Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ephemeral Collaboration

Electronic collaboration and communication systems are helping us share ideas, our knowledge and information. We work in this communication virtual world and get instant gratification from the empowerment it brings us; great!

Where do we save this information? Do we organize it and use it in our work? Do we share it with others? Do we want to access a conversation that took place somewhere else in our company? Did we forget that when we type information on a screen it is no more valuable than a spoken conversation unless it is saved? The convergence of informal information and collaborative application give us an unprecedented opportunity to capture the context and turn these conversations into assets that we can reuse. Unfortunately most of us do not have the time or motivation to share and organize our knowledge; we know what we know and that’s good enough. We’ll share it when asked. Nonetheless we do seek knowledge from others to better ourselves and complete our work. Some solution providers offer data mining tools that can sift through terabytes of information and extract themes. Others web complex semantic networks. Most do not address the information that travels in collaborative tools.

Over the years I have worked with companies who believed that work-related conversation contained valuable information and knowledge nuggets that needed to be captured. Thus, Knowledge Management solutions were addressing human, cultural and technology issues to solve the problem. Today many IT and business savvy business people refuse to entertain Knowledge Management solutions for fear of never-ending complexity and running after an impossible prize. A contradiction remains; what do we do with all this unstructured information? Many IT departments have resolved the problem by pushing the information to the extremity; the user! IT will ensure backup of emails and connectivity, but it only truly care about the well-understood transaction-base databases. Business people are not complaining. As a matter of fact they enjoy the empowerment of email, instant messaging, web-conferences, blogs, wikis and other cool tools to come. We can observe that the more people use these tools, the more people start to build their own informal process networks, thus lose and misplace valuable information of the company they work for. I remember visiting a major worldwide bio-pharmaceutical company’s head of marketing. She was showing me how she collected information from the field about demographics and sales. I was appalled to observe that a fortune-500 company used email to gather measurable information that was embedded in PowerPoint presentations. It took her more than 30 minutes to remember where she had saved these “reports”. She then had to hire an assistant to cut and paste the information to provide a consolidated report to management. This is a typical case of a manager not being supported by IT (or not wanting to be supported) using basic email technology to build her own chaotic and undocumented process to measure progress and set a worldwide action plan.

Unless companies become aware of this communication Trojan horse, many will find that similar informal and damaging processes exist in every division and tier of the organization. These tools are the identical from organization to organization. Just observe how new employees are more independent and make less demands on IT to solve business processes. The solution is not to limit the power of communication tools. Working on integrating them into core business processes and applications is the desired answer. Admittedly, the latest trends of action-based computing and taxonomy management are starting to offer hope and reduce the effort and complexity associated with traditional Knowledge Management. We believe that a near-seamless Integrated Collaboration approach offers less compromise for the user and for the company wanting to capitalize on the knowledge found in collaboration.

No comments: