Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Why Google+ is Relevant to Enterprise Collaboration

By Dennis D. McDonald

Clicking the above image links to my Google+ profile.I’ve been using Google+ for less than a week. I’m impressed with what I see. Granted, not a lot of people in my “inner circle” are on yet and I’m taking this process one step at a time. Already, though, a question has arisen about how Google+ supports organizations and brands as opposed to individual people.

As stated by Google’s Christian Oestlien on July 6, the current Google+ release has not really been developed to support “brands”:

How users communicate with each other is different from how they communicate with brands, and we want to create an optimal experience for both. We have a great team of engineers actively building an amazing Google+ experience for businesses, and we will have something to show the world later this year.

Some companies will proceed with Google+ anyway. I’ll probably ignore them or put them into a circle called something like “Not Real People” or “Just Interested In Selling Me Something.” 

That’s one of the most useful features I’ve seen so far with Google+, the ability to easily create independent as well as overlapping “circles” of people with whom I can selectively interact in ways that range from passively reading through actively engaging.

This feature by itself sets Google+ aside from many other social networking platforms and is the one I think has the most potential for applications to enterprise collaboration. By “enterprise collaboration” I mean sharing information and working together within an organization of some kind. Large organizations tend to be somewhat bureaucratic in their approach to internal and external communication and the issues of control, governance, and security tends to arise whenever social networking or collaboration tools are being introduced for use by employees. (For a more complete definition of “collaboration” see Defining and Measuring Enterprise Collaboration.)

Different groups within an organization need to engage and interact differently. Sometimes this engagement is in direct connection with formal or established business processes that have evolved around enterprise software systems such as ERP, finance, or HR. Let’s call this “Type 1” collaboration. Sometimes, though, this engagement arises from the need for small or even temporary groups to interact more rapidly or less formally than what’s required for well-established or documented processes. Let’s call this “Type 2” collaboration.

Even though it’s sometimes possible for the same collaboration technology to support both types of collaboration and everything in between, I’m not convinced that it’s absolutely necessary or possible for management to control how the two are integrated. To some extent this is because the manner in which collaborating groups are defined and evolve may differ significantly in large organizations. For example, management may be able to define business roles, functions, rules, workflows, and responsibilities for well-defined processes that can be supported by Type 1 collaboration. In such instances identities and responsibilities associate with collaborative activities can be defined and supported.

Type 2 collaboration is different. Management may not even be aware of who is doing what when temporary work groups or projects are formed, especially in cases where tasks are not well defined or where both internal and external groups need to interact. 

This is where Google+ comes in. The Google+ Circles feature makes it a potentially powerful feature given its eventual (I assume) integration with the bundle of online services that Google already controls from advertising to business productivity and communication.

If Google figures out how organizations can use Google+ by enabling individuals to master the relationship between how they define groups and communities in terms of the different types of engagement they can have with these communities, that’s going to be a really big deal, for several reasons.

For one, employees will want to start using tools like Google+ for work-related collaboration, just as how they now use tools like Gmail, YouTube, and Google Docs even when these tools are not officially “sanctioned” by the employer.

For another, employees are going to look at the enterprise collaboration tools they currently have available and ask the question, “Why is it so hard for me to establish and manage the different groups that I need to interact with using Tool X? Why can’t it be easy like it is with Google+?”

Now, I don’t think this is going to happen overnight. For all I know, the “organization page” features currently under development by Google for Google+ will have more to do with marketing and advertising than the types of collaboration that needs to be supported behind the corporate firewall. Still, the potential is there, particularly if Google figures out how to effectively integrate Google+ with Gmail; email, after all, is currently the corporate collaboration “tool of choice” in many large organizations.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Dennis D. McDonald. Dennis is a management consultant based in Alexandria, Virginia. His Google+ profile is here.

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