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Unified Communication and Collaboration in the 2.0 Enterprise

This has been "Collaboration Week" for me, with participation at Enterprise 2.0 in Boston (a production of TechWeb, which also produces VoiceCon), and at two IBM-sponsored customer seminars on the topic of Collaboration 2.0. There are some pretty important themes stemming from these events that provide insight to the future of business communications for many knowledge-based jobs and related enterprise processes. There are some evolutionary links with UC, too.I'll offer Wikipedia's definition to get started: Collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together (for) intersection of common goals--for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature - by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. The emphasis, for me, is on recursive, intellectual process, sharing, learning and building consensus. Let's proceed from there.

The Enterprise 2.0 Conference highlights the progress in collaborative tools. Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Quickr are leading collaborative workspace examples, along with enterprise portals for process-based collaboration, both within the enterprise and with external customers and partners.

Social networking shows up as an enriching element of collaboration, enabling willing participants to find, be found and communicate; Lotus Connections, Twitter, Facebook, Google and others receive plenty of mention in this category.

The IBM seminar highlights a continuum across three types of collaboration: Ad Hoc, Activity Centric and Formal. Ad hoc is collaboration that occurs at a moment of opportunity as one person seeks advice, information, confirmation or network building with another, usually in presence-based directories or social network settings.

Activity Centric collaboration focuses on the steps that occur in a business activity, but on an episodic basis more than in a formal process, e.g. when a development engineer needs to collaborate with the product manager to clarify customer preferences. The collaboration could take many forms, from a live conversation, to a blog or wiki post, to a presence-driven IM or Group Chat.

Formal collaboration is the stuff of enterprise portals and embedded communications, delivering both optimized and standardized workflows with self-documenting features for compliance and audit purposes. HR hiring processes and health care physician consultations are two good examples.

The "2.0" element is visible throughout this topic, as the products and services increasingly support "mash-ups" of information and tools for fast creation of purpose-centric interfaces. Also, users can typically reconfigure their environment and incorporate widgets and gadgets to match their personal preferences.

So, how will all these collaboration solutions intersect with UC? For the advanced knowledge workers, who "live" in collaborative processes, we will see "communications integrated to optimize (collaborative) business processes," our definition of UC. Certainly, this is happening already in SharePoint, Quickr and Connections, as well as in Cisco's WebEx Connect.

Also, it looks like the collaboration tools will deliver more of a continuous communications model that blends a real-time and near-time mix of blogs, wikis, feeds, social spaces, group chat and click-to-communicate with traditional communication tools such as audio/video conferences, meetings, e-mail messages and memos. Despite the many examples of voice and video conferencing systems being touted as collaboration platforms, it seems more likely that conference calls will be a need-based element of Activity-based or Formal collaborative processes, primarily for milestone meetings or similar coordinating events.

What might all of this mean for us? In the past ten years, communications suppliers were often asked about integration of their products with mail, contacts and calendars in Exchange or Domino; in the next ten years, expect integration with collaborative workspaces and social networks, too. Just continues the interoperability theme raised in last week's UC eWeekly.

Might be interesting to see some collaborative integration between VoiceCon and Enterprise 2.0? So, what do you think about this entire collaboration topic? Please let me know at [email protected].