The Enemy of Collaboration

image A week ago, I wrote an article for CMS Wire on The Long Hill for Enterprise Collaboration.  Normally I put an announcement at the top of my blog sharing the link, but I wanted to write this post, and I’ve just been a tad busy…

You should read the article before proceeding much further.  In the article, I talk about the challenges facing the adoption of collaboration tools, an important one being the desire to perform one activity in one interface.  Email is a classic example because, for all its faults, you can collaborate with anyone with an email address.  People will tend to stick with one tool and not keep switching unless they are the “stopper” that is always on a mission to convert people to the good of collaboration platforms.

Well, this scenario is something I have seen quite a bit.  There is one example that really drives home the need to get people not just out of email, but to get everyone into something that can transfer collaborative data between systems just like email is transferred using SMTP today.  That example….me.

Pie Said What?

That is correct, I am a violator.  I am not always compliant.  I have been implementing collaboration solutions for a long time.  I almost always play the role of a stopper in any organization or project that I join.  In the last six months, I’ve noticed something….

I’m spending more time collaborating in email than ever before.image

I am working more with people outside my organization than I ever have in the past.  Doing a lot of work in the Federal market, my company is frequently teaming with other companies, and not always the same ones.  For each effort, we have to find different ways to share content and track actions.  Rather than supply the collaboration solution for everyone, we tend to use email.  Why? Simple, our partners use it as well.

It doesn’t stop there though.  I have also been working with people at AIIM and vendor companies on CMIS efforts.  More users and more reasons to collaborate, but still no single system.  Once again, we all use email, so that is where we work.

Doing all of this in email, I have found myself collaborating with colleagues on purely internal efforts via email.  I’m just cruising along in my workday, and before I know it, I’ve sent documents via email rather than sending an alert or a link to a document in an email.

I’m regressing!!!!!

What Can Be Done?

Well, like any good American, I’m going to blame someone else for my problem.  There are two solutions which would solve the problem:

  • Universal Collaboration: So we need an incredible, kickin’, collaborative platform with no storage or user limits that is online an free to everyone.  Let’s not forget security because I want to collaborate in one place on all my efforts, not just the public ones.
  • Universal Communication: Bad name, I know, but the point is simple.  If my collaborative artifacts could be sent to anyone for interaction the way I send email, but they do their work in their collaborative environment and I am staying in mine, that would be great!

I think it is pretty safe to say that the first will not happen in the foreseeable future.  The second sounds like a lot of work.  Well, the efforts we expend to push Collaboration and Enterprise 2.0 adoption is a lot of work as well.

Fun fact, one old, and lovely feature of eRoom is the ability to email content to a room.  That was a first step in the right direction.  If collaborative packages could just be emailed between systems in a standard format, that might solve all the problems.

There is no easy path.  Maybe instead of trying to get over the hurdles by creating new features, selling, and evangelizing, maybe we should make the tools the obvious in-process tools.

But why solve it?  There is a lot of money to be made telling people how great the software is now.

22 thoughts on “The Enemy of Collaboration

  1. Victor says:

    Nice post. One point though. You tell what could be done. But you don’t tell why it should be done ( other than the money thing. What value does it add to the users). In other words, why is email a bad collaborative tool? I know it is for a few reasons, but we want to hear your thoughts…


    • Victor, that is probably a post. I’ll put it on my list. I think the discussion would have value. If we don’t fully understand the problems we are trying to solve, then we can’t define the best solutions.


  2. Email is mine, i own it (or at least I feel I own it), that’s one reason I like using it. I can have all my preciouss talks inside and find them later. It records history across all things I’ve done. I can organize it as I want. Until I get a magic software which does all this and much more I’ll just use email. /normalpersonfeeling

    I think the first bastion to be won is “meetings”. We need something to perfectly facilitate the exchange and recording of information in meetings. There are some products out there but each has limits. Hell, I’ve even built some solutions myself. Still not enough.


  3. Pie, I am in absolute agreement … once again! 😉

    Some of what you asked for has happened outside the business world and it is called Facebook. There you can share all information and control who sees what in an SaaS format.

    I have written and said similar things for a long time, but even more radical in the sense that I asked to abolish the ECM, CRM, BPM, email and the new E20 silos for a consolidated collaboration platform that encompasses the features of them all.

    But what none of the above supports is doing business processes the user way! We need business models, business data, business rules, business content and business process and all of it dynamic enough for people on all levels to OWN IT. ‘lopataru’ made a good point with that. Oooops, so why did Google kill ‘Wave’? Because it was just collaboration … and that is not enough.

    Executives need to feel empowered to define strategy for management, who can set targets for process owners, who can empower employees to create processes according to goals and loop the results of all the back transparently to everyone in a secure manner. Sounds incredible or undoable? Absolutely not! Why doesnt it happen? Because EVERYONE (vendors, analysts and businesses) has a huge investment in something like ECM, BPM, CRM and other rigid crap.

    Unless IBM, Oracle, Microsoft or Google will jump onto this it won’t happen. I have tried for a long time but I am really getting tired of the ignorance and arrogance in the IT industry. Anyway, thanks for giving it another shove, but you must be aware that we are pushing against Mount Everest here …

    Regards, Max J. Pucher – Chief Architect ISIS Papyrus


    • Max, I like tackling mountains. That said, you have been tackling larger ones for a long time. I don’t see the single system approach ever working in my lifetime, barring a series of mergers/acquisitions. There is just too much to get right, which requires too much money, and the resulting size makes being nimble in the current environment very challenging. Not saying I don’t see the value, just a bigger mountain.


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  5. Email is the common connection between organizations because it is based on mature, commonly-accepted standards, including SMTP, POP, and IMAP. Collaboration tools, including those in the relatively new enterprise social software category, largely lack these common standards (REST APIs being the “glue” between them.)

    When protocols such as OAuth, PubSubHubbub, and are more fully developed and deployed, we should see improved interoperability of collaboration systems. The OStatus initiative has begun to bring many of these protocols together into a single specification, which should make it easier for software providers to design for interoperability, as well as for deploying organizations to collaborate with each other.


  6. Larry, the email protocols maybe mature but they are also the problem .. ever heard of spam? The issue is not the exchange of some data or files, but coordinating complex processes with all related entities. Even blogs and Facebook need spamfilters. That is not acceptable for business.


  7. Steve Bickle says:

    It seems to me that Google Wave would have met a lot of your criteria for a collaborative alternative to email. Unfortunately neither the technology or the wider market was mature enough for it to stick to the pan. I hope there will be something perhaps inspired by Wave that becomes the killer app for this niche because we all suffer from fragmentation of electronic communication in the workplace.


    • Quick comment on Google Wave. It was a great first step in that it showed the importance of the concept. The interface wasn’t that good and it, in itself, was still a separate place to go. Rolling it out slowly didn’t help because to test real collaboration, you need to be able to work with anyone, and not just people in the inner circle.

      If Wave functionality had been rolled out within Outlook with a download, it probably would have taken.


      • maritzavdh says:

        I very much agree with you on the reasons for Wave failing. I used it briefly for a couple of weeks as a playground with some friends and family, but very quickly stopped going to it because I had no purposeful collaborative goals to achieve there.

        If we want to get people away from desktop-bound mail clients, then rolling it out via Outlook may have gained traction, but at the cost of perpetuating the desktop approach to information management.

        Direct integration with Gmail and GoogleDocs, instead of being a separate interface, would have been the most successful approach. Many people are already using these tools to replace the MS and OpenOffice productivity suites. Having Wave seamlessly and tightly integrated with both of them sounds like a no-brainer.


  8. There are many interwoven elements here (not a pun on a particular product!).

    Max has laid out many of the problems, but there is also an element of human psychology – how do you prefer to work ? Mutliple interfaces and multiple systems dont bother me (because I am a gemini?), but they do bother others. Depending on what we might be working on, I might say I prefer you to IM me rather email me. If your going to send me a document use Google Docs or Dropbox or something. So yes, email is the LOWEST common denominator. How do we replace it? Depends on the context and the individuals. Personally there are plenty of other places I go rather than email, be it LinkedIn, Twitter, GoogleGroups or even Facebook.

    So perhaps what is really required is the king of all aggregators. A common interface to bring ALL our communications into one place – sounds like something Google should do for us all…..? (not that I can officially use Google Voice in Canada, grrrrrr…)


    • Aggregation is not the answer, at least not in its default form. To the user, it needs to be one interface with unified collaborative elements.

      I think IM exemplifies the problems we are facing. We still have a large number of systems that don’t talk to each other. People tend to have multiple accounts, or just accept that there are people that they cannot talk to over IM. If we can’t solve this problem, solving it for the larger collaboration equation seems a little challenging.

      With that depressing note, I’m going to see what I can do on the adoption front. I can at least tackle that myself.


  9. Chris Campbell says:

    Be careful. Don’t confuse collaboration with aggregation. Social networks have collaborative features, but I wouldn’t use it as an example of getting actual “work” done. Social networks, at their heart, are individuals acting and communicating, but remaining as individuals. Collaboration is working and building off one another towards an end goal or product.

    I think the next step forward in making a true collaboration platform is to take ones that currently work well at creating content or a product (wikis, project hosting like Freshmeat, Source Forge, Google Code, etc.) and finding the secret formula to: 1) make it a daily necessity to use, and 2) integrate the interface into a device as ubiquitous as the mobile phone.

    The first two companies that come to mind that can pull this off are Apple and Google. Both have all the necessary ingredients: devices (phones and tablets), OS, applications and plenty of cash.


  10. Robert says:

    We recently started using DRE the Business Collaboration Network by DRE Software ( they are only $19.00 per month with web conferencing included. We were paying $49 a month just for web conferencing. We cut costs and got all the collaborations features we had been looking for.
    It includes too many features to mention check them out for yourself
    It has helped us establish closer relationships with our employees, customers, prospects, channel and business partners. We use the web conferencing for meetings, demo, projects and the collaboration software for keeping everyone on the same page .
    We keep customer facing documentation, action items, events calander in a private workspace with all the key players on a sale, customer support or project.

    We tested many products before we selected DRE software because there is no software to download and we have been able to set up everything without using our IT resources.

    We have had nothing but positive feedback since we started using it and with what we are saving on our budget with twice the capability, it was a no brainer. They offer a full 30 day free trial which gave us an opportunity to try it with several different scenarios with some key customers and prospects. A side benefit we found it that our sales moved through the process faster because we had everyone involved that should be.

    We save on travel costs and it has helped us with time zone issues of different office locations and customers worldwide. With email integration we know when things have been added.

    Each users has unlimited workspace and you invite those you want into it.
    This tool has been the answer for us.


    • Robert, you are missing the point apart from the shameless plug (well that’s ok). A common workspace has ben around with so many products for ages, i.e. Lotus Notes. This is about business data, inbound and outbound content text, image and data integration (not just file blobs), business rules, user authorization, task lists, events and states, and work item dependency planning. It’s not about about IM chit-chat and file sharing.


    • Actually not a fan of the shameless plug. Going to leave it as Max had a solid response to Robert’s comment. The solution offered is not a fix-all unless everyone uses it or it can talk to other collaboration solutions that others use. What is right for one organization is definitely not right for all.


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