Software Adoption: A People Problem, or A Technology Problem?

I was a guest recently on the TechnologyAdvice Expert Interview Series to share my thoughts on the intersection of sales, marketing, and technology. The series, which is hosted by TechnologyAdvice’s Josh Bland, explores a variety of business and technology landscapes through conversations with industry leaders.

In this episode we discussed corporate cultures, global collaboration, and the upcoming SharePoint Technology Conference (SPTechCon) in Boston August 24-27.

Below are a few highlights from our conversation:

TechnologyAdvice: How does SharePoint help businesses and employees collaborate in a world where everything is always connected?

Marc Anderson: SharePoint has had a rather long lifespan for enterprise software — lots of things don’t last as long as SharePoint has. In the earlier days, it was very focused on teamwork– small groups of people trying to accomplish specific things. The goals might have been bigger, but that was really the focus.

Where Microsoft is going now, is they’ve moved their focus to offering services rather than software. They’re actually at the forefront of where businesses are going over the next five to ten years, whether they know they will or not. It’s not about the technology so much. The fact that it’s in the cloud or that it’s got a blue logo or something really doesn’t make any difference.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve really seen a change in the way corporate cultures and structures work compared to the way they used to. The Industrial Revolution and 1950’s military industrial complex were very hierarchical, very siloed. Now inefficient organizations are getting flatter. They’re putting teams together to solve specific problems and they’re having those teams break apart again, then go off and form new teams, so each person in that team might go do different things.

We’re seeing a lot more agile, small organizations able to accomplish things in different ways than they used to. That’s where SharePoint’s really going with some of the stuff they’re rolling out on Office 365, with more machine learning. It’s not artificial intelligence but it’s trying to get you the information you need right before you think you needed it, or before you even realize you needed it. And that’s cool stuff.

It’s shifting from team members putting things into a document repository and just knowing it’s in there, to the point where content gets put in front of you because you’re going to need it in your work soon. And with the Office Graph and Delve, we’re starting to see some real evidence that’s going to be the way people are working in the future.

TA: If people are not in an office but around the world working on different projects, something like SharePoint can continue to grow and become more powerful. Do you agree with that?

Anderson: Absolutely. In almost all cases, even a small company like mine with two people – we’re a global company. I know that sounds ridiculous because we both live in Boston, but we work with customers all over the place. There’s no geographical barrier anymore, which is part of what you’re alluding to. People are out on the road more, and they need to stay tethered somehow to their home-base. But they also need to be able to work together with people who could be anywhere.

You might have a conference call with someone in Shanghai and then work on the document with somebody in Amsterdam. That’s a normal day in this global economy. Twenty or thirty years ago those were huge exceptions. SharePoint, which gives us a large surface area to enable remote and geographically dispersed work, is a win.

It lets us work asynchronously. We don’t have to be in a room having a meeting. Meetings are god-awful things anyway, but we don’t have to be in a room talking about something. We can do it asynchronously using technology and work when we need to work or when we’re able to work. I think it changes our lifestyle, it changes our incentives, it changes the culture of organization, and SharePoint’s been a big part of that.

TA: What common collaborative software challenges do you see?

Anderson: In many ways, I don’t see a lot of the challenges as technology challenges. They’re more business and cultural challenges. One of the things I’ve seen working with clients — I’ve been in consulting for decades now — is the aspiration is rarely reached. And very specifically with SharePoint, people bring it in and they want to change the way their company works, and they end up storing documents in SharePoint and that’s about it.

Getting from the execution to the promise of what they may have thought they wanted to do — or even not realized they could do — that’s one of the biggest challenges. The challenge is in enabling their organization to work differently. Some people talk about it as an adoption problem. SharePoint is in a lot of organizations, but a lot of people don’t use it. I don’t see it as an adoption problem, I see it as we’re not offering good enough capabilities to make people want to use it.

It’s really not about the technology per se. It’s about the implementation, it’s about the cultural stuff around it, it’s about incentives. It’s about helping people understand how they can be better at what they do and enjoy that. If they don’t enjoy it, they’re just going to dig their heels in and avoid it. So those are some of the biggest challenges, whether it’s cloud or on premises, or whether you’ve got to get a fatter pipe to get the data across. Those are all solvable problems. Those are technical problems.

The harder challenge is the soft stuff around the technology. People are softer than computers. They’re quirky and they don’t like change. Working on the things outside the technology can be even more important challenges to overcome.

This podcast was created and published by TechnologyAdvice. Interview conducted by Josh Bland.