Speaking of Collaboration 3.0

The purpose of the exploration and research we are doing here is manyfold:
1.)  to find the best ways to help organizations transition from industrial age-methods of doing things to ways more appropriate for the knowledge economy
2.)  to describe what companies (who have figured this out) are doing so we can learn from both their failures and their successes
3.)  to examine tools (software, platforms, etc.) and let you know what works better and under what circumstances
4.)  to separate legitimate new ways of working from the hype

There’s one more thing, and that is to provide the context for all of these points.  When we last looked at what we somewhat irreverently named Collaboration 3.0 a few weeks back, we focused on how some of the smartest, most innovative companies are building platforms that change everything in how business is conducted.  They are no longer content to passively share specifications with suppliers; instead, they invite the suppliers in from day one to support the design of critical parts.

They are no longer content to be mere purchasers standing by; instead, they take control of their supply chains and make everyone involved more efficient and productive.

Whether or not we continue to call it Collaboration 3.0 (but for the time being, we’ll continue), the impact of using platforms that support cross-organizational knowledge sharing and collaboration efforts continues to be felt and we are only at the very early stages of figuring out how to support cross-organizational work.

Typically, companies do business with people they trust.  But in a global economy, finding such people is not the most expedient solution.  How does one know which people and companies can be trusted – and by trusted, this implies with confidential material and information not to be supplied to one’s competitors.

Meanwhile, internal to many organizations, knowledge workers are getting more and more comfortable with a higher level of collaboration.  Some organizations are building true Collaborative Business Environments and others are deploying fairly advanced collaboration and knowledge sharing tools, allowing far-flung knowledge workers to work together as if they were in the same physical space.  This could be as rudimentary as instant messaging and e-mail or it could extend to team workspaces and desktop or video conferencing.

In general, such tools are being deployed for single organizations or business units, not as gathering spots for knowledge workers from multiple companies for cross-organizational work.

There have been rudimentary methods of approaching cross-organizational work for years but they generally do not involve bringing knowledge workers together.  One term we’ve been hearing is supply chain automation.  This usually speaks to managing the process of ordering and receiving raw goods or components through the delivery of a completed product.  Everything is automated; orders flow in and goods are ordered, built, and delivered, sometimes untouched by human hands.  This is a start but it doesn’t address the need to collaborate on a more basic level.

Fifteen years ago it was virtually unheard of to e-mail people in other companies; today, this happens more times than anyone can count.  (Come to think of it, we really hadn’t heard of spam either back then.)  Fifteen years ago we were busy sending faxes and overnight pouches; indeed twenty-five years ago faxes were first becoming ubiquitous and telex was still a mainstay of communication.

Today, knowledge workers expect to be able to e-mail colleagues in other organizations – although this can open up myriad issues (which we’ll look at in an upcoming column) – as well as to be able to engage in instant messaging sessions and ad hoc online meetings.

Of course, this is still a back-door approach to cross-organizational work and it is, quite frankly, less than satisfying as well as unlikely to bring about the dramatic changes in organizational efficiency that every organization aspires.  We still have a lot of work to do before we can go in through that door.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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