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3/31/2006
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The Long Hard Road to the Collaborative Business Environment

My column "Has Time Stood Still?" generated significant reader feedback.  I used to believe that I was the only one in the room who would say that the emperor is naked.  Sometimes that role gets lonely.  Happily, as one reader confirms, I find that I am not alone.

One reader, a manager at a company in the collaborative business knowledge market supersegment, wrote the following (reprinted with permission):

"Jonathan, your comments this week in 'Has Time Stood Still' started me thinking about a lot of things.

As a collaboration-oriented person, I always thought expenditures on collaboration technologies would exceed expenditures for ERP software. Why would smart businesspeople pay billions for software that provides no competitive advantage while ignoring technologies that make it easier, better, faster to gain customers and work with them? Obviously, this view has been dead wrong for the last 15 years.

After years of working with Lotus Notes, portals, Groove and Microsoft collaboration products, it is strikingly evident that collaboration tools must be delivered in existing products or they become cumbersome or useless to most information workers.  Collaboration must be a product feature not a product category.  The world is realizing that team productivity is more important than personal productivity and that this is a competitive advantage.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out, very interesting.

I have come to realize, it is just a fact of life - everyone hates a new collaboration tool, although no one denies the underlying premise of value to the organization.  IT hates collaboration tools because they are expensive, challenging to implement, hard to get people to use, and earlier attempts were unsuccessful; they roll their eyes when you say "this time it will be different."  Line-of-business users hate collaboration because the technology they have doesn't work that well, they don't have time to learn anything new, most tools get abandoned in weeks or months and unless everyone jumps on it is of limited value (how effective would e-mail be if only 50 people used it?).

The key is to deliver collaboration capabilities to the products that people use today adding a strong carrot (increase personal and team productivity) and a strong stick (use it or else).  This improves all the time because the cultural dynamics of information sharing lends itself to a "sharing is power" dynamic that underlies many internet technologies and social networks, but it has been a long hard road."

I used to believe that I was the only one in the room who would say that the emperor is naked.  Sometimes that role gets lonely.  Happily, as this reader confirms, I now find that I am not alone.

One of the reasons that collaboration tools are such a hard sell is that our management science is still steeped in the thinking of the industrial age; ERP makes sense but collaboration does not.

We'll continue this discussion in the coming weeks.  But what do you think?  Let me know how your organization reacts to new collaboration tools.  E-mail me at jbscoloop@basex.com.

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