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April 4, 2007

Collaboration – making it easy with IT

Introducing collaborative processes into an organization may not be easy without the enabling or supporting technology. A collaborative approach changes how people relate to each other and people tend to resist change. Therefore, a collaborative culture cannot be forced on staff, and must be delivered in a way that allows them to become converts after experiencing the benefits for themselves.

By CBR Staff Writer

Collaboration is what makes a community, and allows information and knowledge to be exchanged within that community. It enables organizations to exploit their knowledge capital to the full, to learn from their collective experience, and not repeat past mistakes.

People need time to collaborate, as well as an appropriate space and environment in which to collaborate. These needs are addressed by an array of collaboration software tools that come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the humble peer-to-peer-based freeware for presence detection and instant messaging (IM) on the desktop, to enterprise-wide content management solutions that deliver shared workspaces with end-to-end collaboration functionality.

Typical capabilities of those include tools for managing project-related communication, project document sharing, automatic version control, workflow and processes for change and approvals, support for subscriptions to project-related discussion forums and more.

These IT-based tools, if implemented effectively, allow collaboration to be built into everyday business processes, and carried out with the minimum of effort. Collaboration tools can and must deliver simple user experiences, no matter how complex the implementation and the background processes are. For example, setting up a collaborative project workspace can be as easy as setting up a new folder to hold documents related to the project, and setting up permissions for the project team to access it.

The simple end-user experiences allow the development of a collaborative culture to take place in a low-key way, with only small changes to routine. The tools provide the rest of the functionality, e.g. version control applied automatically with subsequent alerts and notifications about changes and updates sent via email to all team members. The benefits experienced by users would be better team communication, more accessible project information, improved processes, and an audit trail of approvals around critical milestones. When these benefits are there for all to see and are easy to reach, then achieving wider adoption should be straightforward.

Cultural shift, and the management of it, as we know, represent the most difficult and troublesome kind of change to effect in the corporate world. Fortunately, users’ home computing experience of IM, and web 2.0 technologies such as social and community-oriented websites, wikis, blogs, webcasts, and podcasts is already changing attitudes towards collaboration. Organizations can build on this foundation by using technology to make collaboration easy and fun.

Collaboration is more than just a process to avoid duplication of effort; it must become part of everyday processes rather than an add-on. Moreover, collaboration can contribute to an overall information management strategy to share information, and, at the same time, benefit from its accessibility.

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As the issues surrounding collaboration continue to climb higher up the corporate agenda, more and more users will become involved in various forms of project-related communities and workspaces. This will be a key force in increasing the uptake of collaboration tools, and could amplify the effectiveness of collaborative workspaces. As a consequence, vendors will increasingly put explicit collaboration functionality into their products, helping it become a reality that is facilitated by IT.

Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (

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