Digital Hub Platforms Can Improve Enterprise Collaboration


The perfect digital hub is you. PHOTO: Andrew E Weber

Looking for the perfect digital hub? Then look in the camera.

That’s right, the perfect digital hub is you. 

Who else — or what else — can perfectly integrate the plethora of digital productivity tools to maximize not only your own personal productivity, but also the productivity of those you choose to work with?

Digital Hub Platforms

All right, this is a bit tongue in cheek. 

But I’m sure many of you are feeling that this is exactly the role you currently play — and could use some help.

The good news: This help is coming in the form of digital hub platforms, which are centered on team collaboration tools that sit at the center of a rich ecosystem of plug-in productivity apps.

The most prominent at the moment is Slack, which in a very short time has attracted millions of users and hundreds of plug-in productivity apps to its platform. Dion Hinchcliffe, as always, provides an elegant representation of what the digital hub for the emerging digital workplace now looks like:

The new digital workplace hub

Hinchcliffe nominates Slack, Salesforce and Atlassian as competing providers of open digital hub platforms. Now Microsoft, in a truly ‘Enterprise Strikes Back’ play, has introduced Microsoft Teams to compete directly with these suppliers using its own proprietary Office 365 productivity plug-ins.

The lack of openness could prove a challenge, as the Slack response to the Microsoft announcement might indicate. But Apple hasn’t done too badly with a proprietary platform and Microsoft has the advantage of a very mature suite of ‘plug-ins’.

The Person as the Hub

Now back to my initial point, if we take the worker (you) in the Hinchcliffe graphic and put it inside the place called “hub,” we get the status quo.

It’s likely you might have elements of all the above-mentioned platforms at your beck and call. So how do you start to deal with all of this?

Of course the competing vendors hope you might just select one platform and ecosystem. But as Hinchcliffe suggests, this is still a “work in progress.”

However, if you are able to elevate yourself above the particular tools and platforms it is worth reflecting on what you, as your own digital hub, need to consider in choosing how you participate most effectively in your increasingly digital workplace.

I propose a framework based on a foundation performance framework drawn from Network Science. By using this framework, the individual first thinks about his personal performance, and where he should be focussing his efforts. The framework looks at the individual from the perspective of the diversity and cohesion of their chosen network partners:

foundation performance framework

The allocation of Microsoft technologies is intended to be illustrative more so than prescriptive. I have only provided Microsoft technologies here but you could easily substitute your organization’s equivalent technologies as you see fit.

Key Points

  • In terms of collaborative performance, lone work is the least valued, so it is important to regularly cycle out of lone work to collaborate with others to achieve greater organizational outcomes.
  • The “Exploring” region reflects a network-building phase. Some roles and supporting toolsets favor this type of work. But there is a point where the exploring needs to be balanced against the delivering of tangible outcomes.
  • Of the three collaborating regions, “Engaging” is seen as the highest value, but also most challenging. To be successful here requires that you be able to sustain a sizable network of trusted connections that collectively can reach out to the most diverse network of people possible. Network Science researchers have identified such individuals as the highest performing in organizations. “Engagers” are able to broker connections and identify the right work to do.
  • The “Exploiting” region is the domain of teams. This is the point where tangible value is delivered through focussed and efficient collaboration, amongst defined team members. It is important though that at least one of the team is practicing “engagement” practices with the broader network. There is little value in being a highly efficient team, but working on the wrong thing.
  • The high cohesion regions indicate that “Yammer” and “Teams” are acting like “hub” platforms for the other supporting technologies. The choice between using an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) and a Team facility should be based on the diversity of connections that a core collaborating group needs to sustain. The degree that the supporting technologies are employed will reflect this, with teams more likely to be document centric, while social networks would more likely treat the discussions as the content of record.

Analytics Can Help You Be a Better Hub

To be your own effective digital hub, you firstly need to know more about how you are operating currently.

Here is where personal analytics can help you. To illustrate how this can work, I provide an analysis drawn from Swoop’s Benchmarking of Yammer installations.

In the plot below we identified how individuals in one organization were placed according to their collaboration patterns over a 12-month period. While Yammer is designed for connecting more diverse groups of individuals, the performance framework can still apply:

how individuals in one organization were placed according to their collaboration patterns over a 12-month period

Diversity was measured by the posting frequency across multiple groups. Cohesion was measured by the number of two-way connections that the individual has created.

The bubble size reflects the relative size of the individual’s network. As we can see, the majority of participants are in the “Explore” region, which is reflective of the innovation and idea sharing use of Yammer.

Those selected few in the “Engage” region play the critical role of engaging others around opportunities. For example, in this chart one individual has a large personal network of connections; of those, nearly 400 are two-way connections, spread across a large and diverse suite of groups.

The Exploit region is largely unpopulated, which perhaps is indicative of the struggles many ESNs have in demonstrating tangible outcomes. This is precisely the point where teams need to be formed, to exploit opportunities identified by the ESN. In the Microsoft ecosystem this would flag a good time to transition from Yammer to the new Teams platform.

Be a Leader and a Follower

The plethora of collaboration options can be breathtaking. Overlapping functionalities even from the same vendors is not making the task any easier.

What is important is to take a breath and consider the performance framework and the region/s where you feel you can contribute most value to your organization. This will dictate the tools that you should become most competent in and to lead with.

Undoubtedly you will also be invited to collaborate in other regions, where it would be advisable to allow others to lead.

For example, if you see yourself as an Explorer, you would aim to be competent in tools like Yammer, LinkedIn and the CRM toolsets. If you were invited to join a team to exploit a particular opportunity, you would leave it to Exploiters to lead and perhaps coach you in tools like Teams, Project, Skype, etc.

It’s not possible to be an expert in all the collaborative toolsets available to you. By adopting a leader follower approach, it is possible for organizations to organically discover the right mix of toolsets, without the need for complex guidelines or governance regimes.

Laurence Lock Lee is the co-founder and chief scientist at Swoop Analytics, a firm specializing in online social networking analytics. He previously held senior positions in research, management and technology consulting at BHP Billiton, Computer Sciences Corporation and Optimice.


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