With collaboration and community tools like blogs, wikis, forums, tagging, and rating systems, the enterprise has become filled with collaboration tools that bring people together online and enable productivity. However, the lack of integration in these platforms creates not only Data Silos but Collaboration Silos. Information from one system has to be moved to another system if you want to collaborate and then finding the most relevant copy of the information becomes a nightmare. Where is the latest version? Was it an email attachment? Did I put it in the shared directory? Where are Bob’s comments? These questions and many similar ones are asked every day. What we need is a smart collaboration platform that combines simple actions with relevant information artifacts to produce collaboration spaces that work for you and not the other way around.
All information artifacts in the enterprise have “potential” for collaboration we just need to understand how to unleash that potential without creating another “Silo”. For all you Science Geeks out there this is very familiar to the concept of potential energy. Potential energy is the energy stored within an object waiting to be unleashed and converted to kinetic energy. Information artifacts in the enterprise possess the same potential for collaboration if the right conditions exist to release it.
Earlier in one of my posts I defined the Knowledge Cycle and its five key phases for creating and sustaining knowledge within an organization.
- Publish – information is distilled into some tangible form (document, report, wiki, email)
- Discover – finding the information from the Publish phase
- Discuss – bringing relevant parties together to better understand the information
- Personalize – adding your unique perspective to the original information
- Extend – applying newly formed knowledge to new and different scenarios
To effectively use the Knowledge Cycle and tap the potential of an organization you need to release the collaboration potential of your information using tools that understand personal and team relevance and allow information to act as the focal point of discussion and decision making. These information artifacts that have potential for collaboration we’ll call Social Objects. Social objects are information sources that encourage interaction between users due to the commonality users share with the object. They are created during the Publish phase of the Knowledge Cycle and tend to be the center around which collaboration takes place. An effective collaboration architecture allows all information sources available to a user to be considered social objects with potential for collaboration. If we use this metaphor to look across an enterprise it becomes apparent that all data sources available to knowledge workers should be considered social objects and as such collaboration should be, not only encouraged but enabled. This means that not only traditional social media like blogs, wikis, or discussion forums encourage collaboration but also that new information sources such as business intelligence reports or other business data should provide tools that bring users together and provide a platform for effective collaboration.
Let’s consider a perfectly valid business scenario that we’ve all seen dozens of times, a regional sales quota is missed in the Sales Department. The existing interactions that take place in an organization to discuss and solve this problem are broken. The current technology for finding, collaborating, and fixing the above problem relies on human interaction at nearly every level. If we walk through the current situation that most managers face it would contain the following steps:
- Get a link to a regional sales report via email at the end of the month
- Browse the report (when you have time)
- Discover the failing region
- Use email to schedule an appointment among relevant parties
- Discuss the issue at the appointed time among the parties
- Create action items during the meeting
- And finally repeat as necessary until you are either fired or the problem has been fixed.
In all honestly I simplified it some. It could have been worse if the manager had to go digging around to find out who the district sales manager was or use “Busy Search” to try to find a time that worked for all parties. Then there is the problem of the excessive amount of email that this flurry of activity will create and having to manage all of that!
Now consider the same scenario but this time using a smart collaboration platform. What if a platform existed that would allow us to place a report filter on the enterprise report server that would flag relevant data based on criteria we set? This platform would then discover the regional sales anomaly for us and understand that this particular object required collaboration. The platform would then automatically discover relevant parties and create a collaboration space that was focused around solving this particular issue. Busy Search is taken care of by the platform, the only thing you do is give your consent for the meeting to take place. Invitations are sent automatically. All the parties come together at the appointed time using both audio, video, and an online meeting space to discuss and archive the reasons for the missed quota. As action items arise during the meeting they are created and assigned in the meeting and associated with the initial report and workspace. As the participants begin working on their action items all relevant data is cataloged with the workspace and when the next meeting occurs the participants can easily check all the action items and progress in one place. Doesn’t that sound better? We went from seven steps to two.
- Be at the meeting
- Plan a course of action
This is the simplicity our collaboration platform needs to give us. Users shouldn’t have to worry about all the minutia involved in trying to create, discover, and manage workspaces and teams. We need tools that do the grunt work for us and let us focus on doing our REAL jobs. We need a platform that is flexible enough to allow connections to other systems for integration with communication services (email, calendaring, IM) and also provides the necessary tools that allow us to add collaboration components like comments, attachments, or tags to our Social Objects.
In the next installment we’ll look at some potential tools to make all this happen .by