While we have thankfully largely moved beyond the days when business execs believed that they could change their businesses on a shoestring budget through the introduction and viral adoption of free or very low-cost social collaboration tools, many still underestimate the level of investment required to get the benefits they are expecting. The cost of the software or service itself is one thing: if you want to deploy social collaboration tools at an enterprise-wide level with the associated expectations about the security, reliability and level of administrative control, you are going to need to invest in more than a low-end, freemium solution, and it will not be a small bill that you have to pay. But more significantly, to make it work you have to a) know what it is that you are trying to achieve, b) have a strategy for how you are going to get there, and c) ensure you have the resources in place for long enough to enable that to happen. In a nutshell, it is the cost of business change that you have to plan for.
It's not the first time I've talked about the business change issue in this blog (here, here and here, for example), but I want to highlight the importance of ensuring up front that everyone directly involved in the initiative recognises the significance of this aspect, and the long-term costs involved in making it work. Many business cases focus on the cost of deployment vs. the potential benefits, and fail to adequately address the business change cost, and this is a huge risk for the project, particularly given that in the time it will take for you to achieve the cultural change necessary to truly demonstrate the benefits you are looking for, your corporate leadership team may well have changed, with your initial sponsor/champion having moved on.
So what costs are involved? Of course, these will vary from organisation to organisation depending on the scale of your organisation and goals, but for large organisations in particular there are two fundamental costs that you need to address:
People resources - Who is to be responsible for driving adoption of the software across your organisation? With responsibilities including training/education, communication and promotion, community management, and stakeholder management, in a large organisation this will most likely be a full-time job for at least one person, and even then they will need additional help, for example through a distributed team or an advocate network .
Training/education - Though some people might jump at the opportunity to start using your new social tools, most won't, and they will need to be convinced why on earth this is worth their effort. Since different people will adopt at different speeds, your training strategy needs to go beyond a launch-time activity, and factor in a long-term programme that offers different styles and options (face-to-face vs. online, realtime vs. on-demand, novices vs. power users, audio/video vs. written text, etc.) to meet the needs of as broad a spectrum of your employee base as you can.
Perhaps the most important element to factor in to your budget planning is flexibility - your business change strategy will inevitably evolve over time, and there needs to be adequate scope to flex your activities as you get a clearer understanding of where the challenges lie in bringing about the cultural change involved. As I've said before, all of this is easier once you have a clearly articulated understanding of what you are trying to achieve through social collaboration - if the opportunities and benefits for your specific organisation are clear, it will be easier to get budget commitment from senior executives to get you started. Just avoid glossing over the business change costs - it will only come back to bite you later.
For more on this topic, I've written several reports on how to build a collaborative culture, which you can read more about here.
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