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Roundtable discussion: Collaboration

This article appears in the issue January 2004 [Volume 13, Issue 1]


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About CARE Canada

CARE Canada is part of an international network that provides emergency relief to countries in need, and supports long-term development projects dedicated to eliminating poverty. As a member of CARE International, CARE Canada works with other CARE members throughout the world and is the lead agency for projects in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon, Cuba, East Timor, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe. CARE Canada operates additional projects in 23 countries, and is funded by 80,000 individual, corporate, foundation, community and service clubs throughout the country.

KMWorld recently hosted a roundtable discussion on collaboration that included Mike Gotta, senior VP and principal analyst at the META Group; Kevin McCort, chief of staff at CARE Canada; Jose Garcia, products support manager at the Global Development Group; and Bill Forquer, executive VP for marketing at Open Text. KMWorld senior writer Judith Lamont spoke with the group about CARE Canada's use of collaboration and about the latest trends in that industry.

Lamont: How do you define collaboration, and how can it help organizations achieve their goals?

Gotta: The industry has struggled to define collaboration concisely. We use a functional definition—tools and services that help groups of people share information, communicate, coordinate and work together as a team. From a technology perspective, it includes e-mail, calendaring, forums, instant messaging, Web conferencing and virtual workspaces. Collaboration helps organizations that are information-intensive, have complex processes, are geographically dispersed or are event-driven, by providing a virtual work environment in which people can interact and respond quickly to accomplish critical tasks.

Lamont: What business needs directed CARE Canada toward a collaboration solution?

McCort: CARE International, of which CARE Canada is a member, began as an organization to provide food aid packages to people in Europe after World War II. Over the years we have evolved considerably, and we are now working in over 70 countries around the world dealing with many different types of problems. We do a lot of work in emergency response, but also support projects in economic development and education. Because these projects have elements in common, we began to think about sharing information across them to get the maximum benefit from everyone's knowledge and experience.

Lamont: Who first suggested collaboration technology as a way of supporting your organization?

McCort: I was in Zambia working for CARE as the country director for the program there. The idea came from the Global Development Group, which provides IT and HR support to non-profit organizations. Some of the GDG staff had worked for CARE in the past, and so they knew how the organization worked. They also knew what we were doing in terms of sharing information and trying to collaborate. GDG came to us and said, "There's a much better way. You guys should look at collaboration tools and Open Text products as an improvement over your current practice."

Lamont: How did CARE Canada choose Open Text?

Garcia: The president of GDG, Gerard van der Burg, was searching for a tool that could improve the practices and processes that were in place at CARE. He contacted people at Open Text and acquired Livelink for CARE Canada. When I joined the firm, I was able to use my previous experience with knowledge management to help CARE Canada extend what it was doing with Livelink.

Lamont: What collaboration components does Livelink include?

Forquer: Livelink provides an online workspace where people can manage projects and securely maintain and access information. The collaboration tools include online meeting software that lets people share documents, assign tasks and keep meeting notes; team workspaces; and process workflows. Information management tools help users manage content (including the ability to publish it to a Web site), and provide document management, records management and search capability. We've tried to deliver a tool set that is not intrusive but rather matches the way people work. In reality, work doesn't get done in the traditional functional hierarchy, but through a complex set of relationships and interactions.

Lamont: How did CARE Canada employees collaborate before deploying Livelink?

McCort: We used quite a bit of e-mail, and we published newsletters. We also relied heavily on workshops to bring people together, but obviously that is quite costly, and only a small percent of the staff can go on the trip. When we got a group together, they talked about what was happening at that moment, but then they might not be in touch again for another year. Also, we didn't have a place where people could access the information already resident in the organization or share it efficiently.

Lamont: How is CARE Canada collaborating now that it's using Livelink?

McCort: Our first use of Livelink was to help CARE respond to competitive bids on projects. The primary institutional donor to CARE is the Canadian government, and a large portion of the funds available for development organizations is awarded through a formal bidding process. We started putting together documents and libraries of past proposals. The bidding process is very labor-intensive, and we were only able to do one or two per year. By putting the materials in an accessible place and reusing them, we are now able to do about one a month. Our cost per proposal has gone down, and the evaluation scores on our bids have gone up, even on the ones we lose. So it's part of a continuous improvement process. We also do a tremendous amount of reporting of financial data and narrative to the donors that support us, and it is very useful to be able to have access to reports from other parts of the world doing similar projects.

Lamont: Has CARE Canada's use of a collaboration solution affected its interaction with other member organizations?

McCort: We are able to interact much more easily. For example, right now we are working on a bid for a project in Mali. Our CARE office here in Ottawa, a partner organization in Montreal and our country office in Mali are all using a workspace set up for this bid. Documents are deposited there and worked on by a variety of individuals. People can check around the workspace to see what resources are available. Multipoint collaboration is now quite common in these bids through our use of Livelink.

Lamont: What impact has CARE Canada's initiative had on the other member organizations?

McCort: All of the other members of CARE have access to what we have developed at CARE Canada. We have also created workspaces for the other 12 members, and we are seeing growing participation from them. In addition, we are encouraging them to take ownership of their workspaces and configure them according to their local needs. We have set up a number of libraries on specific themes, such as agriculture, design and evaluation of projects, and we are seeing increasing use of those libraries. The other members are not yet using the collaborative tools the same way that we are on our competitive bids. But as they get to know more about how it works, we can encourage them to expand their use from beyond their repository to a collaboration workspace.

Lamont: Over the next few years, how will CARE Canada be changing its collaboration strategies?

McCort: Two years ago we had 60 regular users of the tool. Now it's up to a thousand, so we see good potential for moving people into collaborative discussion groups and off e-mail. We also see increasing opportunities for different organizations to work together. For example, if the British government says, "We have money available for famine relief in Africa," CARE Australia and CARE USA might have the right skills and come together in a single workspace to respond to that need. We are also very keen on helping other agencies and other charities learn these same techniques. This will not only nurture our shared goal of ending poverty, but will make it easier for us to partner with them in joint efforts.

Lamont: What verticals can make the best use of collaboration technology?

Gotta: Generally, the industries that have processes driven by team interaction and decision-making, and have a high degree of information density, meaning complex information. Also, geographically dispersed teams or a need for rapid or event-driven responses point toward collaboration solutions to improve outcomes. Pharmaceuticals and financial services are two verticals that are making significant use of collaboration solutions. And there's actually a lot of interest in the federal public sector.

Lamont: How is the public sector using collaboration technology?

Gotta: There is a greater emphasis on program management now, and part of the president's management agenda is that projects must have a business case. We are also seeing much more emphasis on cross-agency cooperation and integration.

Forquer: I would add that cooperation is not just at the federal level, but is extending to state and local authorities as well.

Lamont: What technical barriers do you see for collaboration?

Gotta: The lack of standards for instant messaging is the one technical barrier that is slowing things down in collaboration. Presence-enabled applications are getting a lot of coverage right now. The two competing standards are XMPP and SIMPLE, and discussion is underway to find common ground between the two groups. The public networks are not linked, which impacts collaboration and syndicating presence out to your customers, partners and suppliers. Internally, people need to make a product decision right now if they want standardization and ease of application development.

Lamont: Is CARE Canada using instant messaging?

Garcia: Yes we are, and I see several other barriers. One of them is bandwidth. In a hotel in Manila, I was only able to get 12.9 KB per second, and if you are trying to get people to collaborate through a tool like Livelink, it's a big obstacle right there. Another is that each individual decided which of the IM tools to use. Some use MSN, and some use Yahoo, and there is nothing standard. If people have to use multiple IM services to reach everyone, they have to remember a lot of different passwords, and that's a barrier too.

Lamont: What emerging trends are you seeing in collaboration?

Gotta: Best practice companies are looking at collaboration strategies as a way to improve processes rather than individual productivity. This is changing the world of collaboration so that it can be embedded in other applications. Collaboration becomes contextual and part of the ongoing work activity, rather than requiring the user to leave an application and switch to another tool. Collaboration is becoming better integrated with work activities today via portals, but eventually it will also be driven by business process management engines. Once we reach that stage, there's more of a graceful escalation from the process or the task-focused work to something that's more collaborative with your team or the community.

Lamont: What about the cultural barriers to technology-based collaboration?

Gotta: The biggest hurdle in collaboration is changing people's behaviors, actually getting them to work together. That's why it's critical to look at the human side of the equation--it's not all about tools and technology. People need to see value around working together as a team.

Garcia: For us, the flexibility of Livelink has been good, because we are not trying to teach people how to do their work using the tool, but just encouraging them to do their jobs, and offering them the functionality of Livelink and other tools. The same flexibility that helps us adapt Livelink to people's work patterns also lets us tie it into other tools. For example, we developed our own results-based management software tool, and we integrated it with Livelink.

Lamont: Do you have any cautions for organizations using collaboration technology?

Gotta: Companies have to be careful about how they deploy collaborative tools that increase communication because they need to make those records a part of their compliance strategy. They need to comply with archiving and records management, particularly when it comes to instant messaging, for financial services and some other types of businesses, such as healthcare. There are penalties from government bodies for failing to comply with these requirements.

Lamont: To what degree is risk management part of the economic justification for collaboration technologies?

Gotta: It is part of due diligence when you form the business case for any technology that is going to be deployed across an enterprise. In the case of instant messaging, if I am a broker there are definitely risks that you have to consider and make sure that transmissions are secure. Auditing and records management for e-mail and other document sources have to be part of the due diligence of the enterprise collaboration strategy.

Forquer: The compliance requirements demand visibility on all sorts of processes, so a lot of attention is being placed on collaborative work products. Companies need to have good information management strategies associated with them. These work products can be both an asset and a liability, but ultimately, we believe that having them available, and managing them well, builds a better organization.

Editor's note: This is an expanded version of the print article which appears in the January 2004 issue.


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