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Seeing Collaboration as Competitive Advantage

Enterprise IT professionals tell us the importance of team collaboration will be increasing over the next 24 months. Clearly, vast supplies of content and data are driving the trend, as these same IT professionals also ranked the importance of email ahead of audioconferencing and telephony. When visual artifact ranks ahead of real-time audio, you know a paradigm shift in workplace communications is well underway and preparation for a more collaborative future is at hand.

Teamwork is transforming, whether that's at the office, in a connected office, or with collaborators working from home or abroad. With a workforce increasingly decentralized, and increasingly specialized as business processes become more complex, the need for clear and concise communications among co-workers is paramount.

For many of us, our work medium is largely digital and screen-based; our output is locked in myriad documents, platforms, databases, dashboards, process systems, platforms, videos, and live-stream monitoring. IBM is among those forecasting exponential growth of structured and unstructured data as important factors in the decision-making process for most business problems. No wonder front-line IT professionals are spotting the need for superior collaboration technologies that can operate in this evolving digital soup.

So how do we address this?

First, recognize that visual processing can unite all of this disparate data.

Pixels can be the common language. That humans are visually wired is well known; 70% of our brain's receptors are in our eyes. Our individual computing devices have been capitalizing on this fact since the invention of the graphical user interface. But our collaborative ones have lagged behind.

It's time to demand more from collaborative technologies, and to allocate sufficient pixel space and bandwidth to the task of superior visual communication. When the collaboration process activates visual capabilities, we see elevated levels of engagement, an accelerated pace of understanding, and increased insight.

Second, be clear on definitions and priorities. If you let technology vendors define "collaboration," then your view may end up being lopsided: either document sharing, or whiteboard scribbling, or webcasting, or cloud archiving, or teleconferencing, or perhaps a combination of things. What you mostly don't get, though, is focus on what people in groups are trying to accomplish together in real time. The humans -- those who will find digital facilitation beneficial to the process of working together -- should be the priority. Productivity is the goal, so consider these parameters:

  1. Define collaboration with collaborators in mind. Study workgroups. What challenges are they having communicating and collaborating? Where are team members located? How fluid are their sessions? In what sized teams is the real work getting done? Does everyone have equal voice and ability to contribute? Is technology disrupting or enhancing collaborative flow?
  2. Look at the collaboration tools from the perspective of the collaborators. Can everyone find and see what they need? How simple and obvious are tasks such as activating voice, video, and, most importantly, content streams? Must collaborators work serially, or can they work in parallel? Can they actively participate simultaneously? Can collaborators easily access the content and data from a variety of sources and locations? Are all favored device platforms supported? Can they see all the things they need to see together at once? Can they leave work in progress and come back to it without losing valuable information or momentum?
  3. Look at the collaboration tools in the context of organization. Is the tool flexible enough to meet the demands of various workgroups and verticals? Can it host group needs and visual content streams from a wide range of sources? Does it flex to meet various requirements (known and unknown) for architectural space? Can it adapt to evolutions in devices, platforms, codecs, and hardware? Are cloud security issues a concern? Is the UI simplified, streamlined, and obvious so anyone can partake, or does it require special guidance or concierge service?

Of course this list isn't exhaustive, but you can see where it's headed: When a visual, true collaborative capability is a priority, great gains in engagement and, therefore, productivity are at hand. Your workforce creates additional value. When the organization understands that teams of all sizes and make-ups -- from small strike teams to multi-site workgroups and from remote collaborators to C-suite executives -- will benefit from unbridled visual collaboration, competitive advantage is within reach.