Planning for Social Collaboration in Your Company

By Andrew Wilson

When I became Accenture’s CIO a year ago, I began reflecting on how the role of the CIO has changed. When we talk about this role, we’re really talking about the role of technology and how it enables the business. The key question is, “How can we stay in control of technologies that constantly shift and evolve?”

Social collaboration is an exciting innovation that fosters new ways of communicating and sharing information throughout an organization. Evolving business models demand different ways of communicating, undertaking work, measuring value and connecting—with different and faster ways that go beyond the classic enablement of IT.

Given that so much collaboration happens through digital channels, there is the potential for almost limitless collaboration with everyone else connected to the Internet—regardless of whether or not they’re your employee.

Video conferencing, instant messaging (IM), blogs, wikis and activity streams have all become the norm as large companies push to connect their employees across groups, skills and geographic boundaries. With so many options, deciding where to start can be overwhelming, so I’ve listed a few tips below to help you get started with social collaboration:

· Set a clear agenda. 
It’s important to define a clear set of objectives with specific strategies, rather than settling for stop-gap measures. This will guide your choice of solutions and implementation plans.

For instance, one of our goals at Accenture was to better connect our nearly 300,000 employees, regardless of geography. To that end, we made significant investments in video collaboration tools, and the impact of video communications on the way we work has been momentous.

Tangible business benefits—including lower travel costs and more face time with colleagues and clients­—translate into greater efficiency and substantial savings. But beyond that, video has allowed colleagues to forge stronger relationships and improve productivity, since face-to-face contact gives the ability to see and read those vital cues that help us gauge how messages and ideas are being received.

· Don’t be afraid to experiment.

To a certain degree, CIOs serve as gatekeepers to technology’s rate of adoption for employees. However, new options for social collaboration are popping up every week, and many of them deserve a closer look.

We are experimenting with numerous collaboration technologies, and based on feedback, we’re determining what solutions best resonate with the teams and provide the best user experience. The key is to create and measure against specific criteria, and not to linger on a solution that isn’t working out.

·  Foster support from the top down.

It’s true that many social collaboration technologies are implemented and then go nowhere. I believe that support in the form of regular interaction from senior executives is paramount in encouraging social collaboration across the organization. Internal blogging, for instance, has become very popular with my team and across the company, and the immediate feedback received often contains valuable insights.

The fact is, social collaboration is happening in organizations—whether it’s planned or not. Communities of shared interest organically form or are forming around almost every product, service or idea that can be imagined.

Savvy digital organizations know that social networking and crowdsourcing to collaborative tools provide new potential to improve organizational agility, increase productivity, aid decision making and spark idea generation.  This also feeds into the crowdsourcing trend, as collaboration technologies now allow organizations to tap into vast pools of resources across the world. This can give every business access to an immense agile workforce that is sometimes better-suited to solving some of the problems that organizations may struggle with today.

To me, the effective CIO of today and tomorrow is a combination of consultant, aggregator, technology buyer, technology partner, innovator and, critically, still very much an operator. The CIO’s role here is to lead the business in exploring the art of the possible.

While social collaboration adds another layer to the mix, it can actually ease the burden: We are now more aware of how social technology can be a competitive differentiator. Rather than accept modest improvements from these technologies, executives should aim high and pursue the greater gains that can come by embedding collaboration into specific processes, incentivizing collaborative behaviors and thinking more strategically about these important technologies.

As the CIO for Accenture, Andrew Wilson leads the global IT operations of a $28.6 billion company, including the infrastructure, services and applications that enable Accenture employees to work anytime, anywhere to serve clients in more than 120 countries. Wilson ensures that Accenture is at the forefront of innovation as a digital business—from mission-critical applications to the network, from email and laptops to enterprise social media and collaboration tools.