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Agile Computing: Article

The Typewriter-to-Telex-to-Twitter Collaboration Curve

What is collaboration for anyway?

Most of us can probably still reference fellow employees (and quite a few managers) who passed the Internet off as nothing more than a passing fad as recently as the turn of the millennium.

The "modern" business procedures of 1999 were already pretty slick and refined and fax machines were a vast improvement over the telex network, so things were working pretty well thank you very much.

The growth of this so-called "information super highway" was interesting, but it really just looked like some kind of online HTML-based encyclopedia of static reference pages that weren't that much of an improvement over plain old books and magazines.

Then came dynamic HTML and things started moving. Then came Web 2.0 inspired interactivity and interconnectivity and things would never really be the same.

Individuals started using the Internet in new ways to connect with each other and the typewriter, the telex and the fax machine were all consigned to the recycle bin as the effect was also felt from above. Firms started to re-engineer their management practices and new acronym-heavy labels were born, such as Business Process Management (BPM), as software was developed to orchestrate us through to new levels of automation.

What Is Collaboration for Anyway?
Fast-forward to 2013 and we see both CIOs and business managers under increasing pressure to "collaborate more efficiently" now. It's almost as if collaboration has become a business goal in its own right rather than the end results it is supposed to exist to facilitate.

But this is not a sector to ignore. Business level collaboration and communication, or "social enterprise solutions" as they are now known, are a growing market. According to Forrester Research, the market opportunity for social enterprise applications is expected to grow at a rate of 61 percent through from 2013 into 2016, reaching a total of US$6.4 billion.

Many of the big IT vendors are pushing forward in this space. IBM for example has just announced new social business software to help collaborate in the cloud using a broad range of mobile devices.

The products include the new IBM SmartCloud services, which include new social networking features and IBM SmartCloud Docs, a cloud-based office productivity suite, which allows users to simultaneously collaborate on word processing, spreadsheets and presentation documents.

It All Comes Down to Productivity
If you're asking what the reason is for all these new tools, the answer is simple and it comes down to one word: productivity.

HP is also active in this space and channels much of its technology development into collaboration at the customer facing CRM (customer relationship management) end of the rainbow.

"Leading companies, particularly in business-to-consumer industries, have recognised the importance of tapping into customer-to-customer communications and engaging in these social conversations," said Joe Outlaw, principal contact center analyst, Frost & Sullivan. "Drawing on its strong analytics capabilities and deep CRM experience, HP has created a uniquely powerful social CRM service. This service offers companies a full set of tools and methodologies designed for rapid start-up and seamless broadening and deepening of social CRM programs as strategies dictate."

We are interconnecting and collaborating with customers and partners (and each other) in new and more (hopefully) productive ways. If we have moved on down the typewriter-to-telex-to-Twitter collaboration curve, then today almost represents some kind of intense, concentrated or extreme collaboration style.

Never shy of attempting to coin a new industry term if its fee-paying clients will substantiate a white paper to illustrate a new concept is IT analyst firm Gartner. The company has indeed taken the "extreme" term and refers to our new intercommunication obligations as extreme collaboration (XC).

The new "operating model" is enabled by combing coalesced forces into a pattern that forces us to innovate around the way people behave, communicate, work together and maintain relationships.

A Virtual War Room
"Collaboration is a critical activity in many operational business processes, both structured and unstructured. An XC environment is essentially a virtual war room or crisis center, where people can come together to collaboratively work on a shared purpose," said Janelle Hill, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

"This environment is available 24/7, thus enabling people to work when, where and how they need to in order to meet shared goals and outcomes. What makes it extreme is people's willingness to cross geographic, organizational, political, management boundaries, to pool their collective skills and resources to solve problems and move toward the attainment of a shared, ambitious goal."

If we buy this new concept then XC as defined by Gartner is charecterised and typified by a large proportion of web-based virtual collaboration and near-real-time communication activities.

For the more traditional or old school CIOs who are getting frustrated by some of this new-fangled operational talk, some of these moves could be hard to make. One the one hand there is the CIO who accepts that social enterprise technologies make some sense, but on the other hand sees "tweet jams," "crowdsourcing" and "dynamic community brainstorming" as just one step too far.

Yes we have moved on from the typewriter and the telex. Yes Twitter is characterizing the socially collaborative level of online interaction that we will all now employ at a professional level (not just consumer level)... and yes, Gartner's XC label does sound a bit way out initially.

But remember, "way out" is probably what we said about that whole new Internet thing when it first came along right?

•   •   •

The post was first featured on CIO Enterprise Forum.

More Stories By Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance journalist and corporate content creation specialist focusing on cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects software engineering, project management and technology as a whole.

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