Over-sell or Under-sell -- we aren’t selling collaboration in the Cloud well... 

Many of the prime examples that are thrown about in Enterprise 2.0 circles as “the wonders of cloud collaboration” are so boring and, frankly, simple, that it’s time to realize that many organizations in the “Enterprise 2.0 industry” have both been vastly over-selling and under-selling why people should actually care.

Instead of collaboration around memos, contracts, meeting agendas and more -- which are the very simple and obvious candidates for collaboration in daily life, I’d like to talk about much more serious collaboration opportunities, which really brings home why “the cloud” significantly changes the potential scope of collaboration, both in the number of participants, and in what is being collaborated on.

The area of focus is the combination virtual world of not just online collaboration (a given), but collaboration in 3D around real 3D business objects.

Collaborative Innovation in the Real, 3D World

I recently participated in the 2-day Dassault Systemes Customer Conference (DSCC11) in Las Vegas, where discussions were focused around “Collaborative Innovation” across a wide variety of industries and powered by the 2D and 3D modeling and simulation systems that Dassault offers through brands you might recognize, such as SolidWorks. (Disclosure -- Dassault Systemes is a client of Human 1.0)

Among the many trends that have changed since the early 90s, while 2D/3D has become better, faster and cheaper -- the needs for manufacturing organizations to be able to effectively collaborate with distributed teams has increased significantly in the "flat world."

It’s not just the fact that computing power has increased while costs have decreased and that telecom costs worldwide have dropped significantly, making it possible to push much of the digital work to the lowest cost sources.

The nature of collaboration, particularly for manufacturing, has changed radically, along with these flat world changes.

While collaboration on a typical "office doc" -- across a widely distributed team and across different computing platforms -- has it’s own challenges (mostly solved, although ever improving), collaborating on 2D/3D models that involve not just employees, but suppliers, partners, customers and regulators, is an entirely different class of problem.

The Power of Models to Change the Game

Michael Schrage, in his book “Serious Play,” illustrated very aptly why 2D/3D modeling/simulations were a significant competitive advantage for Japanese auto manufacturers vs. American auto manufacturers, who stuck with clay models and full prototypes for much longer than their Japanese counterparts, with the result that they couldn’t innovate/collaborate at the same speed or quality and had a lot of catch up to do.

And while many collaboration scenarios are fairly loose in their need to meet harsh deadlines, let's hone the discussion with the real-world example of multiple companies coming together to collaborate on a literal life and death collaboration scenario: three different companies, using shared 3D models, were able to dramatically shorten the time it took to rescue the 33 Chilean miners after being trapped underground for over 69 days from the collapsed mine in late 2010.

Emergency, High-stakes Collaboration

In the fall of 2010 as the world discovered and we waited with our collective breath held, 33 miners in Chili spent the longest amount of time ever recorded underground, and what is by far the longest rescue time for any known mining accident. As it turns out, the two months of rescue work was expected to have been up to three or four months, not the 69 days it ended up as, which is where the 3D collaboration story comes to life.

While there were many factors, companies and people involved in the safe rescue of the miners, collaboration and coordination using 3D models and simulations across three companies involved in the rescue efforts was among the primary reasons the rescue time was able to be compressed to the timeframe it ultimately was.

The three companies and their roles were:

  • Aries CCV, which manufactured the robotic camera system that located the miners and confirmed they were still alive,
  • Schramm Inc. provided the multi-angle rig, which drilled the pilot hole to the mine and then widened it into an escape shaft without causing another collapse, and
  • Center Rock provided the drill bit, mounted on the Schramm rig, tunneled through the hard, abrasive Chilean rock by pounding it with rotating hammer heads, which were faster than a conventional rotary drill. Center Rock also used SolidWorks CAD and simulation software at the rescue site to improve performance and reduce failure risks.

The context of collaboration in this case is the emergency rescue efforts; the collaborators are companies who might otherwise work together, but not in such a tightly knit way. 

Underlying all three of these companies was the use of a common 3D modeling/simulation toolkit -- and by using common models, and being able to collaborate on the data pulled back from in the field use along with these models, they were able to rapidly simulate scenarios, map out what was an incredibly intricate, underground “threading the needle” operation (see the video below) that allowed the miners to be rescued in about half the time that was initially expected.

The ability to have a single “model” that everyone can reference is a significant advantage to doing distributed, collaborative innovation, particularly in an emergency such as this, where this is no time to reinvent content (the 3D models), and where room for errors from duplicated content can literally be the mistake that turns a rescue effort into a tragedy.

This is the kind of "serious collaboration" we should be all be pointing to.

It’s not just about microblogging, or sharing folders in the cloud, but real-world, real-life collaboration that could have immense implications if it fails.

To the Cloud!

At the time of the mining accident in 2010, the underlying architecture in place was not cloud-based, but as of mid-2011, partly in response to scenarios like the Chilean mine incident, and the growing realization of the engineering and product lifecycle management clients (who like their infrastructure to be proven rather than cutting edge), Dassault now offers cloud-based versions of their offerings, powered by Amazon’s cloud infrastructure, in order to remove the remaining friction and barriers to collaboration. This would have likely been able to shorten the collaboration lifecycles among the companies in this example even further -- removing hours/days from the underground entrapment of the miners.

As with most companies, the decision to move to the cloud (as *an* offering, not the only one), meant that there was significant work to be done in unifying and integrating the various platforms and applications -- a challenge I talk about as distributed convergence. But that’s a story for another article.

To close -- when you’re thinking about collaboration in the cloud -- are you thinking about the most serious problems you can solve? Or are you setting the bar too low for yourself? What opportunities are you missing out on as a result?

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading these articles by Dan Keldsen: