Practical collaboration planning for profit

Practical collaboration planning for profit

Summary: Regardless of improvements in collaboration software, the real business challenge is in identifying who takes responsibilities for collaboration, overcoming internal political agendas & driving new working methods

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Myths are as old as time  - the Salem witches weren't burnt at the stake and one hundred years later Marie Antoinette not saying "Let them each cake" immediately prior to the French Revolution of 1789 are a couple of examples. It was the vision of animator Ub Iwerks which created Mickey Mouse, not Walt Disney ...who could barely draw but clearly had persistent business acumen (Disney did become the voice of Mickey Mouse when he began talking in 1928). In the present day the public internet is rife with unverified information, hearsay and opinions masquerading as fact, in some cases propagated through the perceived credibility of academics with little practical experience of the common sense practicalities of the real world. More specifically, there are all sorts of myths and misunderstandings around the realities of making businesses more efficient through increasing the quality and breadth of intercommunication, with the idea that it just somehow magically happens when new software is provisioned right up near the top of the list. You can't blame the software vendors for building castles in the sky around the magical attributes of their products - getting seat licenses sold is not unreasonably their goal in this type of messaging around the supposedly easy to attain attributes of their products. Cutting through in some cases dangerously misguided ideas based on myths and misunderstandings within firms as they grapple with the harsh realities of doing more with less can be very delicate politically. Reality checks are very important if tangible benefits are to be realized from collaboration initiatives which are typically either a provisioning exercise by IT departments (obviously at varying scales depending on context) or addressing the immediate needs of line of business. One of the key challenges in orchestrating effective collaboration is finding enduring leadership - senior roles in business that have responsibility for overarching company wide cohesiveness around information flow are pretty rare and of course each business culture is different. My attitude is that collaboration should be seen as a way to be more efficient, realize higher margins from existing business, enable greater agility and facilitate expansion and acquisitions (or sometimes retrenchment in this economy)  In the best case scenario this can be the remit of a Chief Operating Officer who is close to the numbers, or a Chief Information Officer interested in driving efficiencies. What we often see is harried, overworked mid ranking management struggling to get their minds around the benefits of collaboration, either because they were tasked to by someone above them in the hierarchy or to solve a pressing business need in their area of the firm (distributed business participants and time zone challenges are typical examples, along with unfindable information log jams which are growing fast). These roles then have to sell back up their chain the findings, and it is here that bum information can creep into the business rationale, only to later sabotage the actionable results that seemed reasonable at strategizing time. Cultural realities are often top of this reality check list: shiny new software doesn't transform the working personalities of tired, overworked staff used to foraging through endless digital filing cabinets to find the correct versions of information and tied to email because it's both the lowest common denominator and broadest communication channel. There has to be powerful intent and context for new technology options to be relevant and displace previous more inefficient forms of working together; this is true both departmentally and/or at scale. The prize for successfully invoking more efficient collaborative practices amongst all employees is greater awareness and competitiveness which translates favorably to the bottom line. These highly desirable business attributes are very attainable - but only if you take seriously the realities of your business today and avoid getting pulled into the mythical world of unproven, in-the-moment ideas, trends and concepts which fly around online at ever greater speeds. Acrimonious relationships, deep seated rivalries and fiefdoms don't melt away in the golden glow of a glorious social future - it's business as usual unless you take steps to align resources and place new ways of working squarely in the central raging torrents of their work flows, with associated incentives and governance. The prize for the salaried employee is to make their lives easier and provide the prospect of more pay and security ...because the company they work for is succeeding in getting more efficient and competitive. Many mid level managers with existing processes to run understandably just don't have the bandwidth or understanding to take on responsibility for getting something they don't fully understand, or only understand in the context of their current role. The risk/reward equation is unclear and for some incompatible with their management styles. Effective strategy historically has a tendency to be mandated and the initiatives direction driven from the top of companies and tied to core business goals before they are taken seriously by the broader organization. The challenge is in keeping the education and guidance of these powers that be accurate and on point: the chattering classes online and off love to opine on the value of the latest software developments and all sorts of ideas somehow become factually accepted, sometimes even winding up in print a few months later. From a strategic planning perspective it isn't too hard to attain desired business goals so long as you're working with people internally and externally who have experience of realities and aren't biased towards certain types of software. Most firms have Tetrised in layers of software for generations: finding where latest layer collaboration solutions fit into and sometimes across this potpourri can be an important consideration in some cases. Finding executive champions to take the responsibility and the credit for successfully driving greater internal business efficiencies relies on clarity of purpose and clear goals. No one wants to take on exploratory missions unless huge value is likely to be uncovered, but equally importantly this is typically a journey of corporate introspection where some deep thinking about silos, stovepipes, matrixes  needs to be leavened with significant input from the people living within those constructs. Often effective business solutions are staring internal planners in the face locally even as they look over them at their preconceived horizons. So much of collaboration strategy is common sense in the context of business goals, informed by effective ways to leverage the way people could use new technology options to work more efficiently together.  It's always a challenge to diplomatically move people away from some of the wackier myths they have bought into and back down to more pragmatic ways forward.

Topics: Social Enterprise, CXO, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Software

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Oliver Marks & Associates provides seasoned, technology agnostic independent consulting guidance to companies on effective Digital Enterprise Transformation business strategy, tactics, infrastructure & technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models and management.

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