Collaboration Some Time Ago

I have a pile of articles on my desk categorized as "someday/maybe". Meaning (following GTD) I will read them "someday" when I have time. Well I recently ran through the stack and found an article that I should have read before, although it's from 2006. It is an "Ethnographic study of collaboration knowledge work" by S.L. Kogan and M.J. Muller (IBM Systems Journal, vol. 45, no. 4, 2006).
It was a really interesting read. For one, to see how far we have come. But it also stressed some issues in collaboration that are still very hard to support digitally.
To begin with the last point. This article gives an interesting Table (table 3) with an overview of "Attributes associated with work processes". Or, in another way, it summarizes the tension knowledge workers live in. These tensions are:
- unstructured <> structured
- static <> dynamic
- ad hoc <> predefined
- one person <> multiperson
- single use <> repeatable
- business critical <> not business critical
- automated <> not automated

A while back I pointed to the "IT Flower". The IT Flower showed that applications try to support these tensions, leaving gaps. For instance, ERP, PLM or some ECM systems are good at supporting very structured business processes, but they're not good at supporting less structured processes such as document collaboration. For document collaboration most people would rather use a wiki, for instance. But, as we know and experience, there's always stuff that seems to be in-between. Or stuff that moves from the wiki to a more formal tool and back. How is this supported? Usually your regular 'copy-paste' comes in here.
This point is rightly stressed in this old(er) article:
Knowledge workers need a simple way to change unstructured, informal processes into more formal, structured processes.
And talking about 'structured processes', I really liked what they said about the 'business applications' supporting these processes, such as SAP:
Whereas transactional, procedural descriptions of (these) processes are important, we tentatively agree with Guindon, who argues that formal versions of work may provide their principal value as reference versions of what must be done by the conclusion of an activity, rather than as maps of how a business activity should actually progress.
So, looking at this, how far have we come in really supporting all facets of collaboration. In the past only the formal business applications (top down) existed. Now we have wonderful light-weight, flexible and social tools that help us collaborate in the way we like. However their is no bridge between these two yet. On the internet, this isn't a problem. But for companies this is. I experience it daily.
What do you think? Will this be bridged? And how will it be done?


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