Collaboration: far more than just a buzzword
By Cameron Ackbury, General Manager of APAC and Japan for Mindjet
Procurement departments are the front line gatekeepers to many software vendors seeking to sell their solutions to an organisation. Ask a procurement agent if managing software vendors is difficult, and he or she will reply that the most challenging, yet insulting, aspect is that most vendors scatter industry buzzwords without much appreciation of their true meaning. For example, the word ‘synergy’ has been copied from movies into the business world to confuse issues or to create an appearance of intelligence on the part of software vendors.
Often industry buzzwords are created by large organisations with huge marketing funds attempting to redefine the marketplace. For instance, the term ‘cloud computing’ was popularised by salesforce.com as a buzzword category that shares data via the web. Partners of salesforce.com utilise the same buzzword to promote their own products, initiating a ripple effect as the numbers of organisations describing their own solutions grew exponentially. So ‘cloud computing’ became a buzzword because it simplified technical jargon. We’ve all heard other examples: software-as-a-service, multi-tenancy, and on-demand.
The latest e buzzword seems to be collaboration, once used by governments to describe enemy sympathisers, now used to describe co-operation. However, collaboration is no mere buzzword and should not be passed off as such. Indeed, organisations may even damage themselves by improperly classifying an application or an initiative as collaborative.
Innovation, creativity and problem solving
According to Wikipedia, collaboration “is a recursive process where two or more people or organisations work together to realise shared goals, (this is more than the intersection of common goals seen in co-operative ventures, but a deep, collective determination to reach an identical objective) — for example, an intriguing endeavour that is creative in nature by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.”
In business, collaborative solutions enable teams to focus on their core competencies. For instance, a car manufacturer will benefit from a solution that enables its team to collaborate on designs for new cars. A pharmaceutical company will appreciate a solution that brings teams of scientists together to create new drugs and cures for the sick. Institutions of higher learning can generate new ideas by considering information collaboratively in formulating ideas. So collaboration enables an organisation or a group of organisations to focus on its core directives: creating new cars; inventing new drugs, or generating new ideas.
A spectrum of activities can deliver focus to an organisation through the use of collaboration. Brainstorming enables two or more people to generate ideas, while strategy sessions give teams the insights required to reach business decisions and to generate plans. Process improvement sessions, especially at the enterprise level, enable organisations to gather requirements, define processes and solicit feedback for presenting goals and capturing comments. Finally, project planning sessions enable team members to organise stakeholder input, prioritise goals and optimise resources.
Positive outcomes from true collaboration
All these positive outcomes result from true collaboration. Clearly the varieties of collaboration described by industry buzzwords are much diluted in their effects. For instance, consider a directive to lower telephony costs or outsource the production of goods or services abroad to achieve efficiencies. The first case is a simple task to complete. Although people use the telephone to collaborate, or to discuss, they are not advancing the core competencies of a business. In the case of outsourcing, collaboration benefits both parties for differing reasons.
The Gartner Group defines Microsoft SharePoint in the collaboration space. It is an application to build portals, collaboration, and content management sites for end users to share and exchange information. It can be used for simple processes such as sharing documents between two organisations to advance a design, or complex processes such as managing implementation projects. Although some organisations use it simply as a knowledge warehouse or a file-sharing system, the application is designed for much more. Others use its advanced capabilities for separate workgroups, workflow processes, and alerts to action.
However, no collaboration application is complete unless the shared information, however complex, can be presented clearly, easily and logically. The most effective interactive business productivity solutions let business professionals capture and visually organise ideas, information and schedules easily. For instance, leading information mapping tools allow users to access, review and update all relevant SharePoint content with a consolidated dashboard map, organised in whichever way they choose.
Managers and teams can use their personalised SharePoint views in tools such as Mindjet MindManager to track and act upon all of their assigned tasks, issues and documents. They can understand project timelines by viewing SharePoint tasks with MindManager's synchronised Gantt view -- seeing everything in context with a single click. Users can conduct meetings and presentations to make the most of everyone's time. Whether people are brainstorming, solving problems, capturing requirements, or working together on plans, projects and strategies, they can use information mapping to capture everything, prioritise, and create team alignment.Yet for every SharePoint/MindManager success story, the fuzzy logic behind many marketing claims can lead a procurement agent in the wrong direction. How can they see through the buzzword chaos to find solutions that drive their business forward? The short answer is: they must seek out a software application’s value proposition and ask what that application is going to deliver for the enterprise. In the case of collaboration, ask if the application can bring together groups or individuals to advance the organisation’s core functionality.
Finally, true collaboration should enable groups of people to come together to advance the core functions of an organisation. If they choose the right tools carefully, substantial rewards can be theirs.
For more information
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Mindsystems (Australian Master Distributor for Mindjet)
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