
  • Social. Everyone is salivating after all things social, and yet how much do you really understand about what your organization needs? Most enterprise apps have started adding a social layer — but how these various layers fit together to enhance your business has yet to be tapped. I believe there is a sort of bubble over social — while some of our biggest innovations in the information worker space will come from social technology, I think the bubble ha somewhat deflated over the past couple years, and people are demanding a visible return on investment. The standalone ESN is dead. Social without context and content and action is, after all, just chat.
  • Tracking. Certainly a missing link in all things social — and maybe my interest in this facet goes back to my data warehousing and supply chain technology days, but when it comes to collaboration, my thinking is simple: if you can’t track it, you can’t measure it. Visibility and analytics will be the key to success in the enterprise space.
  • Presentation. Abstracting our tools and even our data away from the presentation layer is key — allowing people and organizations to consume, transform, and present data in whatever ways meet their business requirements.
  • Automation. We spend countless time and resources on massive collaboration, social, and enterprise resource planning systems, often creating more work for ourselves instead of less. Automation, machine-learning, and business intelligence are the next step to these massive enterprise applications. It’s what we’ve been leading up to.
  • Governance. And on top of all of these things, you need to be able to manage it all. It’s going to be a complex, confusing mess. But I’m confident that a few companies will quickly step up and deliver solutions that will allow organizations to make this jumbled mess secure, compliant, and manageable.

What are you doing to build out your own enterprise collaboration hub? Are you actively bridging the gaps between the many disparate tools already being used by your employees? Or are you allowing people to build an increasingly complex web of unaligned and unsupported data and functional silos?

I’ve often heard people say that IT moves in cycles. Is your organization heading back to the mistakes of 2002, or are you taking control of your collaboration strategy?