Monday, August 1, 2011

Will They Come If You Build It?

While we all anxiously await the next major release of Oracle WebCenter, it may be a good time to take a step back and discuss some non-technical issues around deployment in the enterprise that will become more and more important as WebCenter builds on feature sets that are designed to support social collaboration.

For those who haven’t heard, there are big changes in the works for WebCenter.   The product suite is being restructured around a four-pillar model:  WebCenter Sites, WebCenter Portal, WebCenter Connect, and Webcenter Content.  The promise is that WebCenter is and will increasingly become “the user engagement platform for social business—connecting people and information.”  Stay on top of all new developments by checking out the WebCenter product management site here:

The increased emphasis on connecting people and information will shape all four of these WebCenter pillars, but arguably none will be affected more than WebCenter Connect.  The product is focused on “purposeful collaboration” which “provides the social enterprise building blocks for end users to build effective and collaborative communities.”  Check out the product brief for WebCenter Connect here:

We are all excited about these new developments.  It has been apparent for some time that successful deployment of collaboration tools like WebCenter Connect will be something that gives global businesses a major competitive advantage over organizations that opt not to work on improving their collaboration processes.  Having a product like Connect in the social collaboration toolkit will go a long way towards helping organizations create or re-engineer collaboration, but it isn’t, nor can it be, an all-inclusive answer.  Connecting people, content, and process is much easier said than done, however.  There are several key issues around how people behave and how they are motivated that need attention if deployment of new social collaboration tools in any enterprise is going to be successful.

While people are social creatures, even in the work environment, there are a number of factors that will block uptake of a new product that IT rolls out with the ostensible purpose of “making the organization operate better” and “helping you work more efficiently”.  The most significant blocking factor is behavioral inertia:  people will operate today and tomorrow much like they’ve behaved yesterday unless they are motivated to chart a new course.  Behavioral inertia manifests itself in several ways:

·         Most members of an organization already have well-established people networks that they think are good enough to meet their collaboration needs.
·         Ironically, many people will claim that they do not have the free bandwidth necessary to learn a new set of tools that are being brought in to help them work more efficiently and productively.
·         The chicken/egg syndrome applies to social collaboration solutions:  until a deployment picks up the critical mass necessary for it to attract users, it will only be a partial success at best or, in the worst case, it may fail.

So, other than addressing all of the technical issues, what can we do as architects to overcome the behavioral inertia that acts as a blocking factor around successful enterprise deployments of WebCenter?  While this is not an all-inclusive list, planning on using some or all of these approaches will ease the transition to a new way for people to collaborate in the organization:

·         Assess the targeted user population and make sure computer skills are at a high enough level for them to take advantage of interfaces and interactions between products (e.g. portal, email, IM, conferencing) that may be brand new to them.
·         Plan on creating a buzz around the new deployment project.  Get people excited about it.
·         Come up with ways to pre-seed content.  Although having content by itself will not be a sure guarantee of success, without content people will not see much value in using a new tool.
·         Plan on building a number of access points or links to the new collaboration tool from sites/applications where people are already “living” on their computers.  A well-placed link on the internal portal comes to mind.
·         Plan on an initial deployment to a friendly, manageable group of people who will have the most potential to gain from using the new tool.  This helps with the buzz factor and can also help with shifting momentum to wider audiences.
·         Enlist an executive sponsor for active and ongoing support of the deployment.  The higher up the food chain, the better.
·         Do not rely on the passive approach, occasionally referred to as viral adoption, of a set of social collaboration tools.  Although it can happen, it seldom works that way in the enterprise.

Obviously, most of these strategies do not fall into the sweet spot of what IT does typically.  Some or most of the responsibility will be with different areas in the enterprise.  Many organizations have “change management” groups who have experience with re-engineering and evolving the business to take on new challenges.  Whether or not IT architects are responsible for addressing behavioral inertia blocking factors, they are areas that will need attention when WebCenter is deployed.

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