Collaboration, hype or eco/environmental IT strategy?
It's been on my mind for quite some time but I somehow never got around to write anything about it. Until now. Collaboration has been a buzzword for quite some time. In fact for a great many years. I recall it started in the later half of 90's, while (IBM) Lotus products such as Sametime and Quickplace hardly was known as much more than upcoming (potentially) new hot stuff. Some of us in early contact with these technologies immediately saw great potential value, but also challenges.
Lengthy pilots and later production in large corporate environment gave profound insight into issues extending from technology to people, culture, corporate culture, commercial culture, communication and collaboration culture. It is easy to forget, easy to leave out, while deep in systems design, engineering, implementation and deployment, reporting and assessing, that what you're doing it for is people, departments, projects, teams. And that the most important factor in any pursuit of cost reduction, cultural change and noveau thinking, it's all about people.
After almost 20 years of experience with collaboration services/technologies as architect/designer, administrator, project manager, service manager, think I can offer some (relevant) insight and advices.
Plan well - hindsight is 20-20
Think carefully about corporate communication and collaboration strategy and don't forget, philosophy. Develop a rock solid plan, map your business and the way they work. Spent time doing this, and you'll spend less energy on challenges later. Think strategy and acknowledge the fact that everyone communicates differently. Every single employee have his or hers good/bad or different communication, skills and standards. Without a common culture implicitly in collaboration services you might end up with a half success, diversified, or non-unified efforts rather than focused ones.
While the above all are great pursuits that can optimize the/a project, most importantly of course is commitment and buy-in from top management. Without clear top management decisions and acknowledgment, what seemed a good idea may quickly fizzle out in expenditure with moderate value. It's strange that top level managers, with interest and focus on almost perpetual cost reduction, higher efficiency and now in later years also tending towards "green corporate" philosophy, too often neglect the power and value of a solid, virtual collaboration culture. Done the right way, it can radically change a business, make it more transparent, globalized, easier to deal with for customers, suppliers, partners and associates. Those are also real values to consider for any company growth.
Doing it right saves money, big money!
Few IT Services and technologies can so quickly show on corporate bottom lines, spendings and total costs of ownership. Few strategies can so quickly extend corporate availability, optimize the way one does business, than collaboration tools. Maybe that's why the human factor is too easily overlooked. Training and cultivation may take time and cost more, but in my experience from real corporate life, the answer is really simple. Those who take it most seriously, allow a cultural evolution to take place with a plan, gain not only quicker results but may also much easier take experience to new levels.
Over the years, doing countless seminars, workshops and presentations, I've come to realize that the gap between technology and culture remains much the same as when we started. For sure, tools that seemed like alien technology have now become widely accepted.
What to do, what to consider
Improvements can be achieved with almost any type of services or tools. Yet there are some that shine more than others. I've seen great efforts achieved with moderate functionality but one thing keeps coming back, virtual communities. Whether web or desktop, a client/Community tool that allows instant messaging Voice over IP, Video when needed and most of all, ad-hoc sharing capabilities. Tools that can be integrated and blended into corporate interfaces and standards. Made available perhaps not in one way but diverse ways. Used as much for external as internal use. A culture fostered over time with with the right mindset for information security. Because as everyone can acknowledge, more openness and availability also means need for a stronger focus on security.
I didn't write this blog to promote any particular tool or service, and I do not work with sales of licenses for any particular vendor. But over the years working with some particular technologies, witnessing collaboration evolution taking place I might be somewhat opinionated. Tools may just be tools but implemented with care and consistence, their nature may enable opportunities, new solutions and ideas to form an entire culture.
Most often the simple is the best. Knowledge and experience turns virtual teams into being as effective, if not more, than people working at the same physical location. This has become more and more evindent over the past years, and challenges many a corporate culture. Those that can change and change fast, adapt new methodologies and trends, will have a great advantage in our increasingly global business.
"Disclaimer": this blog was originally written over a decade ago but I decided to repost it since i thought some, if not all, of the content to be relevant still.