It’s ironic that we spend so much time talking about the ROI of emergent collaboration isn’t it? Sometimes I think we talk about it just for the sake of debate and argument. ROI has almost become a philosophical discussion to be had in a dimly lit den with cigars and brandy just prior to debating the origins of the universe. Now while this type of conversation might be fun and stimulating, it ultimately gets us nowhere.
The fact is the ROI is not a primary driver for organizations interested in emergent collaboration. In a report Chess Media Group is releasing soon we will actually share what we found to be the top business drivers based on our survey of 234 people who are involved with emergent collaboration at their organizations (and ROI was not one of them). I have interviewed dozens of companies and am releasing a few more case studies in the coming weeks. Not a single company I have interviewed has EVER told me that their primary motivations for deploying these tools had anything to do with money. In fact I would love it if someone could point me to an example or let me talk with someone who actually said that the reason they deployed an emergent collaboration solution was because of money (surely there must be some right?).
Emergent collaboration extends far beyond ROI and in fact I would argue that even if organizations did find this unicorn-like mythical creature that it would still not due justice to showing the overall value to the organization.
As someone who started off with a keen interest in finance I always related the term ROI to stocks. How much did I buy the stock for? How much did I sell it for? How much did I make as a result. That’s ROI. ROI comes from the formula:
(gains from investment – cost of investment) / cost of investment
Now the interesting thing here is that you really only notice gains when you sell or get rid of an asset. Only then can you know what the return on that asset actually is. It’s a bit like purchasing anything else that enables you to do something. Take a house for example, something that enables you to have a good quality of life with a roof over your head, something that enables you to live and do whatever it is that you do. What’s the ROI while you are actually living in that house? You don’t know what the ROI is until you actually sell the house. Emergent collaboration is not an asset that is sold, it doesn’t expire, and it’s not something that you get rid of. Emergent collaboration is not a stock, it’s an enabler. It’s a way to unlock capabilities, potentials, opportunities, and new ways of “doing things.”
It’s very easy for skeptics to keep pointing out that organizations should not invest in something unless there is a clear ROI and that’s fine, we saw the exact same thing with “social media,” and now look at where we are today, virtually every company is trying to be “social.” I’m not trying to sell you on anything, in fact I think that if you have to be “sold” on emergent collaboration then you shouldn’t be investing in it to begin with. Perhaps you think I’m crazy (which very well might be true) but I fundamentally believe that if you need to be convinced that enabling collaboration and serendipity within your organization is a good and valuable thing then there are other problems that need to be worked out (how is another question altogether, and a good one!)
Quite frankly smart organizations realize the value of connecting employees and allowing them to collaborate with one another, this is actually the number one business driver of emergent collaboration…by far.
(Cross-posted @ Social Business Advisor: Social CRM and Enterprise 2.0)