Business Collaboration Generally Requires Collaboration Technology

August 7, 2007 at 2:02 pm | Posted in business case, collaboration | 4 Comments

I wrote in a previous posting about all the negative possible meanings of the word “collaboration”. But we view collaboration as a beneficial activity for a company – one that is core to its ability to plan, react, and compete. Accordingly, the question I want to address today is this: How does a collaboration technology strategy act as an enabler for a business collaboration strategy?

I think of business collaboration as the way a non-technical person from the business side of the organization would think of collaboration. Collaboration with partners will be thought of first by a business person in terms of legal, financial, organizational, and business processes. They will generally not (and should not) think first of web conferencing, wikis, and document libraries. But is it possible to do complex, large-scale business collaboration at a competitive rate of speed and efficiency without collaboration technology to support it?

There are a few examples that come to mind that illustrate the need for business collaboration and, underneath, the need for collaboration technology.

Business collaboration for planning

Let’s take collaborative planning as a first example. A July 2007 survey in The McKinsey Quarterly called “Better strategy for business units: A McKinsey Global Survey” discussed the positive impact a collaborative approach has when formulating business unit strategy:

According to this analysis, executives who are satisfied are the likeliest to describe the process at their companies as collaborative. Specifically, executives at companies with a collaborative approach to strategy represent 37 percent of the sample but 42 percent of those who are satisfied with their process.

This quote refers to business collaboration – corporate and business unit executives working together, sharing information and ideas, to create the best strategic plan for their business units possible. This no doubt includes meetings, approval cycles, and changes to incentive plans. But could this business collaboration be successful without collaboration technology to support it? Technology such as information sharing mechanisms, approval workflow, and meeting coordination – just for starters – would enable this business collaboration to take place. I doubt they could put an ROI figure on the technology in this case just as they can’t put an ROI figure on the business collaboration (or even if they could they couldn’t precisely determine the percentage of impact to allocate to the technology), but without it the business would have difficulty functioning.

Business collaboration for reacting and competing

Now let’s look at an example on the impact of collaboration on a company’s ability to react and compete. A very public and stark example can be found by examining what happens when an impenetrable and formal barrier to collaboration, such as a legal one, is removed. The Glass-Steagall Act, particularly its enhancements from the 1950’s to strengthen the wall between insurance and banking, provides a great recent example since it acted as a formal barrier to collaboration in the financial services industry.

So what happened to insurance and banking firms that did not have collaboration technology in place at the end of 1999 when Glass-Steagall was repealed (by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act)? After all, there was an open field for exploiting scale, reach, and synergies the likes of which had not been seen before in the industry. Merger and acquisition activity was rampant; the land grab was on. There was a strong need for business collaboration. Indeed, a 2004 presentation (about 4 years after the repeal of GSA) on CONDITIONS AND TRENDS IN THE INVESTMENT BANKING INDUSTRY by SunTrust Robinson Humphrey (available here) said that “Since the repeal of Glass Steagall in late 1999, commercial banks have aggressively pursued highly profitable investment banking operations.” This was just one factor in a consolidation trend, but a major one. The presentation goes on to address what this means for service providers and calls out the “Collaboration required between corporate and investment bankers”

But timing is everything. The implementation time for collaborative technology (as a rule of thumb I’d say 1 year for technology and 1 more year for a base level of adoption) generally exceeds the reaction time that business collaboration initiatives require.Therefore, the collaboration technology underpinnings must be in place before a business collaboration initiative appears on the horizon. This is quite the opposite of how many organizations treat initial collaboration technology acquisition – as a reaction to specific events.

I have not seen an academic study that has determined the correlation between a large corporation’s collaboration technology maturity in 1999 and their subsequent position after the shakeout. There’s a great PhD thesis in there for someone. But I believe it’s no coincidence that when I look through the list of clients of our collaboration and content strategies service, insurance and banks form a large percentage of our client base. And in my consultations with these clients over the last nine years I have found that the large ones – the ones that do the most acquisitions and exploit the most synergies between business units – to have consistently been strong proponents of collaboration technology.

Business collaboration requires collaboration technology (and I need it yesterday)

Of course, I could also have written an entire article about how a culture that encourages and rewards collaboration is also required and must be in place before business collaboration is needed. And maybe I will write that article … at another time.

My point here is that while businesses need to be driven by business “collaboration” rather than technology, most business forms of collaboration require technology to support them. And the technology strategy planning cannot wait until the business details of the collaboration are worked out. Organizations need to understand that 1) business collaboration is omnipresent in the business climate and is often required quickly and without warning. 2) Collaboration technology enables business collaboration. Therefore, 3) a collaboration technology strategy must be in place to enable future business collaboration initiatives.

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4 Comments »

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  1. An essential for kicking collaboration up a notch is enabling “emergence”. See my blog post for more on emergence and business networks:

    http://smoothspan.wordpress.com/2007/09/02/why-cant-i-search-my-enterprise-data-as-well-as-google-searches-the-internet-enterprise-page-rank/

  2. […] Business Collaboration Requires Collaboration Technology […]

  3. Online collaboration services SpiveyWorks Notes to help increase productivity of business teams and stay on the same page.

  4. I seldom leave comments, but after reading a few of the comments here Business
    Collaboration Generally Requires Collaboration Technology |
    KnowledgeForward. I actually do have a few questions for you if you don’t mind. Is it simply me or do a few of these responses appear like they are coming from brain dead visitors? 😛 And, if you are posting at other online sites, I would like to keep up with you. Would you make a list of all of your social community sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?


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