Communication and collaboration are more critical than ever in today’s enterprise, and as collaborative applications continue to advance, new themes are evolving that challenge the way companies traditionally operate. These themes include:
- Borderless enterprises – in the past, companies viewed themselves as siloed entities, with a unique enterprise perimeter meant to isolate external and internal operations. However, working across corporate firewalls is business-critical today as enterprises look to expand their global and inter-company value chains and achieve competitive advantage.
- Workplace mobility – the world’s mobile workforce will exceed one billion workers in 2011 and grow by 2013 to nearly 1.2 billion, more than a third of the world’s workforce. The expectation that enterprise information and collaborative tools are accessible to workers, regardless of location, is changing the workplace culture’s reliance on physical offices.
- Consumerisation of IT – the proliferation of consumer technology in the workplace has spawned a new age of ubiquitous participation. Web 2.0 tools that were once common only in the consumer space have found their way into the enterprise, often without the consent of IT. These tools are changing how information is created, published and consumed, while introducing new privacy and security challenges for CIOs.
- Information proliferation – by 2020 digital data will grow to 35 trillion gigabytes, almost 50 times more than it was in 2009. Since the vast majority of this data is unstructured, determining how to manage, locate, and use it effectively becomes a significant challenge.
To take advantage of the opportunities presented by this new communications environment, companies must adopt a holistic architectural approach that focuses on aligning IT with the needs of the business. Successful collaboration initiatives require:
- Clear strategies based on business imperatives, not technology;
- Architectural frameworks that evolve with the needs of the organisation;
- An analysis and understanding of the cultural considerations that can affect adoption;
- Defined approaches for governance.
For CxOs, this is a call to rethink business models, processes and cultures and for CIOs in particular, this represents a unique opportunity to transform the role of IT in the enterprise. By developing a business-led strategy and accompanying architecture with stakeholders across corporate communications, human resources, finance, sales, and other departments, IT can evolve from a service-oriented cost centre to a strategic partner that delivers long-term business value to the organisation.
Considerations for collaboration
Collaboration is unique in its potential to affect every employee, business partner and customer. Although recent advances in collaborative technologies have brought an increased awareness and focus to the discipline, collaboration existed long before personal computers, smartphones, and video solutions entered the workplace. However, today’s environment provides an extraordinary opportunity to re-evaluate and transform the ways in which enterprises collaborate.
Collaboration is much more than just a technical architecture, solution or product; it is the transformational experience that integrates people, processes and technology. It is the catalyst for evolving from merely using technology to rethinking business models, changing processes and evolving working cultures. As a result, a holistic collaboration strategy and architecture must account for and address not only the technology, but also the effect those solutions will have on a company’s processes and culture.
Successful collaboration is not a ‘one size fits all’ proposition. Strategies and architectural solutions must be sufficiently flexible to account for the unique communication and collaboration needs of both internal staff, such as executives, sales and knowledge workers, and external partners such as customers, suppliers and contractors. For example, a highly mobile sales force is likely to have a different collaboration profile than traditional office-bound workers. Companies should therefore consider the complexities within their given industry. For example, collaborative solutions that are effective within media and entertainment enterprises might have minimal relevance within the highly-regulated world of financial services. However, best practices that have been established within one industry can be adapted and applied to another.
End-user adoption is the primary indicator of collaboration success. Successful collaboration relies on the ‘network effect’; before a collaboration tool can deliver value, it must have active participants. However, without a clear alignment to business imperatives and objectives, collaborative technologies risk becoming isolated silos of functionality. Moreover, if only individual employees or departments use it, the anticipated benefits simply won’t be achieved.
Developing a collaboration strategy
A collaboration strategy promotes the alignment of applications, services, devices, and content into a cohesive, unified architecture that optimises business and organisational processes and facilitates innovation. Enterprise organisations should orient the strategy toward a business-centric focus, allowing business requirements, not technology, to define collaboration initiatives.
Business factors such as borderless enterprises, workplace mobility, the consumerisation of IT and the massive proliferation of information are placing transformational pressures on companies. Success depends on aligning business and IT objectives through a comprehensive, strategic approach.
Gartner forecasts that during 2012 more than 70 per cent of IT-influenced social media collaboration initiatives will fail. Business requirements, not technology, shape successful collaboration initiatives. As collaboration becomes increasingly strategic to overall enterprise success, IT companies must move from deploying technology to deploying business-relevant technology solutions.
This shift demands that stakeholders from across the organisation align to develop a cohesive collaboration vision that emphasizes capabilities, not products.
Mark Johnson is managing director for ConvergeOne.