“The opportunity is that your organization can be more agile, more innovative, more
efficient than ever before... The challenge is, we have to govern things well.”

Recently I sat down with Christian Finn, Director, SharePoint, Microsoft, to get his thoughts on social media, new devices and collaboration in the enterprise.

Steven Ramirez: Now that social media has come into the enterprise, what does that mean for IT in terms of providing a productive work environment?

Christian Finn: Well, it creates tremendous opportunities to solve problems that were hard or even impossible to solve before. It also creates more challenges in terms of management and adoption.

On the opportunity side, social tools have the capability of revolutionizing how people collaborate inside an organization. If you think about all the different kinds of collaboration technology we’ve had up to now, they’re all really focused on how you bring a workforce together, break down organizational silos, support people across different geographies, and how you let people in one part know what the rest of the organization is doing.

And so there’s tremendous upside there. If you can help your people find out all the different projects going on in an organization, for example, you can cut down on redundant work. Because you’ve probably got someone in Dept. A solving the same problem that someone in Dept. B is struggling with. Social tools give you a capability you haven’t had before for people to surface their work to one another in a very lightweight way, and facilitate that kind of discovery.

Balance that with the fact that social tools really require user participation at a level unheard of in the past. If you roll out an ERP system, your users may like it or they may not like it. You may have a great change management regimen but ultimately they’re going to have to use that system to get their job done. If you roll out communities or social networking, you’re relying on the users to want to use those tools themselves. And you have to approach the rollout in a different way to get more buy-in. These solutions become part of what they do, so their requirements become correspondingly more important than in a typical IT project.

The other issue organizations have to deal with is around the management of appropriate behavior and compliance. If I’m in a highly regulated industry and someone is using a social tool like a blog to express their opinion, that’s something I may need to manage as a record for compliance. And I need to make sure the tools are there to do it. So tremendous upside in opportunity but also a higher level of requirement for really being thoughtful about how you implement and manage the environment.

SR: What effect are devices like slates having on collaboration when it comes to applications?

CF: Well, they’re having a tremendous impact across the enterprise. Executives are bringing these devices into the workplace and asking IT to support them, which is unheard of. This consumerization of IT element is very strong. And it’s not just coming from the youth, it’s coming from the C-suite as well.

SR: And it’s counter to the idea of governance, right?

CF: Yes, and it’s resetting the tradeoff between management and security and empowerment. It’s really focusing on empowerment. I think the deeper effect is that people now have a rich collaboration environment available to them 24x7. They’ll be in a meeting and they’ll be able to get information from their CRM system or from their social network about the customer they’re meeting with in an unobtrusive way. It’s not only going to make people more productive but where you have investments in collaboration and knowledge management across the organization, it’s going to bring those benefits to employees for more of the time that they’re actually working. It’s a tremendously exciting thing.

SR: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities you’re seeing for collaboration in the next 3-5 years? And how should IT address those?

CF: Well, the challenges and opportunities are very closely intertwined. The opportunity is that your organization can be more agile, more innovative, more efficient than ever before. If I’m trying to find somebody’s work product—a presentation on a specific subject—you can use a search engine. And you may or may not find it. And we know employees spend too much time every year looking for things and not enough time finding the right thing. In your case, I know that you present on this topic, and I’ve got a social network so I can quickly find you. Your work product is saved with your profile, so in 2-3 clicks I can say, “Oh, I need this presentation. I know Steven would probably have something like that.”

The challenge is, we have to govern things well. At Microsoft, we don’t let anyone do anything anonymously or under persona. Everything you do is under your name. So if you do something that’s inappropriate, you can. We’ll find it and take it down but everyone will know it was you. That level of governance has kept the misbehavior to zero. But you have to be thoughtful about your governance.

SR: This has been great, Christian. Thank you so much.


The opinions and views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of Microsoft.