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Building a collaboration strategy

This article appears in the issue November/December 2009, [Vol 18, Issue 10]
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As 2010 approaches, collaboration continues to be a hot topic. Strangely enough, one thing hasn’t changed about collaboration, despite the rise of Web 2.0 infiltrating the work force: The vast majority of collaboration continues to take place through e-mail, with knowledge workers passing file attachments.

The fundamental inefficiencies of that approach are creating numerous enterprise pain points. Users cannot find the most current version of content because it is locked in individual e-mail files. Very little structure is available in e-mail to drive best practices. Content artifacts—like documents and threaded discussions—are not easily reusable. And it is difficult and costly to identify content that requires special handling for compliance, security and privacy purposes. File servers, while offering some improvement, are also a woefully insufficient solution.

How are organizations addressing those inefficiencies? They are moving collaboration from e-mail to workspaces and more robust content-centric collaborative applications that may include custom coding and workflow. The use of social networking that enables Facebook-like (facebook.com) capabilities within the enterprise is also on the rise. With the technology, companies realize a number of benefits, including:

  • Knowledge worker efficiency. By providing users with a single place to store and collaborate on content, collaborative platforms remove inefficiencies associated with collaboration through e-mail. Basic library services like check-in, checkout and versioning allow greater control over content creation and sharing. Further, IT’s ability to build and deploy custom templates and workflow drives more efficient and effective business process flows.
  • Improved knowledge capture. Information stored in e-mail systems is difficult to leverage for future reuse. By moving content into a collaborative platform, workers can more easily discover and reuse knowledge artifacts—like presentations, forms and images. Consider, for example, the value of capturing and reusing even a small number of the documents, discussions and activities associated with developing a complex sales proposal.
  • More effective management of content. Not all content is created equal. Some content, such as repair manuals or official memos, needs to be managed more stringently for reasons of accuracy, compliance, discovery, security and/or privacy. By moving users into collaborative platforms, organizations can more easily identify content that requires special handling and apply policy management within the platform or move content programmatically into a separate system of record.
  • Increased social networking effect. Social networking capabilities, like those found on the popular consumer site Facebook, are quickly augmenting the value of traditional e-mail or document-focused collaboration tools. Enterprise-focused social networking capabilities greatly enhance knowledge workers’ ability to access relevant content and expertise in a business setting. Collaborative platforms are increasingly providing social networking capabilities and/or integrating with best-of-breed product offerings.

The collaborative platform market is not new. However, it has evolved greatly over the past several years. New communication and content generation patterns—like microblogging (see related article on page 10, KMWorld Nov/Dec 2009), activity streams and business social networks—attracted many new and highly relevant vendors to the market from the social networking perspective. Information and knowledge management (IKM) pros increasingly compare those vendors to more traditional collaboration vendors because of their ability to address similar business issues around sharing information.

At the same time, traditional collaboration vendors have recognized and reacted to the unique capabilities of social networking and are actively building those capabilities into their offerings. Lastly, traditional content management vendors continue to extend into collaboration, building out social capabilities as well.

Collaboration strategies must include Web 2.0

Forrester’s most recent research shows that while Enterprise 2.0 is still nascent in many organizations, there can be no argument that it is changing the way organizations collaborate. Social computing is increasingly becoming a part of the enterprise computing fabric, and one of the major benefits is more natural collaboration. As the industry continues to strive for better tools to allow team collaboration, knowledge capture and greater visibility into unstructured data and processes, social computing tools are proving a valuable piece of the overall strategy.

As those tools gain greater acceptance among knowledge workers, information and knowledge management pros must provide guidance to ensure that their companies realize value and to avoid use of such tools when others could provide greater value.

With an overall emphasis on collaboration and Web 2.0, wikis (see related article on page 8, KMWorld, Nov/Dec 2009) aregaining significant visibility. Despite being a relatively young technology, wikis have gained significant traction in the enterprise. Organizations are using wikis for use cases across a broad but interrelated set of capabilities. The overall defining characteristics involve providing a single place for knowledge workers to come together and coordinate ad hoc and human-centric processes and content generation.

For example, sales proposals that can involve many authors and approvers are increasingly developed in wikis, with only the final document converted to a formal document for delivery. Alternatives for collaborating on those types of activities have generally been e-mail or more traditional collaborative workspaces. While e-mail has been the most heavily used application, it lacks context and can’t serve as a single source of current information, resulting in frustrated users. Collaborative workspaces solve those issues but are often seen by people as complicated to set up and use. Wikis offer a compelling middle ground that combines ease of use with context around the process and project. Enterprises are deploying wikis in wide-ranging but interdependent scenarios.

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