Successful collaborations require more than good tools

Without a doubt, it is essential to select the right technology for a collaboration initiative—essential but not sufficient.

Instead, organizations need to approach collaboration holistically, thinking not just about the tools but also related policies, processes and funding strategies. Otherwise, the best technology on the market can only do so much.

Unfortunately, a recent survey of IT professionals in federal, state and local government suggests that many agencies have yet to learn this difficult lesson.

As might be expected, funding and staffing are prominent concerns. Only 33 percent of respondents said that collaboration work at their agency has been adequately funded and staffed. Another 37 percent said this was somewhat true, while 30 percent said it was not true at all.

The results were similar when asked as a more nuanced question: Do those initiatives include relevant participants who were able to commit resources from their organization? Thirty-three percent said that describes the situation completely, while 40 percent said it somewhat describes it somewhat and 27 percent said it doesn’t describe it at all (see figure 1).

Figure 1


p> In short, it’s a question of buy-in. Is the organization committed to supporting collaboration? Is it providing the right tools to the right people for the right job?

Philipp Karcher, an analyst with Forrester Research, said it often comes down to getting buy-in from managers – getting them to use the tools, understand their value and convince others to use them as well.

“It’s about finding champions in the organization to push adoption, and making sure there is the right training,” Karcher said.

An organization’s culture also factors into this, said Vanessa Thompson, an analyst with IDC Government Insights who specializes in enterprise social networks and collaborative technology. People who work in organizations with a traditional hierarchical culture might find it takes a while to become comfortable with a more collaborative work process.

Analysts at the McKinsey Global Institute reached the same conclusion. In their report, “The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity through Social Technologies,” they emphasize the importance of networking in terms of both technology and behavior.

In theory, collaboration technology could improve the productivity of knowledge workers by as much as 20 to 25 percent, they write. “However, realizing such gains will require significant transformation in management practices and organizational behavior.”

The survey results indicate that some agencies have a lot of work to do. Asked if their agency's culture supported collaboration, 38 percent of respondents said that definitely was the case, while another 38 percent said that was somewhat the case and 24 percent said not at all.

Methodology and survey demographics

Between February 22 and March 18, 2013, 206 subscribers of FCW, GCN and other 1105 Government Information Group publications responded to an e-mail survey about collaboration solutions used by government agencies. Survey respondents were comprised of those currently using online collaboration tools or planning to use these tools within two years and/or responsible for managing, purchasing, recommending or evaluating online collaboration tools. Beacon Technology Partners developed the methodology, fielded the survey and compiled the results.

Five out of 10 respondents were technology decision-makers (CIOs or other IT managers or professionals), while 30 percent were senior managers, program managers or other business decision-makers. Approximately 83 percent came from the federal government (48 percent civilian, 35 percent defense) and 17 percent from state or local government agencies.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please email us at [email protected]