Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

By Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D.

Different groups adopt new technologies at different rates. When new technologies and the processes they support reach a point where accepting and using them becomes more effective and desirable than the old ways, change happens.

Not everyone changes at once. Still, success can breed success, word of mouth can promote technology adoption, and influencers who seek to influence will pay close attention to what’s going on around them so they can remain influential.

So it goes with the communication and collaboration technologies we refer to as “social  media.” Communications among friends and acquaintances that were  private a generation ago can now be conducted for others to see and hear. People use Twitter to send and receive messages to individual “followers” knowing that all their other followers can see the same message. Similar social transparency exists with Facebook where details previously considered personal are openly posted and discussed.

Related changes are happening in the workplace. There an evolving focus is on sharing and collaborating to accomplish common goals, reduce duplication of effort, and promote innovation. Such collaboration can, however, be complicated by the increasingly blurred distinctions between social- and work-related communication. Work-related issues can now be easily communicated to online “friends” or “followers” who may have only a very loose social or professional connection with the originator. The privacy and security implications of such openness is a recurring issue in corporate and government circles where policies and practices that guided earlier generations of technology users need to be updated.

I’m optimistic. I’m beginning to think that second-nature use of collaborative technologies by non-technologists, both for social engagement as well as for work, could reach a tipping point much sooner than I had thought. It’s not going to be completely smooth sailing, though.

Take Salesforce.com’s new Chatter service, for example. Watching Chatter’s online demo, there’s no doubt that the appearance and features of Twitter and Facebook are being heavily leveraged to reach a population interested in sharing and collaborating.

Some of Chatter’s appeal is the leveraging of social-media-like technologies to build work-related relationships and share work-related information. Another part of the pitch for Chatter is very traditional and centers on the ability of the platform to integrate data from a variety of sources that relate to workplace situations, processes, people, and opportunities. This is the venerable concept of desktop integration of relevant data from multiple sources that IT has been pursuing for as many years as computer networks and separate data stores have existed. After all, what user wouldn’t want an almost infinite number of links and relationships automatically waiting for drill-down when one is trying to marshal the company’s forces to close a big deal?

I know I’d love it, that’s for sure. But I also know that there are several hurdles that will need to be overcome in order to ensure the success of collaborative corporate platforms like Chatter that integrate multiple data sources.

I discussed some of these hurdles in a project I did earlier this year for Social Media Today and Oracle Software titled Web 2.0 and Sales Process Management.

Hurdle Number One is that, even if it is possible to economically build and maintain desktop applications that integrate data, processes, people, relationships, and business intelligence, not everyone in highly competitive situations such as corporate sales will be completely sold on the benefits of collaboration that “web 2.0” type technologies enable. The harsh reality is that rivalries, competitiveness, and organizational siloing must still be overcome in order to take full advantage of the benefits that social and collaborative workplace technologies support.

Hurdle Number Two relates to the complexity of the systems that are being made available for people to use. Not everyone is interested in, or capable of, efficiently managing the multiple streams of data and information that modern integrative technologies can make available from corporate- and cloud-based sources. One practical concern, for example, is that rapidly changing environments, data feeds, decision rules, and filters will need to be constantly monitored and updated in order to maintain their relevance. This takes time, knowledge, and money. This is one of the reasons that, as I commented in the Web 2.0 and Sales Process Management report, larger organizations may be better situated than smaller organizations to implement and successfully manage sophisticated collaboration and knowledge sharing systems.

Nevertheless, I believe that the new collaborative media will eventually overcome the inefficiencies associated with older communication forms that ignored the social realities of the world inside and outside the workplace. People see great advantages to sharing. Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to share information in ways that not only avoid “reinventing the wheel” but also promote innovation and creativity.

At the same time, “old media islands” won’t disappear overnight. People have invested much in the old ways. Until they see clear advantages, they just won’t change. Until such tipping points are reached, new systems may have to accommodate such “islands.” This raises the cost specter of maintaining dual systems.

One type of “old media island” can be a single senior manager who refuses to switch from email and attachments to a modern collaborative network. It can also be a government agency that refuses to allow its employees to use Facebook to communicate with colleagues, vendors, or the public. Either way, new and old media and communication practices need to be balanced.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Dennis D. McDonald

To download a free copy of the report “Web 2.0 and Sales Process Managementgo here.

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