Forrester recently issued a new report, The State Of Collaboration Software Implementations: 2011 by TJ Keitt with Matthew Brown and Joseph Dang. The report noted that while organizations are actively investing in collaboration tools to support their increasingly decentralized workforce, 62% of companies say that these tools still mainly benefit travel and corporate communications. The reported noted that, “only 9% of businesses report that collaboration technology has impacted their time-to-market for new products, with improved innovation and partner relationships also ranking low on the list.” I was pleased to receive a review copy.

Why is this occurring? Forrester report author TJ Keitt offered this explanation. “The tipping point for gaining benefits related to flexible working styles is after a business deploys four or five collaboration technologies. But more collaboration technology alone isn’t a magic elixir. Collaboration pros must work in conjunction with the business to set policies that help information workers use these tools to do their jobs.” He adds, “To realize benefits of collaborative business processes, though, (implementations professionals) must work to integrate these tools into business processes like product development and workflows.”

This makes sense. If you are mainly using collaboration tools to support virtual conversations then travel reduction is likely the big benefit. To get the really big benefits in other areas you have to explicitly go there. You usually get what you ask for, at best.

This was the case with knowledge management. The only really successful KM efforts that I saw were ones that were aligned with business processes such as product development or customer service. In these aligned cases, I saw documented benefits such as reduced time to market, increase in successful cross selling and reductions in repeat calls on the same service issue.

Despite the limited returns, a significant number of firms still see the potential of collaboration technologies. According to the report, 46% of businesses reporting upgrades or net new implementations to team workspaces in the next year and 42% spending on social tools like blogs and wikis. Real time communication is being added to the desktop with new investments in desktop videoconferencing (33%), unified communications (32%), instant messaging (30%), and web conferencing (31%).

Let’s hope they target these investments at specific business processes and not simply general communication. There is more in the report to guide these efforts.

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