Business Collaboration Brings Together People and Technology
March 17, 2011


In today’s competitive environment, people working in collaboration can make the difference between a company’s success or failure. But hitting “reply to all” on an e-mail chain isn’t the kind of collaboration I’m talking about. Neither is managing your employee and business communications with cups connected by string and Ouija boards.

I’m talking about true business collaboration – bringing together people and technology to increase productivity and performance for competitive advantage. New benchmark research on this topic is forthcoming from us this year, and we’re pretty excited about it. This post is the first in a series of perspectives and vendor reviews discussing the business collaboration movement, tools and resources which my colleague pointed out is one of the five business technology innovations.

I know that “bringing together people and technology” sounds like marketing spin, but the reality is that business today requires us to communicate and collaborate via a variety of tools and services, including e-mail, phone, instant messaging, video chat, the social Big Three (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), other online networks, webinars, podcasts, blogs, wikis, the company intranet – and even face to face from time to time. And to do this of course we use land lines, cell phones, smartphones, tablet computers, laptop computers, desktop computers, the Internet and the magic of cloud computing.

But even with all this technology available, there are disconnects. Many of us are still operating in the technological Dark Ages, using tools designed two to three decades ago for electronic mail and messaging, while at the same time the virtual workforce and global mobility are far beyond what they’ve ever been before. IT standards and efforts to manage the use of technology for business communications have collapsed under the massive proliferation of new mobile devices and free collaboration software.

The tech changes have been crazy-fast, so don’t blink. But in business, not so much. While the technology to support modern, electronic business collaboration is increasingly usable and available, organizations are challenged to figure out where to invest, how to maximize the effectiveness of their people resources and how to exploit the intersection of technologies for collaboration, learning, social media and mobility.

Collaboration can be as simple as a discussion among colleagues on a business issue or a motivational presentation to an individual or a team, or as complex as a structured project plan that its participants update in real time. Typically, teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and rewards in the competition for finite resources.

I believe there’s a change coming in the way organizations collaborate, share information and provide formal and informal learning activities as they relate to the broader business goals beyond HR’s borders. In fact, it’s already here. Sure it seems glacial like most change is in business, but it is change nonetheless.

Business people aren’t the only ones who get in the way of change. HR software vendors can be just as guilty as HR professionals of living in a vacuum and not thinking broadly to benefit business through “cross-functional collaboration.” My new colleagues at Ventana Research and I continually wonder why these companies aren’t enhancing their software to include true business collaboration features (for users in finance, operations, IT, supply chain, sales and marketing, and elsewhere).

However, here also the times they are a-changin’. Again. Consider SuccessFactors’ acquisition of Jambok, the SaaS-based social learning company that gives users Web 2.0 tools similar to YouTube’s and Facebook’s, which enable them to create and share content easily across the enterprise (I’ll write more about this and other vendor offerings soon).

In the area of learning, I’m not talking about this business collaboration movement replacing the learning management systems (LMS), which was the core of a recent discussion in the HR Technology Conference LinkedIn group (and a good one, mind you). But I am talking about the evolution of how business communication and collaboration get done, and that includes learning and knowledge sharing. For example, collaboration systems must contribute to aligning the actions of individuals with their company’s overall objectives. Optimal collaboration across business processes is essential because it enables managers to take better actions and make decisions faster and more consistently. Any collaborative system must fit with existing analysis, planning and decision-making processes, and it must support the communications and social networking tools employees use or will use – and work in conjunction with the current LMS generation.

So maybe the SuccessFactors play is less about being competitive in the LMS market and more about becoming an integrated business collaboration system across all lines of business that includes collective knowledge sharing and problem-solving, mentoring, job apprenticeship and more while supporting human resources, operations, customer service, sales, marketing, manufacturing, training and learning, IT and finance. Also relevant here is CubeTree’s emphasis on providing a “business execution suite” as opposed to a talent management suite.

For you vendors, let me repeat that I’ll have more on specific functionality soon, so don’t throw rocks if I haven’t mentioned you. If your company has this business collaboration and social learning evolution occurring in your product line, please let me know.

Our research agenda on this subject will include the following advances:

  • Eliminate the Manager/Employee Divide – Use business collaboration to improve dialogue.
  • Optimize Human Capital Potential – Use collaboration and social media for hiring processes.
  • Increase the Value of the Workforce – Integrate learning and collaboration to increase operational expertise.

The upcoming benchmark research by Ventana Research will produce a Benchmark Index – a detailed, quantified picture of the current state and future direction of business collaboration. It will answer questions critical to vendors’ strategies and plans for developing, marketing and selling business collaboration analytics software. And the corresponding Value Index will address buyers’ strategies for evaluating, purchasing and implementing these systems.

The way we work is changing. The business collaboration evolution is here. Don’t miss it.

Let me know your thoughtsor come and collaborate with me on Facebook,LinkedInand Twitter. 


Team - Ventana Research 



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