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The Collaboration Framework’s Organizational Enablers: Technology (3 of 3)

May 19, 2010

This is the third and final of a series of posts in which I describe the Collaboration Framework’s organizational enablers – (1) people and culture, (2) process and governance, and (3) technology – required to foster and sustain the value of collaboration.

I intentionally put technology as the last topic because too many organizations focus on technology before having diligently assessed the people/culture and process/governance challenges of an enterprise collaboration initiative. I couldn’t agree more with Gartner’s recent prediction, “Through 2012, over 70 percent of IT-dominated social media initiatives will fail.” Given that enterprise collaboration initiatives are typically broader and more strategic than social media initiatives, the risk and impact of failure are likely even greater.

Once again, I will excerpt much from the “Making Collaboration a Reality: Insights from the Collaboration Consortium, Year One” report because frankly, I couldn’t have written the following any better:

Members commented on the wide scope of technology decisions they must make for their organizations to embrace collaboration along the collaboration evolution curve, such as what specific collaboration tools will be used; how they will be introduced, sequenced, scaled, and evaluated; and how they will integrate with an organization’s legacy systems—i.e., supply chain or ERP. For example, one senior IT executive expressed the challenge of scaling up globally a set of technologies for groups of 40,000 to 50,000 employees. Such decisions impact the full “technology stack,” from the network layer to the application layer, including the development process from top-level strategy to foundational infrastructure design, to prototyping, and so on. Decisions also must take into account both user and IT requirements, such as mobility, security, personalization, document management, and retention and archive policies, to mention only a few.

IT executives mentioned that much of the benefit expected from “new collaboration” rests on technology and the assumption that technology will be available when and where it is needed. Business leaders should be aware that this is a nontrivial assumption in a more open and distributed organization, especially in a global enterprise. Placing all the necessary tools, solutions, and services where they will be needed globally can be a major challenge. Collaboration may allow or require employees to work from home on flexible schedules or while in transit, requiring access to technologies both within and external to the traditional workplace. This access also covers partners, suppliers, and customers who share information and/or collaborate on a regular basis.

Depending on an organization’s place on the collaboration evolution curve, implementing collaboration technologies can be as fast as installing a server in a sandbox environment to test and learn from the technology use, or as challenging as scaling up an integrated communication solution across the globe. Although it is not rocket science, in most cases, implementing collaboration technologies requires significant effort and resources. The good news is that other organizations have blazed a trail and have best practices and lessons learned to share.

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Selection Process

When defining a collaboration technology strategy, members stressed the importance of having a well-defined approach to the following set of questions about the technology selection process:

  • Is there a plan that outlines the sequence of collaboration technologies to deploy?
  • What is the selection process the organization will use?
  • How will the organization scale the technology across the organization?

In the investigative phase of collaboration, an organization may have developed a limited, local plan to deploy a technology on a small scale, but may not address how it should scale for organization-wide use. In later phases, a systematic approach and plan is required to deploy and scale individual technologies or solutions for use within existing or new business processes. Part of the selection effort requires verification that the individual technologies will actually scale to meet enterprise-wide requirements. The initial testing and experimentation, as well as other vendor and reference resources, help to identify any limitations. Providing a separate sandbox environment to allow IT and business functions to experiment with new technologies, without production constraints and regulations, has proven extremely useful to members that have used this approach.

After the collaboration priorities are identified and impact zones have been analyzed, an organization must then consider what technologies to apply to the business process to capture business value. Technology decisions should be aligned with the prioritization and outcomes from the collaboration impact zone analysis to ensure that technology investments are being applied to the areas having the greatest impact.

Integration

Another key issue raised by members is whether the technology strategy addresses the integration required between the collaboration tools and legacy systems, specifically:

  1. Have the key touch points to integrate collaboration with key business applications been identified (e.g., linkages with ERP and other application databases)?
  2. Are open standards being used to create future options for integration?

The early experimentation conducted by the majority of members rarely involved integrated solutions; more often than not, it consisted of single-technology deployments, used for a single task to boost individual productivity. However, most members identified the mashup of collaboration and other technologies—ones that are easy to use and can be applied to workflows to address a business problem to create higher business value—as a very complex challenge in the future. That level of integration is required and pursued by several IT organizations to ensure that the right information is at the right place and at the right time—resulting in reduced cycle time and increased employee productivity. Although members did not go into great detail, many felt that open standards are required to achieve this objective.

The following examples describe how two member organizations created integrated solutions and applied them to business processes as part of their evolution to the performance phase.

  • RAND Corporation. As part of a structured approach to defining a collaboration vision and strategy, the role of the Information Services and Technology (IST) department at RAND is to identify how collaboration enables RAND’s business priorities. RAND felt that its top priority for collaboration was its research business process; RAND’s collaboration vision was to deliver the best quality research by connecting people with expertise across the organization. Two technology components were deemed critical for RAND to realize this vision: (1) integrate collaboration and legacy technologies so that researchers can access the necessary information from a common gateway to save time and money; and (2) develop an expertise locator through a mashup of technologies. RAND is just
    beginning this collaboration effort, which will first be tested with smaller research teams and then scaled throughout the organization.
  • Cisco. Within the sales organization of Cisco’s U.S. and Canada theater, the company faced the challenge that specialists in advanced technologies were unable to scale their expertise to meet account team and customer demands, resulting in either a longer sales cycle or missed sales opportunities. To address this business problem, the Specialist, Optimization, Access, and Results (SOAR) program was established to optimize the deployment of specialists by leveraging virtual tools and Web 2.0 technologies in their day-today sales process. The solution included self-help tools, including a reference database and a WebEx Connect Community to answer the simpler questions; video to effectively deliver virtual product demos on a regular basis; and an expertise locator with remote collaboration capabilities to enable high-value interactions between the specialists, account teams, and customers. The result was a 45 percent increase in specialist interactions with customers, a 9–14 percent specialist productivity increase, and an increased margin of US$50 million from reducing the sales cycle.

Infrastructure

The last aspect of the technology element of the framework is the requirement for a solid technical foundation to support scalability, mobility, security, and other requirements for new collaboration and rich media technologies. Members stressed that having a well-documented technology architecture is definitely required to ensure the organization’s collaboration technical readiness. They also stressed the importance of being ready to assess whether infrastructure upgrades are necessary to support new or expanding collaboration capabilities (e.g., increase in bandwidth/storage, expanded extranet connectivity, network intelligence) and of working well ahead of demand by having a plan in place to address any gaps, given lag time of deployment, especially on a global scale.

To achieve the transformational phase, a collaboration technical architecture should support both existing and new innovative business processes. If any gaps exist, a plan to address these gaps for both existing and emerging innovative business processes must be documented and incorporated into the collaboration strategy. !ese infrastructure dependencies can become critical priorities to enabling new business opportunities.

Summary

The consensus among members is that the technology component of the Collaboration Framework—including the architecture, selection process, integration capability, and infrastructure—must be in place to ensure the successful implementation of an organization’s collaboration strategy. Not every component is required during early experimentation, but they all must eventually be addressed to support a scalable, secure evolution to later phases.

Now that you have familiarized yourself with the components of the Collaboration Framework, if you are embarking on an enterprise collaboration initiative or in the midst of one, then you should read Chapter 6: Getting Started as well as the 6 case studies in the Appendix of the “Making Collaboration a Reality: Insights from the Collaboration Consortium, Year One” report.

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