The advent of Collaborative work is now well and truly established within the enterprise world. Is it leading to a networked economy? In a mid-2004 survey, analyst company IDC pointed out that their “focus group participants voted Web conferencing the most appropriate collaboration and meeting tool in 60% of everyday meetings and business processes”, and this is a clear sign that collaboration – or at least some form of it – has now become mainstream.
Trends in Networking and Collaborative Work: The Networked Economy
This is the proposed outline for the March 2006 RIM conference Date: 04/12/05 By J.Delacroix and Y. Gourvennec. Please note: this is a draft executive summary; parts or even the entirety of this document may be subject to change. But it’s certainly not just a matter of technology.
In this article, Jerome Delacroix and Yann Gourvennec have analysed the root causes for such changes. Beyond behaviour, it is the very relationship between working habits and technology which is at the heart of this issue.
When Vannevar Bush wrote his trail-blazing article on dynamic associations in 1945, he created the concept of hypertext and eventually paved the way for Berners Lee’s invention of the Web as we know it.
Bush’s idea was not about creating yet another technological gizmo, it was about knowledge, about improving our access to information and our understanding. At the end of the day, hypertext made possible the growth of information networks.
This dynamic and reciprocal influence between technology and social behaviour is the main reason for the amazing development (first at home, then in the office) of a flurry of collaborative tools.
One should also be aware that new technology adoption always takes place in the consumer Market definition in B2B and B2C - The very notion of "market" is at the heart of any marketing approach. A market can be defined... nowadays before the business market replicates these changing behaviours. This is also a very significant sign of the times and it has significant consequences.
The Collaborative revolution is well and truly underway and we may only be at the beginning of it.
2005 was a very propitious year for the development of new initiatives (collective online news blogs, IP-based telephony with increasingly potent plug-ins, collaboration weblogs, collective wiki-based encyclopaedias and even online Ajax-based office applications with in-built collaboration capabilities).
This has triggered many thoughts and even fears which are not different from those expressed 10 years ago when the Internet became known to all. This new revolution was even entitled WEB 2.0 by some but not everyone – Nicholas Carr is one of the sceptics – is convinced.
Of the importance of networking and collaborative work: LinkedIn and the FoaF model
The advent of LinkedIn is only natural, after years of changes in the way we work. LinkedIn and the like have become almost obligatory for these thousands of professionals who want to build their own informal networks. The principle on which LinkedIn is hinging is simple.
It is named the FOAF model and was made popular by the Friendster website. That model relies on the notion of social capital, whereby the relationships between people at work are an asset as important as technical skills or financial capital.
Such networking models enable professionals to find experts within an organisation, or even outside this organisation, and help establish the link between the supply and demand for expertise.
New working methods have also cropped up with regard to the increasing instability of the job market and the fact that this has led office workers to become more and more detached and adopt the status of symbolic analysts which was announced years ago by Charles Handy.
This is what is eventually leading to the explosion of Soho companies and knowledge workers, who are keen on retaining a high level of autonomy while being eager to tie links with many professionals with whom they work in networks.
At the heart of the FOAF model, one finds reputation management, a mechanism whereby network members are appraising each others’ skills. In this article Jérôme Delacroix and Yann Gourvennec will give examples of existing networks enabling professionals to network with one another and sell their wares.
What are the required skills to perform in the networked economy?
In order to achieve one’s goals in this new context, one must develop an array of behavioural skills in the following areas: “Intrapersonal” skills With a frontier between work and personal life getting thinner by the day, it is becoming crucial for an individual to identify his core values and that of his/her organisation.
As cooperative work develops, it will require more and more interactions between colleagues and with the outside world, and too wide a discrepancy between one’s beliefs and the identity of the corporation would soon lead to unbearable mental pressure.
That need for coherence is already a driving force in the professional choices of so-called cultural creatives around the world. In other words, everyone will need to be Socratic and discover who he or she really is.
Interpersonal skills Given the high amount of interaction between people, being able to smoothly interact with others will become even more important.
Theories like transactional analysis and non-violent communication can play a significant role here to ease teamwork. · Communication Accepting to communicate in an open manner on what you are doing, share your knowledge and let the others know what you know and who you know maybe a challenge for many of us.
Yet, these attitudes are prerequisites in a cooperative economy. Ability to negotiate in a cooperative, win-win manner is key to foster effective work relationships in the long run.
These tools that changed the collaborative landscape in the past 10 years
As hypertext and the Internet developed, networking practices increased, but they are only a starting point. Email was obviously the number one driver, which made it possible to lift the barriers against communication within the organisation itself, to begin with, because it meant that it was no longer necessary to go through the hierarchy for two similar levels in the organisation to talk to one another.
That was a very big change which did a lot for lifting hindrances to communication. It also forced middle management to change their way of working and mostly change the way that they were behaving with their staff.
In this article, Jérôme Delacroix and Yann Gourvennec will provide a historical perspective with a focus on Groupware and the genesis of collaborative work. Subsequently, they will describe the different families of collaborative tools and elaborate on the fact that all these tools and approaches that are being developed are built around a stove-pipe approach.
The future of collaborative work
But the task of trying to find the right technology for the right kind of business requirement is daunting. How to make sense out of this myriad of technological developments? Visions are not easy to develop in that context, but some major trends can be described.
To start with, the link with presence tools is a must. Collaboration tools will have to be built around such capabilities but interoperability will be an issue, as always with instant messaging.
Presence can be developed around standard EIM (Enterprise Instant Messaging) systems but it might also emerge over time thanks to telephony over IP. But the real issue for large enterprises is to foster collaboration through instant messaging and assure interoperability while avoiding the proliferation of various public IM systems.
How to keep one’s eyes open while maintaining security will be the worst nightmare keeping CIO’s awake at night. But the real challenge with collaboration is to be able to determine what kind of usage is going to suit what kind of users. User Market segmentation is as important in B2B as in B2C. Strictly speaking, segmenting means dividing one's market into subsets (segments) is a must and is the preliminary exercise for all kinds of requirements definition study in that field of practice.
Features like Videoconferencing for instance are always quoted by users but very seldom used. Online video presence may well become mainstream but we are not there yet. Breaking the barriers between the various tools that make up collaboration is leading us to the inevitable discussion about convergence.
Previous experience in unified messaging has shown that convergence can happen when users have come to use individual tools in a stovepipe approach and then – once used to these tools – there can be a requirement for convergence (This is also linked to Metcalfe’s law).
Supporting hardware availability and interoperability is a must-have to reduce integration risks. The mastering of all these aspects of collaborative work is the obligatory path for the resolution of the complexity that is associated with the deployment of such technologies, and the only way that can turn a technological gadget into real business benefit.
If all these criteria are taken into account, real savings can be achieved through collaborative work in the enterprise. Collaboration would not be complete if information repositories were not taken into account.
Many other features are now added to such collaborative environments which cover the entirety of the spectrum regarding office tools: Group calendaring, project management, document versioning and tracing, …
Such components are now key to employees’ everyday work and in fact, it even extends beyond the walls of the enterprise. Blogs, wikis, and P2P based user-centric tools are key to the successful implementation of a collaborative work information system.
However, such an overwhelming complexity reinforces the need for specifying the requirement accurately – which may not stop with the eliciting of an existing requirement but lead to the suggestion of new features.
Online collaboration through web-centric Ajax-based applications is reinforcing the success of “main-frame”-like approaches which enable collaboration and compensate for the explosion of information on individual unshared computers. Understanding the hype cycle is also key in the selection of such innovative systems which are both appealing and hard to implement.
Collaborating is tempting but it is mostly based on the decision of individuals to share information with each other and cannot be imposed. A deployment through viral internal marketing is the best possible approach.
A few home truths about ROI in the networked economy
Despite the fact that all these technologies are so powerful and so widely available, despite the fact that using them is becoming almost natural to all (mainly through IM) it is still difficult to deploy collaboration tools in the enterprise world. Because of requirement assessment issues, user segmentation issues, training and usability issues … but also because there is a flurry of new products being launched in the market that they are all converging in one way or another but one doesn’t quite know where when or how. Besides, if convergence could enable more features to be united under the same collaboration umbrella, one can be sure that such converged tools would become increasingly complex in their usage. However, the evidence that Jérôme Delacroix and Yann Gourvennec have gathered concerning the implementation of corporate collaboration shows that ROI’s can be significant.