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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

What exactly is collaboration anyway?

April 19, 2010

[Repost from my previous blog, which is no longer online. Some updates added.]

While the modern “social networking” meme (as opposed to the classic “social network” and “online communities” memes) appears to have been caught in a hype cycle, the “collaboration” meme seems to have gone through ebbs, flows, and pendulum swings. Recently, I’ve noticed a sharp increase in both the blogosphere and Twitterverse of mentions and inferences to collaboration centric concepts and connotations as if being the anti-hype against social networking. Personally, I don’t believe that it’s an either/or proposition. To be clear, I’ve asserted that networking (be it for social or professional purposes) and collaboration along with community are core aspects of the modern business life cycle and must be integral parts of a holistic Enterprise 2.0 strategy.

But what exactly is collaboration?

Well, Wikipedia defines collaboration as:

a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together [“at” or “with” must be the missing word here] intersection of common goals.

[I guess even the epitome of collaborative applications that is Wikipedia still cannot prevent typos or omissions from occurring. :-)]

Although I’d certainly agree with the above definition, I also like the following description of collaboration as referenced in the “Collaboration thread in CACM for April 2008” blog entry by Jack Vinson:

Collaboration generally means working together synergistically. If your work requires support and agreement of others before you can take action, you are collaborating.

Jack’s blog entry also referenced the “Collaboration and Community” paper, which had been published by Scott London way back in 1995 and provides the most streamlined definition of collaboration:

As its Latin roots com and laborare suggest, collaboration reduced to its simplest definition means “to work together.”

While Scott’s paper had focused on collaboration in the political and civic arenas, I believe that the basic characteristics of collaborative endeavors described therein and quoted below apply just as well to any other arena that involves people working together:

  • The problems are ill-defined, or there is disagreement about how they should be defined.
  • Several stakeholders have a vested interest in the problems and are interdependent.
  • These stakeholders are not necessarily identified a priori or organized in any systematic way.
  • There may be a disparity of power and/or resources for dealing with the problems among the stakeholders.
  • Stakeholders may have different levels of expertise and different access to information about the problems.
  • The problems are often characterized by technical complexity and scientific uncertainty.
  • Differing perspectives on the problems often lead to adversarial relationships among the stakeholders.
  • Incremental or unilateral efforts to deal with the problems typically produce less than satisfactory solutions.
  • Existing processes for addressing the problems have proved insufficient.

Scott’s paper goes on to differentiate collaboration versus other models of cooperation:

Collaboration, then, involves articulating a shared purpose and direction and working toward joint decisions. This distinguishes it from other forms of cooperation which may involve common interests but are not based on a collectively articulated goal or vision. Ann Austin and Roger Baldwin note that while there are obvious similarities between cooperation and collaboration, the former involves preestablished interests while the latter involves collectively defined goals.

Upon reading that, I was compelled to post the following tweet:

Social/Networking: shared narcissism | Community: shared interest | Collaboration/Teamwork: shared objective

Then of special importance are the principles of collaboration as suggested and referenced in Scott’s paper:

What are the preconditions for effective collaboration? Most observers agree that it must be democratic and inclusive; that is, it must be free of hierarchies of any kind and it must include all parties who have a stake in the problem. As Cornelia Butler Flora et al. point out, “without community empowerment and broad participation in agenda setting, the … decision-making process of discussion, debate, and compromise is relatively meaningless.”

Barbara Gray observes that collaboration can only be meaningful if the stakeholders are interdependent. “Collaboration establishes a give and take among the stakeholders that is designed to produce solutions that none of them working independently could achieve.” In this way, they all depend on each other to produce mutually beneficial solutions.

The remainder of Scott’s paper discusses the dynamics and limitations of collaboration, collaborative leadership, and collaborative communities, all of which are well worth reading. Scott also published a companion paper titled “Collaboration in Action” that provides a survey of over a dozen best practice examples of collaborative efforts in the government and civic arenas, which every enthusiast or perpetuator of the current “Government 2.0” meme would find enlightening, and those examples would apply equally well to other arenas such as “Enterprise 2.0” in particular.

[Update: A multi-company worldwide Collaboration Consortium recently published a report, “Making Collaboration a Reality,” that is quite relevant and well worth reading. Here are some of my favorite findings:

  • First, facilitating and sustaining participation in a community requires constant effort to keep content current and relevant and to keep participants engaged. Don’t expect that participants in a community will always be active and that the community will become self- sustaining.
  • Second lesson learned: Collaboration behaviors need to evolve to include informal com- munications with unknown or unfamiliar participants in the community. Although public blogs and tweets are becoming more commonplace, people are still relatively uncomfortable with posting their thoughts or ideas to an open community.
  • Video helps establish context for a meeting participant, but is often not utilized. But this was not the case during the Consortium’s TelePresence meetings, during which no one ever raised a concern about being seen on camera—it truly was a face-to-face experience. The video was accepted as normal and natural, even when rooms would mute themselves, knowing they could still be seen even though they were not being heard.
  • 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:

There is a lot more in the report that I will comment on in future blog entries.]

So, there you have it – exactly what collaboration is and a whole lot more. Do you agree or disagree? What do you think collaboration really is?

Hello, Cisco!

April 19, 2010

Yes, I’ve finally joined Cisco! 🙂

Cisco ID badge - sanitized

I say, “finally,” because I’ve wanted to be part of this company since its heyday during the dot-com boom when at least momentarily it was the most valuable company on earth, and I wholeheartedly believe that it will reach that pinnacle again.

In my view, Cisco is the “GE of the Silicon Valley” in that – consistently over many years – it is one of the most admired companies in the world, and it has methodically and successfully expanded into markets in which it quickly established itself as the #1 or #2 player.

So, I’m extremely excited about being an integral part of where Cisco is going next, which as John Chambers pointed out, is:

to lead the evolution of the network to enable a connected future that is increasingly collaborative, video-driven, personalized, and mobile.