Taking Collaboration to the Next Level

July 3, 2012
Virtual workspaces, wikis, blogs, web meetings, presence indication, instant messaging, and other collaborative technologies can produce better business results, more innovation, and more opportunities. It’s time for them to be used in more than an ad hoc, experimental way.

Today’s manufacturing companies use technology to improve collaboration within teams and projects, across departments, and among partners. The first wave of collaboration focused largely on application integration. The current wave is all about people-centric collaboration: enabling teamwork, innovation, and connectivity.

The marketplace rewards companies that respond dynamically to changing conditions. To do so, companies must be able to change—or innovate—frequently, if not continuously. We know that innovation accelerates when people or organizations work together towards a goal. And we have seen that technology can enable and enhance the collaboration that drives innovation. What’s more, these collaboration technologies are evolving, offering users the promise of powerful new business advantages.

New collaboration technologies are changing the game. This can produce better business results, more innovation, and more opportunities. Virtual workspaces, wikis, blogs, web meeting, presence indication, instant messaging, and other collaborative tools can help people find new ways to work together to solve problems or achieve goals. Today, many of these tools are used in an ad hoc, experimental way, and companies realize that there are good reasons to move to a more strategic and supportable enterprise-wide implementation of collaboration technologies.

Since the essence of collaboration is people working together, it is useful to consider the various kinds of web-based, people-centric, collaboration tools available today. While providing employees with collaborative tools once required significant investment in IT applications and infrastructure, many tools are now readily available outside the corporate umbrella.

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The basic communications tools of e-mail, calendar, contacts, and tasks helped drive the early growth of the Internet, and many still rely upon these for business communication. A company’s website plays many roles. Key among these is publishing information about products, financials, and the company. Publishing is largely a unidirectional, one-to-many, asynchronous form of collaboration; it can provide information to community members and others for consumption at their own pace. Blogs change the publishing dynamic in two key ways. They are an easy way for individuals to publish frequently, and they provide the possibility of public community feedback to the published material.

A shared workspace provides a powerful tool for team collaboration. Document management and sharing, wikis, team calendars, project management/workflow tools, discussion forums, blogs, role-based participation, and other tools allow teams to organize themselves and effectively work together toward common goals. As the available shared workspace tools get better and easier to use, some expect that this will become the primary means for teams to operate. 

Messaging, web meeting, desktop sharing, presence, and voice and video chat services have become commonplace. These tools allow real-time collaboration on issues, documents, projects, or other things. They can be effective for a wide range of interpersonal communications, from periodic meetings to ad-hoc work sessions, to quick comments or questions.

Social Collaboration
Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites allow individuals to stay connected and updated about each other’s personal interests and activities. But what role do they play in a company? Social media sites offer many of the same kinds of human-centric collaboration tools already discussed, but bring them all together in one place to create a sense of community.

A live, interactive “chat,” for example, could bring together the device manufacturer’s technical support engineer, the service engineer, the operator who reported a problem, and the supervisor who knows the production schedule, to reach the best solution to a problem in the fastest possible time.  Both the chat itself and the resolution could then be saved to the device’s history profile. We expect to see many more use cases for this technology in the next few years.

Greg Gorbach, [email protected], is vice president at ARC Advisory Group in Dedham, Mass.

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