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Current Causes of Communication & Collaboration Complexity and Chaos

My previous post included an overview of a new communication/collaboration framework focused on channels for communication, workspaces for collaboration, and contextual communication/collaboration.  Today's post summarizes some of the key reasons why the intuitive simplicity of the channels/workspaces/context framework has yet to become mainstream reality (but will soon, as I’ll explain in my next few posts).

One key cause stems from the fact that historically popular communication/collaboration products have been costly, complex, and closed (generally proprietary, e.g., often predating related industry standards such as SIP).  Many of the leading products have also been targeted at enterprise deployments, making them inappropriate (in terms of administrative complexity and/or economics) for small- to medium-sized businesses or departmental deployments.

A second cause of current communication/collaboration complexity and chaos is the result of often artificial, arbitrary, and counterproductive boundaries among tools focused on communication, collaboration, and content management.  Many enterprises have distinct tools (and corresponding support teams) for enterprise messaging, real-time communication, collaboration, content management, web content management, and document management, for example, along with significant challenges in integrating resources managed by the disparate tools.

The explosive growth in channels and workspaces, in terms of both type and volume, is another problem source.  Most information workers spend inordinate amounts of time processing email channels, for example, and email’s expansion has coincided with a variety of challenges (spam, viruses, and other security and privacy problems) that have made it far less effective as a communication channel. 

There has also been growth in what might be considered “good-enough,” often Internet-based alternatives such as blogs and wikis.  Blogs are powerful communication channels, while wikis are compelling and lightweight, content-focused collaborative workspaces.  Both tool types emerged in part to address historical limitations in earlier alternatives, being generally simpler and less expensive, for example.  For many people, however, blogs and wikis aren’t an entirely welcome advance, as they add to the already overwhelming number of channels and workspaces that must be routinely tracked.

Significant product strategy changes among the leading incumbent communication/collaboration vendors have also contributed to the complexity and chaos.  IBM and Microsoft have both made major changes to their respective product lines during the last few years, and while the changes are ultimately beneficial (resulting in simpler, more powerful, and often more cost-effective products), they have also been disruptive. 

IBM Lotus Notes/Domino had something of an existential crisis several years ago, for example, with IBM strongly suggesting Notes/Domino was to be retired in favor of its new Workplace product family, although IBM has since clarified the role of Notes/Domino in its evolving Workplace product line.  Microsoft also made several disruptive changes, such as quietly abandoning the failed instant messaging, web conferencing, and workflow-oriented features it introduced with Exchange Server 2000, and introducing new products such as Live Meeting and Live Communication Server to fill the Exchange collaboration void.

Ineffective etiquette and incentive systems are also longstanding causes of communication/collaboration chaos and complexity.  If individuals work within organizations that aren’t conducive to effective communication/collaboration, they’re likely to revert to lowest-common-denominator alternatives such as email messages with file attachments, phone, instant messaging, and fax – even when doing so exposes companies to security and regulatory compliance risks.

Fortunately, the new communication/collaboration framework, driven by several related market trends, is effectively addressing many of the historical challenges.  I’ll highlight some of the most important trends in my next few posts.

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