Document management platforms, such as SharePoint, make real collaboration around documents possible. But this does not mean that collaboration will happen in practice. The most important single point of failure when organisations seek to promote collaboration is the required change in culture amongst users. Yes, the technical aspects of migrating content and scaling infrastructure need to be carefully planned in order for the transition to go smoothly. Yes, interesting training materials need to be prepared and delivered in a way that allows employees to keep up with their normal workload. And yes, the time and costs of doing all this must never be underestimated. But none of these steps can guarantee that successful collaboration will result.

Why?

Some of the prime reasons are listed briefly below:

  • Working together is a learned behaviour.

    People have spent years learning to navigate deep, hierarchical folder structures, exchanging documents as file attachments via email and being unable to work on the same file at the same time. Skills have been built up to do this efficiently. New skills need to be learned in order to collaborate effectively and old habits or reflexes need to be overwritten with new practices. This change needs to be managed, must be participative, takes time and has costs (such as initially lower efficiency and higher stress for those making the transition).

  • Fostering collaboration comes at a price.

    So for workers, moving to a new way of working is not easy and comes at a cost. Just because the web interface for document management looks familiar, does not mean that the underlying concepts have been taken to heart. Hence the tendency to dump documents and their legacy folder structure into SharePoint document libraries without any reorganization. The results is that folders are often used inappropriately in SharePoint and users never learn to make full use of views and the power they offer. Content preparation, migration and the training approach used need to take these issues into account.

  • Better for whom?

    Effective collaboration is always better for an organization but it may appear to be threatening for individuals who have built their positions around the retention of knowledge. It is naïve to believe that knowledge-sharing will just happen and this is part of the reason why social networking in the enterprise has not brought the benefits imagined by relying on an over-simplified Like and Share approach. Incentives for knowledge-sharing need to be imagined in an appropriate manner, adapted to the organisation and its culture, the training strategy needs to include a Why Should I? angle as well as the standard How To? approach.

  • Involvement and participation in creating the collaboration strategy.

    It is difficult to promote a new approach around collaborative document management if the overall strategy has not involved consultation and participation in its construction. The top-down, imposition of collaboration around documents is a contradiction in terms and such an approach will heighten the risks of failure. Involvement of key users can smooth adoption, foster an evangelizing tendency and calm the inevitable fears which accompany deep changes to working with information.
  • Solve some key and persistent problems.

    Document management is often generic and platforms such as SharePoint offer a flexible and easily customisable way forwards. However, every organisation faces some key and persistent problems relating to documents. The issues giving rise to these problems are often deeply embedded in the structure of the organisation and faced by many users in slightly different ways. As part of the roll-out of a successful strategy around collaborative document management, it is useful to identify these challenges ahead of time, work out whether standard solutions can be prepared and made available in the new platform and “be baked” in for all users.

    Example – Managed Metadata: all users within an organisation make repeated use of core metadata. Carefully design SharePoint’s Managed Metadata service to allow users to benefit from day one.

    Example – Taming Excel: all organisations would grind to a halt in from one day to the next, if Excel spreadsheets were banished. The introduction of SharePoint provides an excellent opportunity to rein in worst risks of unmanaged Excel files (data loss or corruption) while keeping the benefits of flexibility and ease-of-use.

  • Training is not just the transmission of knowledge.

    Training is a key part of the successful rollout of a collaborative document management solution. However, it should not be carried out by SharePoint experts or based on generic SharePoint training materials. It should be delivered by training ambassadors from within the organisation, who have helped design the training process and materials. These people need to be recognized as the key actors in the success of the whole project and need to be provided the scope in their work organisation (i.e. the time) to solve problems and help co-workers.

  • Context is everything.

    We all create, edit, publish, print and share documents. Is there anyone left who is not to some degree an information worker? But while the documents may be created in Word, Excel or PowerPoint and managed through SharePoint, each organisation is different, with its own priorities, culture, systems and deficiencies. The decision to use SharePoint (or any other collaborative document management system) is therefore not just about Cloud or On-Premise, version 2010 or 2013, the extent of integration with other IT systems. It is also about adapting document management to the organisation, as well as, to some practical extent, adapting the organisation to document management.

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