posted 23 Aug 2006 in Volume 10 Issue 1
Network Computing’s Editor’s Choice for Collaboration Software
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Special Focus: Collaboration
Before even thinking about the technology, organisations must first define their needs and their strategy.
MANY ORGANISATIONS make the mistake of considering collaboration in terms of technology. They wrongly assume that to support collaboration they just have to buy the right IT tools...
Gartner defines collaboration as “people working together on non-routine cognitive work”. This activity is about behaviour, work habits, culture, management and business goals, and value. Although there are commonly used tools, the concept of supporting collaboration doesn’t point in just one technology direction.
To devise a strategy that will advance organisational goals, consider a wide range of interlocking issues.
Gartner’s collaboration strategy framework provides a step-by-step guide through the main issues. It consists of the core steps, plus two sets of factors that will determine the context within which a collaboration strategy will unfold - the business environment and IT considerations.
As a first step, senior leadership should define or clarify the main goals, the corporate culture and how the company should evolve. Next, planners should consider the work habits of people and teams, and what might be possible to achieve within this context by improved collaboration.
Then, the planners can decide how deeply embedded collaboration needs to be within the organisation’s business processes and what sort of content it will involve. Finally, the planners should be ready to see what level of interaction workers will need, what technologies will best support this interaction and how best to deliver them. For example, weighing up whether to buy and implement a software package or whether to use a host service instead.
Collaboration projects do not occur in a vacuum. It almost goes without saying that these efforts must have support from business and IT managers. For enterprise-wide adoption, the support of senior leadership is imperative.
In addition, collaboration efforts must have a clear line of accountability. The solution that the company devises must be adaptable. Also, the project’s sponsors must demonstrate that it creates value. As planners follow the core steps, they should continually revisit these business factors to check whether the project remains oriented towards the company’s business realities and goals.
The IT context requires the IT department to strike the right balance on several key issues. For example:
* Does the company view collaboration as strategic or tactical? This will influence how the IT organisation supports collaboration activities;
* Whether IT will primarily react to demands from the business side or will it offer solutions to challenges that business units face;
* Whether IT is trying to provide users with a rich set of collaborative functions or a limited set;
* Will collaborative systems follow a centralised or distributed model.
To address these and other issues, IT must take stock of its tools, as well as its organisational biases, to see whether they align with the goals of the collaboration effort.
Know where you are
Organisations already have some level of collaboration when they start. They must first recognise how mature these collaboration efforts are. The goal of the maturity model is to provide organisations with a way to understand where they stand in their ability to exploit collaboration. A few support collaboration only at the workgroup level, while an increasing number do so for whole business units.
A handful have integrated collaboration into their business processes - what Gartner calls ‘contextual collaboration’. This opportunity means finding the right balance between goals and objectives and your ability to support collaborative work.
The key to unlocking this opportunity is to have a clear understanding of where your organisation is today and where it needs to be in the future, based on organisational goals.
Contextual collaboration will help to bridge the chasms that reduce productivity, such as the geographic dispersal of workers.
Because each company has unique needs and processes, the correct approach is to find the right collaboration tools for each task before embedding them into business applications.
Betsy Burton is vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, while James Lundy is managing vice president. For general enquiries please contact Gartner on + 44 (0)1784 431 611
For further information on Gartner’s forthcoming Portals, Content & Collaboration Summit, please visit www.europe.gartner.com/pcce.
Further reading from Gartner:
Dispel the Myths About Supporting Collaboration;
Use Gartner's Framework to Define a Value-Driven Collaboration Strategy;
Refocusing on Strategic Collaboration;
Identify 'Innate' Collaborators to Stimulate Change;
Determine the Business Factors That Influence Your Collaboration Strategy;
Examine the IT Factors That Influence Your Collaboration Strategy;
Evaluate Your Collaboration Maturity to Maximize Business Value;
How to Exploit Contextual Collaboration.