Social collaboration sees task forces within and outside companies use social media-type apps to communicate and work together. They can help make users more efficient and innovative by reducing emails and time spent traveling while providing faster access to information.

Consulting firm Campana & Schott and the German university TU Darmstadt recently published the 2019 German Social Collaboration Study. Around half of participating organizations believe that using social collaboration tools to break down silos has significant advantages – and makes them more innovative. The report also observes that companies that have been practicing social collaboration for longer are up to 50 percent more efficient.

Why Social Collaboration?

Businesses are turning to social collaboration to cut costs. Simply by reducing the amount of time it takes employees to find the information they need, and by keeping meetings and business trips to a minimum, companies can significantly increase efficiency and consequently save money.

The report also identifies that the more enterprise social networks a company uses, the more innovative it is. New ideas often encounter resistance and are not taken seriously. But social collaboration enables innovators to consider opinions from outside their department and draw on market data and technical advice. Their ideas can get a fairer assessment. What’s more, social collaboration can help organizations increase customer satisfaction, improve employee retention, and launch new products faster.

Social collaboration tools are also useful for projects and proposals as theys are great for groups following customized processes.

What Social Collaboration Tools Can Do

There are a host of social collaboration tools on the market, enabling users to find experts, work outside the office, communicate within a group or team, access company information, and manage knowledge. The tools also make it possible to share documents, manage processes, and edit forms.

When it comes to human resource (HR), social collaboration offers significant potential for simplification. For instance, employees can use the tools to learn about taking parental leave, download the forms they need, and submit their requests. Having all information available in one place saves time. In the same way, tools can manage leave requests and task handovers, onboard new employees, and be a source of advice on ergonomics.

Ruum by SAP

The tool a company ultimately uses for social collaboration depends primarily on what it wants to achieve.

Florian Frey, co-founder of Ruum by SAP, explains why he wouldn’t want to be without the project management tool: “I found project coordination a nightmare — the hundreds of emails, approval meetings, and reports meant that we all spent longer on coordination activities than on value-add tasks. Marketing teams don’t want to write reports, they want to come up with marketing messages, persuasive arguments, and so on.”

Thanks to social collaboration tools, employees can now devote more time to meaningful tasks.

At SAP, Ruum complements the SAP Jam collaboration platform, a social network for knowledge management. Ruum makes it easier to see who is doing what and by when. In only five months, the solution has saved SAP more than €1.6 million and just under 50,000 hours of administrative work. Currently, around 2,000 businesses use Ruum, including the brewery Früh Kölsch.

“We collaborate to meet our priorities and track project progress. And Ruum enables us to do this and stay focused,” says Julian Kamp, head of IT at Früh. After four months, Früh began to see results similar to those at SAP. According to Kamp, teams there have been able to reduce the amount of time they spend on administrative tasks by almost 30 percent.

Success Drivers: Introduction, Focus, Processes

The 2019 German Social Collaboration Study reveals one weak point when it comes to social collaboration: Two-thirds of companies surveyed said that they were not happy with how the tools had been introduced, but that holistic change management would help ensure they brought lasting benefits.

“Social collaboration should not be seen as just another tool; it should be at the core of corporate culture,” explains Stefan Schuessler, business development manager for Human Capital Management at SAP Deutschland. “Ideally, these tools are integrated into processes and routines, and help teams become agile. It is also imperative that employees have the flexibility to use them how they want to.”

Introducing social collaboration needs to be an iterative process and meet the expectations of all users. In the best case, business processes and customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other systems draw on these tools.

“Very few companies today want something that is one size fits all,” says Frey. “It is about finding a good balance, and offering the right tool to the right people by integrating it into processes.”

Today, knowledge workers use social collaboration tools more than the firstline workers on shop floors. Knowledge workers — such as lawyers, programmers, and architects — earn their salary by applying their knowledge. According to the study, the degree of collaboration among knowledge workers continues to rise, while that among firstline workers is a fifth lower.

“Social collaboration can also lead to more efficiency in manufacturing,” says Schuessler. But many companies shy away from making the necessary investments.

The Future of Social Collaboration

Going forward, collaboration tools such as Ruum will have simpler interfaces and will increasingly draw on artificial intelligence (AI).

“AI has enormous potential and will reduce workloads for all of us,” asserts Frey. “Bots will support project managers while automated workflows will increase productivity. And by integrating these apps into other tools, we can prevent new silos from emerging and dissipate old ones.”

In spite of all the advantages that digital transformation through social collaboration offers, Schuessler still believes that “it won’t replace personal contact, which becomes more important as complexity increases. Meeting someone face-to-face is often more efficient than any form of collaboration through a tool.”

Nevertheless, businesses should make the most of the enormous potential of social collaboration tools and let their employees do what they do best – and watch productivity grow.

This story originally appeared on the German SAP News Center.