Collaboration Trends & Strategies

Collaboration Trends & Strategies

People, process and technology: these are the elements of successful collaboration programs.

That’s why you have to take a holistic approach to collaboration. It’s not enough to just look at the technology, which most people do. Like anything new, collaborative tools get about 80 percent of the attention, while people and process get about 20 percent — but in reality it should be the other way around.

Collaboration tools are enablers for interactions between people via the computer and really nothing more than that.

Collaboration 2.0

Collaboration 2.0 is looking at how collaborative tools have evolved and how this newer group of tools takes advantage of Web 2.0 technologies. Some of the features or characteristics mirror features and characteristics of Web 2.0, including:

>> transparency (blogging, microblogging, wikis, location-based tools);

>> participation (unconferences, blogging, online communities, social networks;

>> trust in the group (let community police itself);

>> allowing information and knowledge find you;

>> understanding local context.

So there are some big differences between Collaboration 1.0 and 2.0 (see chart). The first version was focused on content. You could do searches, you could publish stuff on a Website. The newer version is almost entirely social and focuses on people. It’s more about profiles, reputations, interaction and group filtering.

The Critical Trends

Ten critical trends are driving Collaboration 2.0.

1) Convergence of audio, video and data into unified conferencing or unified collaboration. These days, vendors are offering audio and data conferencing, screen sharing and remote access based on the same technologies. You can go from a Web conference and add a video conference with one click of a button. It’s integrated at the infrastructure level, so it’s transparent to the user. But total integration is not a reality yet, and it’s not that easy to do yet.

2) Presence in social networks. “Presence” is the ability to know that someone’s there, attending a conference or instant-messaging or otherwise participating through their computer. A status indicator is really very useful, and we’re seeing location being added as part of the function. The idea of presence also shows up in social networks.

The downside to social networks is that you have to deal with them all the time if you want to do well with them. That takes a lot of time and effort, as do blogs and wikis and all 2.0 tools. On the other hand, they often have unexpected and wonderful outcomes. They make for a much richer environment.

3) Merging of synchronous and asynchronous tools. Meeting environments of the future are actually going to change quite a bit. What kinds of things can you add to a meeting environment that will make it more useful? Some of the things are a script of what’s happened in the meeting and who said what, who is talking, comparative levels of dominance, noting people who are not in the meeting but at a distance, and additional information about the people participating.

I believe that eventually in our meeting tools we will have the ability to receive more information from a distance meeting than you’d have if you were face to face. We’re starting to see some of this happening today; for instance the innovative tele-presence rooms, where the fidelity is much greater than if you’re just using a Webcam or desktop camera.

The problem is that none of these systems work with each other. Standards need to be established for that kind of environment.

4) Consolidation of collaboration technologies. There are currently 1200 collaborative tools available — more than anyone could possibly use — so there will probably be a shake-out in the number of vendors.

The IT department really doesn’t want to support lots of different tools, so it tries to consolidate, in some cases doing a tech evaluation and deciding on one tool. But that’s not really the best option.

The other strategy is that IT forms a committee of the largest stakeholders and attempts to get an idea of the overall functions needed. They thus get a lot better buy-in from the stakeholders and there’s a better adoption through the enterprise. It ends up costing less, but it often doesn’t look that way because it takes a lot longer to implement.

Collaboration has been shown to follow the TIPCA (tradition-innovation-proliferation-consolidation-acceptance) cycle that starts with using traditional technologies. Then somebody innovates and uses an additional collaboration technology. Pretty soon, you get proliferation of tools throughout the organization. Then IT consolidates and standardizes, followed by widespread acceptance. That initiative eventually becomes tradition and you go through the cycle again.

Stage 1: traditional collaboration (phone, fax, e-mail, face-to-face, etc.)

Stage 2: Proliferation of specific apps – Audio/video, data conferencing, EIM (enterprise IM), chat, presence, virtual team spaces

Stage 3: multiple a/v conferencing solutions, multiple IMs, and a variety of multiple virtual team stations

Stage 4: standardization around RSS feeds, IM messaging for more consolidation, and driving adoption within the organization

Stage 5: a virtual work environment where everything is very standardized and complete integration — mobile environment, the physical workspace, Web interfaces, etc. (These are starting to emerge, and we’re hoping to see more companies move from Stage 4 to Stage 5 as technologies become more available.)

5) Aggregation: of people, of content, of conversations around content, of tabs or keywords to filter content, and more. Aggregation eventually can affect social networks, portals, communities, and tools that start to aggregate relationships — which is where a lot of companies are starting to make money. Communities aggregate relationships; portals aggregate content. Some tools aggregate all of these things. There are even some tools that allows you to integrate e-mail, IMs, tweets and other messages from other social networks.

Eventually, e-learning will have to address overload on the part of all these relationship/social network/community streams of information and deal with them in one screen.

6) Collaboration comes to industries and processes. Finding where collaboration has value within a particular company or industry is key. The day of the horizontal collaboration vendor is coming to an end. They will have to start to move into a greater common context between the people trying to interact with each other — like a critical process in an industry that you can collaborate on.

Collaboration technology doesn’t have a lot of value unless it’s within the context of a specific critical process within an organization; that’s where you get the leverage. We suggest that you look at industries that have adopted collaboration quickly: health care, pharmaceuticals, government, high tech, education, manufacturing, consultants, professional services and telecommunications. Within that context, examine how collaboration can create leverage in six critical processes:

>> sales & marketing;

>> customer service/support;

>> R&D;

>> value network management/relationships with external organizations, DPM and project management;

>> training;

>> decision support/crisis management.

 Maximizing its leverage, collaboration can be worth an enormous amount of money. But you also have to apply it at a right time in the process.

7) Changing distribution channels for collaborative tools. In the past, vendors would offer licensed software, often bought on a per-user basis and used behind a firewall. More and more, we’re seeing hosted or SaaS services outside the firewall.

The big advantage to SaaS tools is that they’re low-risk, so you don’t have to bring in your own servers, and you don’t have to train your own IT people. They’re low-cost, so often there’s a free trial period, making a great value for small to medium businesses. There’s no versioning or updating or getting new CDs in the mail. Whatever you access online is always the most up-to-date version of that tool.

There are a lot of advantages to the SaaS model. It’s moved from client/server architecture and from site licenses to subscription services where you’re paying only for what you use. A lot of vendors are going this route because they don’t want the distribution channel to get in the way of making the sale.

In this context, the people who are buying collaboration tools also are changing. No longer is it just within the purview of the IT department. Mobile professionals are buying them in the consumer space and then moving them over to the enterprise space.

8) Communities are changing. Web 2.0 can help support communities of practice, communities focused on a topic, communities focused on doing a project, communities focused on a particular role, internal communities, external communities. Because there are a huge number of new distributed project management tools coming out, including some in the last few weeks, there’s a lot of innovation in this space.

9) Mobile collaboration. More and more, we’re seeing mobile end-points become smarter, have more processing power, have more memory, and therefore have more value. My iPhone has 16 gigabytes of memory, which is more than a supercomputer had 10 years ago — yet I carry it in my pocket.

“Smart phones” are actually on the rise, although the mobile phone market in the U.S. has been pretty static. The big problem here in the U.S. is infrastructure: we’re just starting to adopt a 3G infrastructure whereas the rest of the world is already on 4G. There are very few mobile video applications, yet mobile phones are becoming the platform of choice.

10) Collaboration moving to a virtual world. “Virtual worlds” that use mostly three-dimensional technology are fairly new. In some cases, 3-D is better to use, and in other cases it’s not. You need enough RAM, enough processing power and enough graphics processing memory to work with any degree of speed. You need to make sure that you have a Vista-compatible computer, and I would recommend the more RAM the better.

Some things work better in 3-D like training and education using Second-Life-type simulations. People are selling cars on Second Life and some people are even doing on-line interviewing and recruiting in Second Life. It’s a very interesting environment, and it’s undergoing more sophistication as we speak.

—David Coleman, founder and managing director of Collaborative Strategies, has been involved with groupware, collaborative technologies, online communities and social networks since 1989. He is a frequent public speaker, an industry analyst, and author of books, blogs, newsletters and magazine articles on these topics. Most recently, he has co-authored his third book called “Collaboration 2.0, Technology and Best Practices for Successful Collaboration in a Web 2.0 World” (Happy About Publishing, 2008). He currently writes the "Collaboration Blog" that can be found at www.collaborate.com. Reach him at  (415) 282-9197 or davidc@collaborate.com.

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