The pace of change from technology is speeding up. So how will 2013 be different than 2012? Will 2013 actually be the “year of collaboration?”  This is something people have been predicting every year for the last 20 years. I can remember writing articles in 1990 about “will this be the year for GroupWare?”

What I can say about 2013 is that more people are now aware of collaboration (in whatever form) and how critical it is to work. Many of my predictions are about new and sweeping technologies, but many others are about people and process. Let’s see how things play out via 10 predictions. This article just covers the first 2 predictions; the others will be in future articles.

1. Collaborative Tools for HR

My old joke about HR was that “its role was to lose resumes.” But things have changed and so is HR. Aside from the fact that talent can now be crowdsourced (BarrelofJobs, BeKnown, Simply Hired, Top Prospect, etc.) and people are using their personal networks to find candidates.

HR has to create better processes to collaborate around top talent and its acquisition, because if you found them, then someone else did also! Tools like Unrabble not only help rate candidates, but expedite the hiring process.

Then let’s take into account the mobile revolution. Collaborative tools on mobile devices are changing the way we work. Tools like Seesmic, Fuze Meeting, Soonr, Mighty Meeting and others not only support documents and content on mobile devices, but full multi-media and video conferencing.

It is now possible for a scenario like this to occur: Acme Corp needs a new widget architect. Widget architects are not that easy to find, so when the requisition comes to HR they try a variety of channels: they ask everyone in the company if they know of such a person or have worked with such a person. They then tell employees that if they or their friends help find the right widget architect, and they get hired, you will receive US$ 5000. They can use a host of tools to search for a widget architect, like on LinkedIn.

Once candidates are located they may be initially screened through a quick test on widget architecture to cull the best of the group. They are then passed into a collaborative HR system where multiple people (including the hiring manager) can interview the candidate (most anywhere through a mobile device) at whatever level of interaction they want (text to full video).

A few candidates make it through this process which may take a day or two (not weeks), since you can assume these talented widget architects have other offers. Offers are made to the candidates, and the ones that accept have been found and hired within a week.

The candidate may be on the other side of the globe and work virtually, or may fly in occasionally to work with the widget team. The whole process is documented and then stored with the candidate’s records for future use. As Andy Grove (former CEO of Intel) once said “you are either quick or dead.”

Another big change coming is thinking of people/employees as a service. I have talked about how groups of people can be a service (crowds), but this is the idea that an individual person can be a service. Or as CollabWorks puts it, a WaaS (Worker as a Service, See Figure 1) i.e., having the right worker do the right work at the right time.

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Figure 1: WaaS -- Worker as a Service; from CollabWorks

Michael Grove (backed by an all star advisory group (me included)) sees the ability to plan people capital for a task at about 80 percent and the other 20 percent (which may be unknown at the start of the project) will be from “on-demand” workers.

WaaS is a new concept which I expect we will hear more of in 2013, it is an interesting idea and helps to value both the person and what they can do in a more standard way, and then optimize that value for increased personal and organizational productivity.

Here are some characteristics of a WaaS-based organization:

  • The degree of command and control (push) organization and a customer-provider (pull) organization will vary in emphasis depending on situation and company culture.
  • Customer-provider pull organization begins with the customer and the service provider at the working level (the edge). All actual (perceived) work is described as services where each service has a provider and a customer(s), the value exchange is known, and the level of talent is known.
  • Existing services are improved or reinvented based on optimizing both the talent providing the service and the value of the service. Available talent is optimized based on the level of talent needed to provide a valued service.
  • Simple and repeated services can be externally sourced on demand.

2. 3D Printing will Change Supply Chain

Last year the only prediction I got wrong was around supply chain. I predicted that by adding in collaboration and helping to break down the silos inherent in supply chain, that supply chain would get better. I was wrong not about the idea, but rather the time it will take for this to get implemented.

This year I am starting to see other changes. What happens when an inefficient system (hundreds of years old) born of the industrial revolution meets the Internet?

The answer is that it gets disintermediated! Disintermediation is a banking term for removing the middle man and making the (financial) process more efficient. It happened to Boarders Books when Amazon was able to disintermediate them, and there are plenty of other examples. This year I think 3D printing is going to start to disintermediate the supply chain.

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Figure 2: Prosumer 3D Printer: 25 Microns, US$ 3000

The idea of 3D printing is not a new one. It has been around for about 10 years or so. Basically, it is a printer, much like the ink jet printer you have on your desktop today. However instead of using ink particles to show up on paper, it uses resins and other materials to build actual 3D objects a layer at a time.

How then does this effect supply chain? In some ways it eliminates it. It also incorporates the “personalization and customization” trend that others have commented about (and is Prediction # 9). There are already services that will, if you send them your picture, will create a protector case for your iPhone based on that picture. It does not just incorporate the picture, but the case is the picture.

Today you have to send away the picture and you get an iPhone case back in the mail. But what about when Safeway, Walmart, Costco, CVS and other large retailers (Staples has already starting to offer this service) have a 3D printer in house and you can just ship them the CAD file for the item you want and go by and pick it up?

Since there will be a lot less delivery, warehousing and shipping, I would think that UPS and FedEX should be converting their stores rapidly to start to support this trend.

(In a “Back to the Future” irony; while exploring the limits of today's 3D-printing technology, digital music tinkerer Amanda Ghassaei has come up with a technique for converting digital audio files of virtually any format into 3D-printed, 33.3 RPM records that can be played on any ordinary turntable.)

With CES going on this week, I expect to see a number of new 3D consumer oriented printers and pro-sumer desktop printers. 3D systems (DDD) is offering CubeX; a 3D printing system that sits on your desktop and is about the size of a basketball. It holds 3 different colors and can print out larger parts than current systems with 2x better accuracy and 1.5x faster … all for US$ 2500.

So as you can see the prices for this technology, even for the Prosumer are starting to drop. There are even desktop printers at about US$ 800 for the consumer.

Editor's Note: Want to catch up on some of David's predictions for 2012? Read Collaboration Predictions for 2012