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As more and more companies look to adopt collaboration software, such as internal social networks, all will face the question: what software should we use?
For many, if not most, of those companies, answering that question will be the responsibility of the IT department. But should it be?
An interesting blog post by Gartner VP of Communication, Collaboration, and Content Craig Roth hints that the answer might be 'no.' As he notes, "purchasing and licensing have little to do with whether a technology will be used", and most importantly, whether that technology will actually create value for the organization.
The problem in general with many IT departments is that they're sadly out of touch with the employees they serve. When evaluating a technology, established vendor relationships and preferences may trump the quality of the product. For instance, if your IT department loves Oracle or Microsoft and is hesitant to support any technology not built on their products and platforms, a not-uncommon thing to see at large enterprises, the number of options considered in an RFP may be limited by factors that are irrelevant to end users.
So what's the answer?
It might just be giving employees a greater say in the adoption process. Or at least looking to them for cues. The rise of the iPhone and iPad in the enterprise, for instance, is being driven in large part by companies wise enough to implement a BYOD (bring your own device) model. If fewer companies were letting their employees decide which devices they use, we'd probably see greater usage of Blackberries. That might have kept the IT department happy, as deploying a fleet of Blackberries was fairly simple given RIM's enterprise focus, but when given a choice, consumers have spoken and most favor other devices.
The good news in the enterprise collaboration and social software space is that, increasingly, software vendors are looking at the consumer market for inspiration. Why are 750m-plus consumers using Facebook, they're asking, and how can we incorporate some of that engagement-driving functionality while also making a product useful to the business?
Even so, companies shouldn't assume that the 'consumerification' of enterprise software is complete, and that therefore the IT department can't go wrong. It can. So any adoption of this software that doesn't include a reality check based on what employees are using personally outside of work risks failure.