There’s no point in collaborating if you don’t know why you're doing it. This may seem obvious, but not enough companies think about the "why" of collaboration before rushing in to buy technology.

Collaboration changes enterprise processes. The line between traditional structured processes and unstructured processes is starting to blur. What was once structured, orderly information exchanges and processes have become unstructured information swaps that change with every new process initiated.

Why Collaborate?

Gartner VP Distinguished Analyst Janelle Hill discussed the blurring line between structured and unstructured processes and its relation to collaboration at Gartner’s Portals, Content and Collaboration Summit in London. Hill said businesses need to go back to the beginning before attempting to build a collaboration strategy. Ultimately, the purpose of collaboration is to:

  • Co-create something, a deliverable
  • Exchange information for mutual benefit
  • Be jointly responsible for achieving a goal

This impacts how information is exchanged in the enterprise, with the result that many structured processes are becoming less structured and are evolving into case management.

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Hill cited mortgage processing as an example. In the past, this would have been a simple process of approving or not approving a mortgage application. But after the economic meltdown of the past six years, banks are increasingly looking for a set of outcomes rather than a simple and single process. The move has pushed mortgage writing into the realm of case management.

Technology helps people to collaborate on projects like this on a scale never before thought possible, but the technology still should respond to basic business needs. Collaboration, Hill said, is about achieving business goals, not about collaboration for its own sake.

For successful cross business collaboration, she continued, there has to be a reasons to reach across departments or enterprise boundaries when collaborating with third parties beyond the firewall.

Learning Opportunities

Purpose Driven Collaboration 

The ultimate goal is finding the collaboration sweet spot between business purpose, individual purpose and customer purpose. Purpose is the cause around which a community will rally, she says, and while technology may help that along, without the purpose -- and planning -- it won’t work.

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There are three kinds of collaboration:

  • Mass Collaboration: The ability for a large number of people to quickly and effectively contribute to the development or evolution of an idea, artifact, process or plan of action.
  • Contextual Collaboration: The ability for people to contextually connect, communicate, share and collaborate with others within an application or specific business process
  • Extreme Collaboration: The ability for focused groups to rapidly form and apply their collective insight to resolve urgent issues regardless of boundary constraints.

How those different styles are put into action will determine how the strategies around these styles are built.

As a final thought she points out that collaboration is an activity within an operational or decision-making process as well as a social behavior. Organizations needs to choose technologies to match the collaboration style, based on the attributes of the resource interactions.