I was offered the opportunity to write the ZDNet Collaboration blog on the strength of my writing here in the period after I left Sony PlayStation three years ago, which has has taken up all my available writing bandwidth until now, but this year I’ve decided to resume discussing my work and ideas here.
The vast majority of my work is inside companies helping find ways to simplify and make them run more efficiently. I do some consulting work with software vendors, mostly to provide some perspective on what their prospects actually want (there’s a whole other blog post on the fashion driven group think that goes on between vendors, analyst and futurists…) . I’m proud of my reputation for being vendor agnostic: I have a pretty good rolodex of contacts in the software business and deep knowledge of enterprise software and the culture around it, but I’m not in business bed with anyone and am dedicated to looking out for the best results for my clients.
Most of the work I perform is relatively sensitive in nature and typically under strict non disclosure – the more strategic the work the tighter the NDA – but I do think it’s important to convey some of the realities of the ‘real’ work going on around collaboration strategy, partly to oppose the tremendous volume of vendor/analyst noise and opportunists/ theorists in the space who endlessly discuss the ways people might work together in the future.
Cutting through all the froth and hyperbole we are subjected to, essentially the business world’s needs and actions are currently
• The tactically urgent needs needs of business units of varying sizes at various hierarchical levels (often markedly different problems at different pay scales), which are more and more frequently solved with ‘shadow IT’ problems, sometimes temporary, sometimes with a rooted permanence.
• The more formal and legally regulated area of Information Technology provisioning, aligned with centralized IT budgeting and strategic thinking
• The opportunities and challenges created by the fast evolving world of mobile technologies and the incursion of individuals smart phones/computers into the workplace, in an ever more interconnected world, and the relationship with existing unified communications infrastructure internally and marketing interactions to the customer and prospect base
• Alignments with existing enterprise technology commitments and bottlenecks, and of course office politics at all levels of the organization
These are the simplistic big buckets we’re all dealing with; variances of project and business scale have a significant impact on how we view challenges and solutions, and interoperability and collaborative interrelationships may or may not be of value.
Within the four bullet points above typically sit immense complexity, with time consuming and often deeply ingrained work processes of varying ages sapping the efficiency of the modern company. Document creation and email are easy targets when discussing the causes of what’s clogging up a modern firm’s arteries, but the reality is that it is always people and the way they work that should be the focus, and not the tools they use. I’ve seen lots of ‘cart before the horse’ thinking (people buying software as a solution and panacea to problems only to see it gathering dust unused, whether a lightweight applications or honking great enterprise systems.)
Much of my work has been around simplifying ‘information plumbing’ as I call it, in order to achieve greater efficiencies. While communication technologies of all types are evolving at a remarkable speed, so too is increased complexity, duplication and multiple branching of information. I’m sure you’ve heard the wonders of modern ‘social tools’ from software salespeople, but in my experience the reality in your company is that they are only as good as the clarity around how you want people to use them, and with everyone understanding their usage routes and end goals.
The ways in which people choose to communicate and collaborate together over time always transcends enabling technologies.
For this reason there has never been a more important time to create consistent places artifacts are located and can be found along with consistent use patterns. Individual publishing, whether to the public internet or inside your company, is now push button simple, although whether anyone actually sees the published information of course can be a major problem…
Individuals and groups of people have familiar survival activities they rely on when they get very busy, which are typically based on a lowest common denominator of effort. No amount of shiny new technology will change this unless there are clear use paths and clear benefits to the end user and the collective company. What has been happening during the era since Web 2.0 technologies started to be incorporated into the Enterprise, either as stand alone modern applications or more recently as component features of mature technology suites has been mostly modular, contextual uptake to solve different specific business problems.
This has led to what I have called ‘collaboration silos’ – user name and password protected fiefdoms for areas of businesses who may be competing for power and budget with others. All too often these are the unintended results of fragmented uptake – formal or otherwise – after deploying technologies.
It’s not unusual to have multiple collaboration environments and ecosystems even in quite small companies, resulting in multiple streams of information and repositories. These issues are sometimes not visible to senior executives since they are in part of the nuts and bolts and minutiae of processes but are often adding to inefficiencies and complexity despite solving specific parochial problems for specific groups of people.