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…)