The Surge of Collaboration

A lot of attention is being paid to collaboration these days. Allan Leinard of GigaOM is "desparetely seeking better collaboration tools". The interesting part of that post is the fact they're looking for a collaboration platform to collaborate internally and externally. After evaluating several tools they still haven't found the ideal tool. This is what he's looking for:
What we would like to find is a set of collaboration tools that will allow us to build a knowledge base that is useful for both our internal diligence and our network of advisers. Ideally, the tool would take our mailing list traffic, automatically organize and tag it, and then allow context-based searches. Other desired features would involve both propagating popular information up and down the knowledge base and allowing members to rate it (perhaps in a Digg-like fashion).
Interesting requirements! I don't know of any commercial tool that can do this either. IBM does seem to be using something that is able to do this, refering to this HBR article I posted about some time ago. Anyway, collaborating in a more open world is something most companies are addressing. You hear loads of companies moving to Sharepoint as their new collaboration (and Intranet) platform. This Defrag post points in the direction of Sharepoint. And writing about the general trend, it states:

I see two big trends emerging:

1. “Collaboration” is not a “nice to have” IT purchase: C-level types tend to see IT spending in 2 camps — “nice to have” and “must have.” Or, more traditionally, “productivity enhancing” and “cost reduction.” No matter how you slice that pie, most people would think of “collaboration tools” as “nice to have” purchases. Except for one small problem: People who are not “IT purchasers” can easily set up collaboration tools for themselves. The result is a collaboration environment run wild — as employees set up blogs, wikis, rss feeds, gmail accounts (and who knows what else) that are A) not under the “control” of IT and B) may not even live inside of the corporate firewall. As such, IT seems to be waking up to the fact that they *must* get their hands around what’s happening in terms of collaboration, or risk running into data protection and compliance issues that are a pure nightmare waiting to happen. Throw in the business intelligence and productivity benefits, and you suddenly find collaboration to be a “must have” purchase.

2. IT architecture is increasingly cloud-based: To limit collaboration strictly to “on-premise” software that lives strictly within the firewall takes away at least 50% of the benefit. As such, companies like Jive (and Microsoft) are pushing on how to stretch the architecture of their products to more closely reflect the “cloud reality” that most *users* take for granted. This trend makes things like RSS and XMPP (call them “cloud protocols” for lack of a better term) extremely interesting.

So, where's all this attention for collaboration coming from? Shawn from Anecdote has two interesting posts on this topics. One is a pointer to a Business Week article on collaboration. The second is an analysis why collaboration is resurging. (And also read ChiefTech's response.) What I like about his post is the focus on people (instead of technology). He says:
But the technology alone doesn't give us collaboration. You would be forgiven for thinking it does. Today if you search on the term 'collaboration' the majority of results will point to technology solutions.
I fully agree. But isn't the new surge collaboration, among others, due to user-focused, easy-to-use collaboration. People using Gmail, Google Docs, Wiki's and Blogs at home and thinking: why can't we use this easy stuff for internal and external enterprise colloboration and communication? But, I agree, even after concluding the technology has improved hugely, technology is not enough to foster collaboration. I liked the list Shawn pointed us to:
...take us beyond the technological and in particular she proposes a process describing how collaboration happens. This is important because it gets us thinking about the types of things we can do in an organisation to foster collaboration. Gray's process has 4 phases (updated more recently from the original three):
  1. problem setting phase: "getting people to the table"
  2. negotiation phase: "reaching agreement on what to do"
  3. implementation phase: "ensuring the agreement is carried out"
  4. Institutionalisation phase: "building a long-term relationship"
I also liked what he wrote further down:
The gentle art of conversation is the starting point (personally I disagree with the adversarial approaches, such as debate, as a useful approach to collaboration). Bohm called it dialogue and it involves listening, suspending judgement, being open and honest and working together to build on ideas. These types of conversations then lead to questions of what will be the next actions of the group, how do we divide up the effort, what will good look like and when we deliver our bits?
This is so true and we all can learn from it. How many companies are full of fierce, nonconstructive debates and meeting? Or, even worse, no debate at all, secrecy?
To round up Shawn says:
Collaboration is important more than ever because of the nature of the world we live in. The problem, however, is that we not taught collaboration in organisations. It happens through necessity and success is mostly by chance and experience. Organisations wishing to develop a collaboration capability more systematically will need to thinking clearly about the process of collaboration and how they can support that process.
This relates well to one of Dave Snowden's rules: Knowledge will only ever be volunteered it can not be conscripted.


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