How Social Business Software connects and enables distributed teams

In today’s operating environment the ability to bring dispersed teams together is becoming a critical business advantage.

Teams (focused on, for example, software development or support) often operate from scattered locations, their collaboration fittingly facilitated by technology. It is a time-honoured and cost-effective way of sourcing the best talent and input without having to hire for every new requirement or delay development due to a lack of available skills.

A jumble of bug and ticket tracking, communication and collaboration tools supports the intense interactions and vital outcomes of such teams. But do these tools represent the best technology has to offer?

Missing context

In short, they don’t.

While these tools do a great job of connecting teams and managing the flows and processes of projects and tasks, their ‘softer’ shortcomings are apparent in a virtual setting. Essentially, they do not offer a means to replicate the rich collaboration and knowledge transfer that naturally happens in teams that are physically close.

This problem can be overcome by using social business software (SBS) to augment the interactions of technology teams.

How does SBS help?

SBS tools use social media concepts such as newsfeeds, focus groups and messaging to facilitate conversations on topics of shared interest in organisational communities, thus bringing the ambience of physically close teams to virtual teams.

As one would share food, health, travel and shopping discoveries on social media, so developers like to talk shop in a social sphere. Leading SBS tools make it easy to share, document and manage approaches, methods and discoveries, thereby enriching collaboration and knowledge transfer and supporting hard project, or support, deliverables.

By comparison, tools that have a familiar place in the tech department, such as Jira and Basecamp, are highly structured — a digital checklist.

They set out the necessary workflows and ticket items that allow teams to keep track of software project deliverables, but do little to capture and use high-value learnings from conversations, such as fault-finding and trouble-shooting, reflection, user-feedback and retained learning which naturally occur within a development environment.

Talk AND action

This doesn’t mean that SBS is all talk and no action. Conversations can be both structured and spontaneous, and it’s easy to separate the two as important threads naturally prevail. Incorporation of hashtags and @ signs further allow for easy trends analysis and the search of conversations.

Another problem with using only traditional project tools is the limited scope given to users. Tickets are assigned to a limited number of people, which puts the talents of others out of range when seeking solutions to problems.

SBS tools, by contrast, allow questions to be put to a broader audience. It has often been our experience that someone in an organisation comes up with a breakthrough idea without being personally involved in a project.

SBS tools are also immensely useful with ‘on-boarding’ new team members, whether they are new recruits, temporary consultants or on secondment from within the company. A new member can easily go into conversation histories to check team members and their remits, contributions over time and a lot of other facets affording insight into how the team operates.

Someone who inherits an empty email inbox does not have quite the same advantage. (Nor does a ticket-based system give one the opportunity to delve into learnings as and when needed. Induction programmes would do well to adopt SBS as a means to access materials long forgotten as they become relevant to the new recruit again.)

Virtual organisations

These benefits are equally valid for tech teams within and outside organisations, for example working on open source, bespoke or community-based projects.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, even entire technology development firms can benefit from SBS as a business enabler combining onsite and remote working from different locations.

This kind of working arrangement can continue where necessary, not as a defining configuration, but as one that lends flexibility and speed to market responses. This sort of power and flexibility will find resonance with almost any organisation or association of individuals.

The rise of the Chief Collaboration Officer

Already a fixture in leading global companies that have embedded open innovation into their processes, the Chief Collaboration Officer (CCO) is a vital resource that all forward-thinking companies must invest in.

As businesses become more social and begin to open up new communication and collaboration channels, age old business processes and functions are radically being reengineered. As a result, and in order to tap into the collective brainpower of organisational stakeholders to open innovation and drive growth, someone has to run with it and that person is the CCO.

Why do we need a CCO?
The need for a CCO and support staff is especially pronounced at the outset of Social Business Software (SBS) adoption. Without training, SBS tends to spread through the enterprise like wildfire, but often ends up being used for ‘water cooler chats’ rather than its ability to rewire the organisation for productive collaboration and communication.

Establishing a CCO department goes beyond enthusiastic uptake, it can ensure that targeted groups are formed to serve tactical (project-based) and strategic purposes, and that they are maintained and fully utilised – putting the gains of a fully-functioning SBS implementation to work.

Any innovation or revelation harvested from SBS conversations could lead to the business making process improvements, advancing a strategy or embarking on a new direction. These must be highlighted to the proper entity to internalise, adopt and action as well as measure it. In other words, the influence of a CCO and support staff is most pronounced at the start but felt throughout the process, when social collaboration, communication and innovation have yet to be institutionalised. Without that guiding hand, it would be like trying to control the use of Facebook in the organisation.

The CCO will also constantly ensure alignment of SBS activities with strategic objectives, thus fuelling renewed energy in the business, encouraging a far more proactive approach to communication, and ensuring process transparency. In short, a CCO is charged with creating an open, connected business culture.

Who’d make a good CCO?
It is clear that a CCO is a catalyst for change but we’ve never had CCOs, and CCO courses aren’t yet taught in institutions of higher learning. So how do you know if someone is qualified to do the job?

Like any change management process, the job takes effort and drive to deliver the success that social business software is known for, and to instil a new way of doing things. In my view, senior professionals with a competency in technology, communications or marketing, coupled with a strong operational sense of the business, should find themselves in the running for a leadership position in your fledgling CCO department.

However to transform the organisation into an innovation powerhouse, the position of CCO is a board-level post. They must be able to develop and drive the execution of an enterprise social strategy, train and guide the team supporting social collaboration, monitor and measure social activities to achieve business and programme objectives. All this while working effectively across the organisation and liaising directly with C-level executives, strategists, market development and insight, brand development, communications, IT and Web teams.

One size does not fit all – but the promise of integrating the enterprise has unlimited potential continues Kappers. What is interesting is how few companies have actually embraced the idea and gone on to create a CCO role so it will be fascinating to see how the different roles play out over time and in different industries, as companies’ strategies mature.

There are great and diverse collaboration technologies out there today and collaboration itself has become increasingly important to businesses and as they find themselves increasingly surrounded with the ‘social-ness’ that the changing business environment demands, having a C-Suite executive that brings it all together to access the truly transformative possibilities of SBS and deliver results will become critical. Welcome to the team CCO.

Gys Kappers is the Co-founder and CEO of Wyzetalk, Africa’s leading Social Business Software Platform. Gys’s Masters thesis on ‘the delay of social business software adoption in the enterprise and its effects” have won him international acclaim.