Vertical stack or Horizontal integration or both

…Should collaboration technologies be a separate vertical stack of tools with links to and from existing tools? Or, should they be an integrated horizontal layer directly within the enterprise applications?

In other words it a vertical add-on, or a horizontal core component layer?

As a vertical add-on, you can keep discussions and tacit information separate from the repositories of the enterprise applications. Employees then paste in links or referencing identifiers to content on the enterprise apps. It is faster to deploy without really changing the enterprise apps, but the information sources stay separate. Integrating into workflows requires knowing how to use both the collaboration and enterprise apps and how to link between the two.

 -Rawn Shah


I think there is a need for both. A couple of months ago I posted on the need for existing tools to have social features so we can deal with exceptions, and also for buy-in (it’s much easier getting buy-in if you sell the tools at helping with existing pain points in processes, rather than airy-fairy sharing…the secret is that once the c-suite are happy with social processes then the airy-fairy stuff can kick in).

Rather than visiting another place to chat about a workaround, why not be able to do it in the same tool. The classic example is the support database. At work support people visit the CoP to ask colleagues for help with troubleshooting a customer call, and then they go back to the support database to update the status of the call. Firstly people don’t want to shift context, which could cause them to just use something like email or IM, which means there will be no online artefacts describing the history of the call; and secondly why not simply have the forum or whatever in the support database itself…all in the flow of work…very natural.

Larry Hawes has the perfect example of this…

One of our business units is considering integrating some of the tools in the CoP with their website of procedures. The idea is that when someone has difficulty with a process, or needs to alter it to fit the context, they can ask questions and share their experiences right within the procedures via an embedded message box (which actually lives on the CoP server).

Another of our business units is linking the Q&A feature of the CoPs on their Intranet page…a level up would be to embed the box itself.

Which brings me to Andy McAfee’s post on embedding a question box on the intranet as that’s the place everyone visits. In my case the box could be a Q&A box with a drop down that lets you choose a CoP. This is crucial as the CoP product I run is just another product I’m trying to get everyone to pay attention to and visit…the more I can get it in people’s inboxes and on the Intranet the better.

As Andy points out this helps with the Endowment effect where people are risk averse in giving up what they have for something new. So in knowing this maybe they can just give up a little instead ie. they can try the new tool, but they don’t have to visit a new place or do too much extra…this keeps people in their comfort zones.

So far I have talked about horizontal integration, and also integrating into familiar places.

I still think there is a place for a vertical silo. Communities of Practice are a perfect example. A group of people coming together to learn about a topic don’t require integration as it’s not part of a process, instead they just need a standalone place to share, and discuss.

I guess you could say the same thing about an enterprise-wide social network.

But here’s the thing; the alternative to standalone is for a social network or CoP tool to be part of an existing tool rather than standalone.

My place of work is an engineering company so people spend most of their day in the document management system. I am thankful that our CoPs are set against the backdrop of the DMS…it means one less site to visit. Our DMS also has a social network which we have not yet enabled…

At work there is a study going on to revamp the Intranet. If this got the go ahead, I could see a clash with the CoPs product…but it’s natural that the CoPs product would be part of the Intranet…I think it would get much more traction. At the moment we have Business Unit home pages on the Intranet and their discussion pages on the CoP…it seems normal for them to be in the one system. My next phase of work is a CoP news curation page, which is kind of similar to the one-way Intranet news page. If both systems were one, then CoP groups could get their homemade news onto the Intranet page right there next to the official news. I’m sure we can do this now via some sort of API integration, but it would be much more effective if it was built in the design.

Parallel to this is a vertical standalone app sucking in data from other apps.