Decoding "Collaboration" for Realistic Decision Making
Understanding the categories of collaboration, such as the three offered here, will help in defining the types of UC and collaboration tools needed for your business.
Buzzwords are so much fun. "Collaboration" is certainly one of the latest with everything, with a hint of communication being called collaboration. Given the season and the usual nature of holiday gatherings, perhaps this should start by wishing you all, "Happy/Merry Collaboration and a Prosperous New Year."
Seriously, though, the buzzwords don't help you build your Unified Communication roadmap. Usually, that takes a bit more definition, some degree of business value analysis, and a modicum of justification. Having been a student of collaboration as a business function for at least a dozen years, with several recent posts on the topic, here is a suggested categorization of collaboration to help you with your road map and investment plans.
Basic: Collaboration is a generic activity of information workers who interact with others to get information or resources or to discuss ideas or projects. Usually, no structure is required for basic collaboration, just tools to allow the communication to occur efficiently. This is really well served by what we call UC-User Productivity or UC-U. The essential functionality for this purpose is easy access to available people (presence; click-to-communicate via IM, Call, Share, Video; mobile access features). So, in the basic case, there’s little modification to the core Unified Communications feature set. Use of social media tools for collaboration is usually, though not always, in this basic category.
Role-Based: Collaboration as a business function relevant to a role or job. For examples, managers usually need to hold meetings with their employees; sales or professional services personnel may want to bring experts into IM chats or into a conference call with a customer or prospect. In addition to the basic functionality above, users will want more structured, though still easy-to-use, tools for meetings both within and external to the enterprise; they may also want to record these meetings and to use desktop or application sharing more frequently to communicate ideas or facts. These capabilities are pretty well defined by the application category known as conferencing, whether voice, web or video. In many cases, there is also a need for an information repository or shared workspace, using enterprise tools such as Microsoft SharePoint, IBM Quickr, or dozens of other collaboration products; in those cases, the communications tools are being built into, or tightly integrated with, those collaborative workspaces.
Process-based: Collaboration as a specific business process step that needs to be repeatable, measurable, auditable, consistent, or otherwise managed to achieve a specific outcome. Many examples already exist of communications built into the business application software to support or ensure the effective completion of the process, as illustrated by the AppExchange at Salesforce.com (239 "collaboration apps including 21 for “telephony”). Now, this is happening in specific collaborative tasks such as medical consultations, financial services consultations, product development projects, construction projects, and many similar collaboration-based processes. Also, many collaboration-based processes are appearing in the published case studies of Communications-enabled Business Processes (CEBP).
Understanding the categories of collaboration, such as the three offered here, will help in defining the types of UC and collaboration tools needed for your business. Also, associating the specific collaborative tasks with the use cases and roles in your enterprise will help determine the scope of the investments and deployments: The inexpensive tools need for everyone (which may be the best approach for basic collaboration); or the more complex tools needed for only those employees or customers or partners who participate in that specific process.
What is your view on collaboration? Please post a comment below.