Collaboration strategies are shifting from a focus on tools to an eye on improving process performance. Improving work practices within business processes requires collaboration "in context" while tapping into communities of practice as sources of best practices and innovation.
META Trend: Through 2004, organizations will rein in tactical collaboration products (instant messaging, teamware, and Web conferencing) for companywide deployments, driven by architecture needs, product standardization benefits, and shared infrastructure flexibility. By 2008, "contextual collaboration" - enabling organizations to embed collaboration into production applications - will span customers, employees, and partners, creating time-to-market, problem resolution, and travel displacement efficiencies as part of an overall service-oriented architecture-based knowledge worker infrastructure strategy.
Since the 1990s, collaboration strategies have revolved around tools. E-mail, group calendars, and discussion forums exemplified first-generation solutions for individual and workgroup productivity. Instant messaging, Web conferencing, and teamware represent the next onslaught of collaboration tools being deployed (sometimes without enterprise approval). Times have changed, however, and simply giving users the perfect tool for each situation is not always the right strategy. Not only does the unchecked proliferation of tools result in higher levels of IT complexity (and costs), but individual productivity gains without impact on process outcomes are unlikely to improve competitive positioning or delivery of products and services. Our research indicates overwhelming preference by senior management that collaboration strategies evolve from a focus on personal productivity to address process performance and innovation.
However, the challenge for organizations is turning wishful thinking into an actionable strategy that includes a self-assessment of their collaboration maturity. During 2004, we expect only 5% of our clients to formally revisit the state of collaboration within their organization, rationalize their existing portfolio of vendors, and successfully align collaboration strategies with strategic business initiatives (e.g., business process management [BPM], CRM, human capital management objectives). We expect 40% of our clients to maintain (or adopt) an enterprise technology view (e.g., governance, procurement, management) and effectively align collaboration technology decisions with related domains (e.g., enterprise portal and content management). The remaining 55% of our clients will continue at status quo (collaboration decisions made at a business-unit level or below with few, if any, enterprise standards). By 2007, these numbers will increase slightly (15% process- and workplace-centric, 75% enterprise-based, and 10% business-unit or workgroup-centric). However, companies that align collaboration with other strategic endeavors will gain a significant competitive advantage over those that do not.
Getting Started. To improve business collaboration, sponsors need to start at the beginning by packaging a strategic plan that includes several key components:
Valuing the Collective Insight of Communities. Strategists must also overcome organizational issues (e.g., persuading people to work differently, establishing incentives and performance measures that foster greater information sharing and cooperation). Community-building efforts are valuable to create synergies across processes and functional groups. Collaboration services might embed a “my networks” pane within the application that lists personal resources (e.g., friends, mentors, learning modules), communities of practice (e.g., subject-matter experts) within the organization to which the user belongs (or might be interested in joining), and other sales teams working on similar proposals in the same or similar industry sector. This approach provides users with peripheral vision of what else is going on that might influence their own work practices. In this respect, collaboration also becomes a cornerstone of knowledge management and enterprise learning strategies.
Leveraging a Common Knowledge Worker Infrastructure. From a technology perspective, organizations should put collaboration on par with other application and infrastructure initiatives. Architects and infrastructure planners need to avoid treating collaboration strategies as an offshoot of office productivity and desktop strategies, defining it as its own domain. Best practices (e.g., governance, standards, integration, security, operations) that apply to other domains should be applied to collaboration as well. Indeed, we believe synergies across portal, content, collaboration, and learning technologies are driving organizations to adopt a more service-oriented model to increase the flexibility and reduce the complexity of their knowledge worker infrastructure. Portal frameworks remain the best method for unifying delivery of collaboration “in context” with other content, applications, and workflow needs (e.g., role, rules). This movement toward contextual collaboration (defined by META Group in 1999) continues to be adopted by major technology vendors (e.g., IBM, Microsoft) and Global 2000 clients to improve productivity, reduce coordination costs, and better connect people to peers and teams.
Bottom Line: Effective collaboration strategies will enable workers and teams to be more productive within processes, with success measured via improvement in process outcomes and more sustained levels of innovation resulting from community insight.
Business Impact: Collaboration is a business strategy, not a tool strategy.
META Group originally published this article on 30 April 2004.