Great changes are now occurring throughout organizations worldwide. New and rapidly evolving Web 2.0 networking technologies promise the next great advances in information technology and business capabilities. An increasing array of multimedia communications technologies such as virtual workspaces, social networking tools, web conferencing applications, text messaging, Internet phone services, and as-if-you-are-there video meetings are creating new possibilities for organizations to more quickly and effectively connect people, information, and knowledge communities.
As with other pivotal developments in the evolution of information technology, such as database software, email, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, organizations that are first to figure out the best ways to use these new technologies can gain a competitive edge by making profound improvements in their operations. Cisco, for example, saved US$691 million and increased productivity 4.9 percent in fiscal year 2008 by using collaboration and Web 2.0 technologies. The technology investments, which cost US$81 million to deploy, provided a 900 percent return on investment (ROI).
To be sure, new Web 2.0 collaborative technologies will be difficult to ignore. Younger employees-especially Generation Y, employees now in their twenties-and other early adopters are now bringing these networking tools into the workplace-whether the IT manager or the CEO wants them there or not. In any case, businesses will need to develop a concerted strategy to proactively manage these technologies and, ideally, develop organizational capabilities to take best advantage of them. A noninterventionist management approach will fail to gain the benefits of the full potential of these technologies while leaving companies dangerously exposed to damage from uncontrolled content and haphazard processes.
More importantly, organizations need to make use of new collaboration possibilities or face a significant competitive disadvantage. Companies that successfully adopt new collaborative processes will be able to move faster, make better decisions, draw from a deeper base of information, and more effectively operate across time and distance barriers. As is always the case in business, either you pull ahead or the competition will.
Why Is Collaboration So Important?
Collaboration is the act of people working together to reach a common goal. It involves getting the right information to the right people at the right time to make the right decision. Such well-informed and speedy decisions in turn help organizations get work done. But collaboration is much more than communication. It is the way that all the people in an enterprise function together. Better collaboration means better business operations.
By improving these capabilities with improved collaboration, organizations can increase the scale and capacity of their processes and develop new ways of doing business. Good collaborative information sharing and decision-making lead to better business results by reducing manufacturing costs, stimulating innovation, speeding time-to-market, improving product and service quality, and opening new business opportunities. Certainly, collaboration has always been fundamental to business. After all, humans are highly social animals, and by interacting with each other, we gain important information. But new pressures on businesses are making collaboration more important than ever.
In addition to economic conditions that are requiring even more cost-efficient operations, several long-term trends, including information overload (from email and its ilk), globalization, and partnering (through increased outsourcing and virtual companies), have put collaboration in the spotlight. In all these cases, various barriers (organizational, physical, and psychological) inhibit the optimum exchange of information to make decisions and get work done. Now, however, new collaboration technologies can help organizations share information and expertise in ways that simply have not been possible.
Much the way that databases revolutionized sales and marketing efforts, email transformed communications, or ERP systems remade corporate operations, new networked collaboration technologies promise to radically improve the way that people interact and share information. Unlike past IT advances, however, collaboration technologies provide a way for organizations to increase their access to the latent knowledge "stored" within employees, partners, customers, and even the broader public (which might harbor unknown experts with special insight).
It is this human element that makes Web 2.0 and social networking tools different from information technology improvements of the past. The tacit knowledge in a person's mind is much harder to capture and codify. It is complex, rapidly changing, and often a bit messy. New collaborative communications tools, including blogs, virtual workspaces, wikis, desktop video, telepresence conferences, web conferencing, presence communications, and instant messaging, offer new ways to tap such crucial information.
But using these new tools to create a more collaborative enterprise is not an easy task. Deploying the technology is only one part of the process. Moving from experimental, impromptu use of social networking capabilities to strategic, companywide implementation requires close attention to cultural and procedural changes throughout an organization.