Collaboration in your business?

26 01 2010

After doing my usual scouting around blogs and discussions, I noticed that there are quite a few people not grasping what Collaboration is, and more to the point wondering who would take responsibility, or be a business sponsor if you like, of collaboration within an organisation…

So what is Collaboration?

Well let’s not get caught up in too many definitions here. Basically Collaboration is a way of working together to achieve a similar (or the same) goal, be it individuals within a department, departments within an organisation, or organisations with other organisations. For me a big “No No” is thinking of collaboration as a set of “tools” or “workspaces” such as wikis and blogs. I think of Collaboration as a group of many different elements, each element being made up of a particular tool or technology… So let’s work on the basis that Collaboration is a goal and a way of working, which may well utilise many tools and multiple mediums.

How do I understand Collaboration in my organisation?

Like many questions / problems I find it best to break down Collaboration in this sense into smaller chunks or in this case, categories. By understanding each category and what it is, we can soon start to grasp where collaboration occurs currently in an organisation and also start to understand what it can do within an organisation (also – sometimes more importantly – start to assign a business owner to collaboration)

Messaging Collaboration: Think of how messages get sent around your organisation. Typically you will use eMail, but messaging collaboration also includes instant messaging and SMS texting for example. This type of collaboration can lead to some rather bad practices – such as multiple large attachments embedded within emails, massive Cc and BCc lists in an email etc.

Content Collaboration: Think of working in a group to put together and create a word document – say a contract or proposal for example. ECM is a great example of a tool within this type of Collaboration,  allowing multiple people to work on single files, providing annotations, and generating multiple versions, all working to get to the goal of a “Published / released” version

Conversation Collaboration: Think conversations you may have between individuals within an organisation – especially those that are spread geographically across the country or the world. You can also lump into this form of Collaboration certain forms of Social media. Tools within this form of collaboration include micro-blogging, blogging, wikis, instant messaging.

Business Process Collaboration: Think people working together within a business process to complete “work”. In essence, true workflow and BPM is a form of collaboration as it brings people / departments / organisations together to complete the workstream. However, you can also collaborate at singular steps within a process to move the process along or deal with exceptions. BPM can pull in other forms of Collaboration quickly at this point – such as messaging, conversation and content – just to process a piece of work more efficiently.

Collaboration Management: Think sharing calendars and workspaces. This type of collaboration is ensuring people are free to collaborate at a particular time.

Now that you can understand the different components of Collaboration – you can quickly see that your organisation already uses a number of collaboration tools and elements.

Using collaboration more effectively

This is where tools for that are good for a particular form of collaboration help. Obviously collaboration goes on every second of every day within your business in some form or another. The trick is to make collaboration on a particular piece of work / topic easier to occur and manage. This means you need a good and clear strategy on how you wish to use collaboration within your organisation, more importantly where do you see collaboration taking place and how does it take place. Once you have done this your business can start to identify tools that are easy to integrate into other areas of your business – so pick an instant messaging tool that potentially can be added to your BPM software. Far too often organisations end up with a multitude of collaboration tools, many of which do the same job and are costing the organisation a fair few pounds and pennies in licensing…

 Identifying a singular business owner as such is tough. I think it is better to identify as many business owners as possible and bring them together in a “steering” type group. After all, with Collaboration your business professionals must collaborate with your IT professionals to ensure Collaboration is a success…(oohh the irony…)

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Wiki or Document Management / ECM?

22 05 2009

Yesterday I was asked if a company has both a Wiki solution and a document management repository, how does that organisation decide which is used for what? It’s a good question, as there are some areas of overlapping, but I feel once you define what the actual content is, its accessibility needs and above all security requirements, you should be able to decide where it goes.

For the Wiki…

Ok, so what content would I place in a Wiki. Well first off, let’s remember that typically a wiki is open to everyone (within that organisation) and as such, any one member can update it. Wiki’s are very “loose” though often are somewhat limited to what content medium you can store in them and access easily. One of the selling points of a wiki is the fact that anyone can contribute to its upkeep, ensuring that the information is kept up to date and correct. Typically a wiki stores electronic content as web pages or displays stored content as web pages.

So what would I place in my organisations wiki?

Firstly, content that is always changing and that I don’t need to version control.

Secondly, content that is not to be released outside of the organisation.

So what examples do we have to make this a “real world” and “useful” blog post. (I do hate it when all you get is examples that just don’t work in the real world!). Ok, well the obvious one is a glossary. But I want to build on this. Think of your glossary as not just a glossary of terms or definitions, rather than a glossary of everything that is going on within your organisation or is useful to staff members. When you think like this, a glossary could consist of case studies, internal updates, information on particular departments, certain process guidelines, good practices, information on certain places to eat your lunch, staff events, suppliers used, reviews etc. etc.

Would I place “physical documents” in a wiki, electronic or other….The simple answer is no. Only place content in a wiki, if that makes sense, not the actual document from which it came from. Once you place physical documents in a wiki you loose that fluid nature in which a wiki is used by users, and you will find it hard to locate that document in the wiki.

Always remember security of your content. If that content needs to be managed or restricted, then it should not be in the wiki, simple as that. If it requires to meet some compliancy guidelines, then again, it has no place in the wiki.

For the document management repository…

Ahh, well with a document management repository or ECM solution, you have a platform geared to supporting a wider range of content types. You also have far greater control over accessibility, delivery, versioning and retention periods. All access and activity can be recorded, but each user has to be identified, either via dedicate security within the document management solution, or integrated windows security for example. This means access and privileges are always governed by a member of staffs individual security access rights, so not everyone can view or update this content.

So what am I to place in my repository?

Firstly, any public facing or external documents need to be controlled and the original versions kept. This applies to both electronic documents and scanned images. You must must must always keep the original and have quick access to these.

Secondly, content that requires a version trail. If it is going to be updated and or has a lifecycle (by this I mean it goes through iterations of drafts, releases, publications etc.) then again, you need this in your document management repository. Ideally you will be able to access any version of a particular piece of content (document in this case) and have the ability to “roll back” to that version.

Thirdly, you require some form of classification of particular types of documents. Typically this is to help identify and find those documents based on particular types of meta-data and actual meta-data value. You can also still retrieve certain files based on their content, however for scanned images etc. this sometimes can be tricky and require a deeper level of document capture and retrieval sophistication. For me, you should always be able to find your files based on meta-data value, if not, something isn’t quite right…

Fourthly, your files have a retention period. This could be based on the type of content you are storing, so in some cases you may require to keep a content / document for several years, after which it must be deleted.

In short…

Use a wiki for pure content that requires no level of security and maximum levels of accessibility. Use a document management / ECM system for everything else…..