Quick-witted Oscar Wilde coined the famous phrase "As soon as a truth becomes a fact, it loses all intellectual value". Philosophers have been discussing the principle of "intuitive certainty" over the ages, and interestingly many of the things at the very core of our knowledge rely on belief and intuition rather than ultimate fact. Collaboration in the enterprise, in my opinion, to this day mostly falls into the realm of things we intuitively feel are beneficial: employees and partners and customers communicating in more effective ways must ultimately be of significant benefit given the changing nature of business, right? But often it is hard to prove the point with strict metrics.
I think that may now be changing: Forrester Consulting conducted a study aptly titled "The Right Collaboration Architecture Drives Business Transformation") that analyzed the benefits of collaboration in the enterprise. CIOs and Enterprise Architects got a chance to share their experiences around exisiting, recent investments in collaboration technologies (such as Unified Communications or TelePresence), but they also talked extensively about their expectations around future collaboration technologies (such as Enterprise Social Software or collaborative mashup tools). The study captures the excitement around the immense potential benefits of collaboration technology: Let's face it, when over 70% of IT strategists state that they expect collaboration technology to significantly cut decision making time and improve productivity, we are now moving away from intuitively perceiving the benefit of investing in collaboration: what we have is a metric that shows that companies that are not looking into a strategic collaboration architecture are doing so at their own peril.
But we also need be aware of the fact that there are risks in charging ahead and hastily implementing new collaboration technologies in the enterprise. The main risk is that enterprises may regard collaboration as a simple continuation of their voice communication strategy. Voice, while always a strategic business tool, in most cases (call center applications aside) has been implemented as a parallel silo: in essence, enterprise users rely on their computers to interface (and log compliance) with enterprise workflows, and on their phones when it comes to quickly reaching out to and involving other participants. And the latter very seldom is captured by the formal workflow. But as we talk about a far richer set of collaboration tools in the future, there will be 2 critical factors for success: first of all, we can not implement every new collaboration technology as a new communication silo, meaning that we can not leave it to users to reconcile all these new tools, we can not expect users to learn how to put them to the best possible business use. Which leads to the second point: a cohesive collaboration architecture is required, an architecture with the ability to smoothly integrate a wide array of collaboration technologies, to deliver on user and device friendly interfaces, and to also offer key capabilities as reusable services that can be integrated (i.e. "mashed") into other enterprise applications.
Forrester Consulting's claim -implied in the title of the study -that only the right collaboration architecture will deliver on the desired busines benefits for enterprises may sound self-serving at first, potentially resulting in monolithic collaboration suites and huge consulting projects. But it is of vital importance that enterprises consider collaboration as a pillar of their enterprise architecture, and thus strategize and deploy accordingly. The right collaboration architecture is nimble, modular, extensible. And the right collaboration architecture must include a critical resource that has often been neglected in enterprise architecture: the network. The network has become the sensory system of the emerging enterprise: among other things, it reaches everywhere, it instantly and reliably detects location, status and can link these to identity information, and the network by its very nature is a perfect mediator that breaks down silos. Our Cisco version of the resulting collaboration architecture is here.
It is going to be a fascinating journey indeed as we transform key business processes with emerging collaboration capabilities. What are you seeing in your enterprise? Do you suffer from collaboration silos? Have you successfully begun to craft a more comprehensive collaboration strategy? Does the the architectural model that Forrester suggests work for you, or would you suggest changes?
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