Collaborative technology platforms

By rolling out a technology platform to help efficiently connect partners with the right opportunities, experts and knowledge, firms can begin to mitigate many of the obstacles that stand in the way of contributors’ getting more involved in cross-practice or cross-geography collaboration.  For example, a client service leader (CSL) might hesitate to bring untested colleagues onto the account team because he’s skeptical of their work quality or responsiveness.  The best IT platform will allow the CSL not only to see their self-proclaimed expertise areas, but also to vet their qualifications himself by reading their responses to others’ queries, examples of work products they’ve posted, etc.  Excellent collaborative tech platforms massively speed up the process of finding the right expert, help up-and-comers promote their ability to add value, and “democratize” access to the firm’s knowledge (possibly overcoming some of the inequities that other researchers have found – ask me for references if you’re interested).

Obviously, technology itself is not a silver bullet; without supportive leadership, some degree of culture change, and close alignment with other areas like the performance management system, it will simply fizzle out.  But a growing number of PSFs have successfully implemented internal IT systems that lower the costs and increase the benefits of collaboration by mimicking the best parts of popular social-networking applications.

The apparent collaboration-related benefits of such systems involve their timeliness (quick access to knowledge exactly when you need it), searchability (much better than email or most KM databases), flexibility (can be used for everything from specific RFIs for client work to advice on travel), customization (users can choose which groups to join/get updates from), uptake (more motivating to post knowledge “just in time” for a specific colleague rather than “just in case” for an unknown audience), and fun factor (can post videos, photos, etc. that advertise the firm’s offerings in a more interesting way than a white paper; can use for social purposes / personal interest groups that help to build interpersonal familiarity & trust), among others.  Am I missing some critical benefits?

The biggest risk seems to be that a firm invests heavily but nobody uses it –but I’m researching some case studies to identify best practices to increase adoption.  Other risks (client confidentiality, security, etc.) are important but seem manageable.  What risks/ downsides am I missing?

Do you use a collaborative technology platform in your firm?  Do you have specific examples/anecdotes about using it to find experts, research the firm’s offerings, conduct business, manage distributed teams, or other collaboration-related activities?  What problems have you experienced?  If your firm offers a platform and you don’t use it, why not? 

As ever in this Idea Space, please leave your comments below.  If you have a sensitive or confidential example that you’d like to share, then please email me directly on hgardner@law.harvard.edu . And please check out prior topics in the Archive section at right.