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Collaboration 2.0: New Old Thing, Next Big Thing – Prelude

May 13, 2010

Several recently published blog entries and whitepapers compelled me to synthesize the following prelude to a series of blog entries about “Collaboration 2.0” that I’ll be posting over the next few months.

From the Cisco whitepaper, “Collaboration: The Next Revolution in Productivity and Innovation,” published in December, 2008:

Levels of Collaboration

Collaboration in the business world falls into three categories (see figure). The greatest business value potential lies in leveraging technology and new management techniques to connect people across functional “silos” and across enterprise boundaries.


Intra-company collaboration within a function is the most typical and traditional form of collaboration, because it stays within functional boundaries of a single company. Most companies have made investments to improve collaboration within functions, and most large corporations today have basic communications and workgroup document-sharing technologies in place. Intra-functional collaboration can be compared to a “walled garden” approach: it is relatively safe, and the participants generally know each other and have clear expectations from the interaction. While advances in technology will continue to enhance the potential benefits of intra-functional collaboration, the full promise of collaboration is much greater as new levels are achieved.

Intra-company cross-functional collaboration enables people to work directly with colleagues from other organizational towers, functional silos, and geographies. While IT automation projects have improved transactional collaboration (e.g., enabling sales and finance to approve a sale via a CRM system), in many cases, the transaction and collaboration processes are disconnected. Practical operational incompatibilities exacerbate the challenge because different silos often have different collaboration priorities, workflow practices, and technology. Most senior executives we interviewed said that improving collaboration among sales, marketing, and product development groups to share information, build better products, and jointly innovate would lead to increased revenue and gains in market share. In the era of globally-dispersed workforces, it is technology-enabled, inter-functional collaboration that will bridge the distance between a production facility in India and a management hub in Germany.

Inter-company collaboration holds the greatest and most exciting potential. As the borderless enterprise becomes the rule, new business models are emerging in which customers and supply chain and distribution partners collaborate to create new business value. Thus collaboration across company borders becomes a crucial element of competitive advantage. Outsourcing and distributed supply chains have been common for years. But in more radical examples, we increasingly see companies involving their customers directly in their operations by fulfilling roles such as co-creating products, participating in marketing, and providing services. The LEGO Group, for instance, famously invited customers to suggest ideas online for new toys, and it then produced the designs that were most marketable. Procter & Gamble has a “consumer closeness program” designed to get employees literally closer to customers (sometimes even having employees stay with them in order to understand their household habits). The aim is to spark innovation on products that will have a direct impact on customers. All of these activities require companies to develop new kinds of collaboration while also resolving issues of security, intellectual property protection, brand, and culture.

From the report, “Making Collaboration a Reality: Insights from the Collaboration Consortium, Year One,” published in February, 2010:

Adopting an Evolutionary Collaboration Strategy

Experience suggests that even those organizations that have embraced collaboration do not capture its full value overnight. Instead, they progress through three stages, in which the organizations derive increasing business value from collaboration. These three stages are part of the collaboration evolution curve.


Investigative: Typically, use of collaboration technologies in an organization begins when people who enjoy experimenting with technology identify points in their own work processes where a Web 2.0 tool may add value, and then try out such a tool, with the goal of improving their own productivity or capturing some other value for themselves or a small number of peers. At this “investigative” phase, individuals or small groups are experimenting with “one tool for one task” (a wiki to gather ideas about new products, for example). Adoption of the technology tends to plateau because the majority of people, who are more pragmatic or conservative about technology, don’t perceive that the innovation benefits them (i.e., they don’t see “what’s in it for me.”)

Performance: It is when employees say “this is how I’m doing my job; it makes me more productive and success ful” that the organization attains the critical mass of usage to add richness and performance to the processes. It is in this phase, which involves multiple collaboration tools for multiple tasks, that collaboration becomes embedded in business processes and drives performance improvements. This is the phase of structured collaboration execution—the point in the evolution when a broad range of employees say, “We (not just one or two people but the entire organization) are going to serve our customers differently.” It is at this point that the technology becomes relevant to people’s jobs. There is now a compelling reason to adopt the collaboration technology, because it links business priorities, processes, and key metrics for success. It takes commitment, will, and incentives to make this happen, but the payoff can be great.

Transformational: After improving performance in existing business processes, some organizations use collaboration to create new ways of doing business that were not possible before. This phase, combined with the prior one, enables the greatest improvement in business value.

From the Enterprise 2.0 Conference and Sovos Group whitepaper, “Accelerating Business Performance,” published in May, 2010:

Putting Collaboration to Work to Drive Performance

The next wave of solutions emanating from Enterprise 2.0 collaborative design will drive large-scale workplace performance as well as discrete process performance to improve relationships between employees, customers and partners. This will result in moving from closed linear processes to a more consciously collaborative design, but one that’s cognizant of the necessary controls and governance between teams and at the edge.


And finally, from the Cisco whitepaper, “Collaboration Return on Investment,” published this past Monday:

Collaboration 1.0 and 2.0

In order to understand the importance of collaboration today, it is helpful to go back to the beginning. The first generation of business collaboration tools began with a focus on documents that were created and shared by individuals who used one device: the PC. Information resided safely within the walls of the enterprise, and personal productivity improved.
Collaboration 2.0 shifts the focus from documents and PCs to people and social sessions, defined as the new fundamental unit of collaborative work, in which groups of individuals interact across company and geographic boundaries. The goal of a social session is to create the effect of presence within the reality of absence.

  • Social sessions are the new fundamental unit of collaborative work. The goal of a social session is to create the effect of presence within the reality of absence.

This new collaboration experience helps us cope with information overload by delivering only what we need, just when we need it. We can find experts in an instant and participate in blogs, videos, wikis, social networks, team spaces, and conferences from a variety of devices. Thanks to advanced security and policy management, we can include partners, customers, and suppliers in our one-to-many communications as shown in the following diagram.


So, what does all this really mean? I believe that there’s growing evidence and focus, particularly in large organizations, that:

  • Enterprise collaboration – its use cases, interaction models, and business value – is at the tipping point of providing significant improvements to business productivity and overall business performance by ushering the convergence of communication, content management, business processes, and social computing.

In future blog entries, I will delve into more details and real world instances of what this advancement in enterprise collaboration looks like and how organizations can benefit from it. In the meantime, I encourage you to read the aforementioned whitepapers and report and to provide any feedback you might have.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2010 10:13 AM

    Hi Lawrence,

    Great article… but you are missing one of the key areas of corporate collaboration being used by a majority of companies today : Idea/Innovation Management Systems

    It would be nice if you can check out how companies are using these tools to collaborate and ultimately drive Innovation.

    You can find case studies and information on our blog:


    • May 14, 2010 3:11 AM

      Thanks for you comment, Vincent. I see idea/innovation management capabilities not as a separate (yet another silo) system, but as an application that leverages (common) collaboration services and integrates (seamlessly) with other collaboration applications. On the other hand, ideation capabilities should be services that can be leveraged by other collaboration applications.

      Ideas may come from anywhere (in a status message, a blog comment, a forum thread, a PowerPoint slide, etc.), so people should not be forced to use a specific “system” to share, refine, deliberate, and transition an idea into a more tightly collaborative effort in order to produce an innovative outcome.

  2. May 13, 2010 10:32 PM

    Thanks for sharing, Lawrence.

    There’s an interesting conversation going on at the Collaboration ROI page you linked to above: is more collaboration better?

    I’m sure you and many others here are familiar with Morten Hansen’s book “Collaboration” In it, he reminds us that there’s no point in collaboration unless the benefit exceeds the cost:

    It’s vital to remember that software cannot fix organizational problems. If people hoard information, installing social software will not change their habits. If your best people are lone stars, telepresence tools will not suddenly make them recite “There is no I in team”.

    Anyone upgrading from a fileshare to a decent piece of social software will see productivity gains in the form of less time spent searching, easier identification of experts and potentially less duplicate work if people share what they’re doing. That’s good, but it’s not going to get you ahead.

    Here are a some things that’ll make a difference
    – changing how you promote/hire/fire
    – overcoming your organization’s barriers to collaboration (Hansen suggests four)
    – leveraging the qualified and motivated cognitive diversity of your people and their professional networks
    – giving users agency over how they get their work done, including tweaking/replacing their tools

    From an activity-theoretical perspective, Collaboration 2.0 fusses over tools, ignores collaborators, community and domain knowledge and – to be a little mean – favors mechanisms over outcomes.

    Tools are useful, but they’re only part of the puzzle.

    • May 14, 2010 3:10 AM

      Fredrik, all valid points. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. In response, I was compelled to write a full blog entry, which will be posted in several hours. I’m almost done with it, but I really need to get some sleep right now (3AM my time) before proofreading it in the morning. 🙂


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