ibm_logo_2010.jpg Every year, IBM produces a number of reports that gauge how the market for different elements of IT is changing. One of the more useful ones is the study of midmarket CEOs and what they are doing in the IT space. This year, the study shows, they are doing collaboration and mobility.

There’s nothing really dramatic here, but it does underline two trends that have been developing over the past 12 months at a furious rate in all information-based areas of software: Mobility and collaboration

Mobile Workers, Strategy

In fact, only two weeks ago, at the Advanced Intranet and Portals conference in Amsterdam, we saw that, almost without exception, mobility was identified as the trend of the near future with mobile collaboration one of the big “must haves” of many mid and large sized enterprises.

Of course, there is anecdotal evidence that these are trends that have been well established for a long time among workers who spend a lot of time on the road. Using their own devices, they were doing work on the road as well as collaborating with colleagues and customers.

What’s different now is that these two trends appear to be institutionalized, and this report appears to bear that out. Mobility and collaboration are not just accidents -- they are part of company policy.

Collaborative Workplace

It is impossible here to tackle the full report in detail, but there are some interesting crumbs that we should point out. Entitled Midmarket Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study, it says that compared to the similar research carried out for last year’s report, twice as many CEOs see creating a more collaborative work environment as a top priority.

Again, looking at enterprises in the mid-market, this looks like CEOs trying to get on top of something that is already happening under their noses, rather than a forward-thinking strategy, but that’s just a personal observation.

And IBM has some figures to back this up. It cites 45% of midmarket CEOs seeing the need to create a more open business environment, and -- and this figure is really interesting -- 70% of mid-market CEOs aim to partner extensively with other companies as external relationships will pay a more critical role in business strategy.

Social, Collaborative Business

You can just feel the words social networking, social media, social collaboration and social business coming on here. And that does, in fact, appear to be where CEOs are looking to go.

  • 64% of midmarket CEOs are focused on creating a more collaborative environment to engage employees with a new way of making faster and better decisions in an increasingly changing business environment.
  • 71% are focused on improving their understanding of individual customer needs. Did someone say analytics?

The report cites Facebook, Renren, Twitter, Weibo and Foursquare and even lesser-known social tools as being responsible for a dramatic change in the way companies are working and how services and products are being marketed to customers.

However -- and there’s always a "but" in these reports -- only 15% of CEOs are currently using any social media platforms to connect with individual customers, indicating a market that is still only developing and far from mature. In five years’ time, the report says, this figure will be closer to 50%.

Midmarket CEOs looking into the future want technology not only to make them more efficient but also to enable increased collaboration and create relationships -- essential connections to fuel creativity.

But a collaborative business culture is not just a question of individual employees collaborating with colleagues or customers.

Collaboration is going to become a core business principal incorporated into business strategy by a large number of companies.

Business complexity, rising competition and geographical diversity are cited as factors that are pushing this; companies that are perceived to be collaborative often find it easier to partner with other successful companies.

In fact, about 50% of midmarket CEOs see partnering or collaborating as a way to stay on the path of innovation.

Collaboration Skills

Another interesting set of figures that this report threw up are the personal skills need to be an effective collaborator. While the technology has to be good, so do the employees that use it.

CEOs said they are increasingly focused on employees who can constantly reinvent themselves; they are employees that are comfortable with change and learn by interacting with others.

  • Interpersonal collaboration skills (72%)
  • Communication (68%)
  • Creativity (58%)
  • Flexibility (66%)

Mobility as a Change Agent

Mobile commerce is expect to be worth in the region of US$ 31 billion by 2016, and companies that are going to be successful are going to have to start responding to the challenges of mobility now.

The report shows that mobility is changing customer expectations companies need to be able to respond with relevant services and information in the context of the moment.

And there it is again. Over the past few weeks we’ve come across the issue of content in context so many times that we can hardly remember a time when weren’t talking about content in context.

But that’s just the point. Content was always about context; it’s just that now content is mobile and companies are going to have to build that into their content management strategy. How to provide the right information to right person in the right place at the right time really is the rising challenge.

The report looks at many other issues around the role of the CEO in the IT-enabled workplace and how they respond to the challenges, and knowing the challenges is the first and most important challenge of all.