Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Collaboration should be at the core of today’s work tools. Not at the periphery.

The world is moving from a knowledge economy to a conceptual economy. In the knowledge economy we stored information in paper and digital formats, made the information accessible to certain people, let them modify the information and send that information for modification or consumption by the next person. We built computer systems and processes to make this as efficient as possible. We did this because at that time, creation, storage and access to information was a privilege that was available to a few selected people who had to earn the right or pay the price to do it.

Businesses strived to enable the structured creation, modification and movement of information. They started with paper, moved to computers and then to the network.

With efficiency and productivity enabled by technology, the right to create, access, share and modify information, has become cheap and abundant. Suddenly professionals who earned the right to use information and charged a premium to apply information to problem solving are losing their advantage and, in some cases, their livelihood.

You doctor is a good example. A general physician’s job was to look at your symptoms and apply structured knowledge, which he acquired in college 15 years back, to diagnose the problem. Today, a patient has access to the same information the doctor has. Patients are researching their conditions and are armed with considerable amount of information when they go to a doctor. Moreover, a group of patients with the same medical conditions talking to each other are able to help each other much more than the doctor can help them. This group is more knowledgeable about the medical conditions, the symptoms and current advances in research than the doctor. This has changed the nature of a doctor’s job.

At Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto for example, my doctor keeps in touch with me via email and an online collaboration workspace. He does not spend a whole lot of time with information sharing when I meet him in person. Instead, when I go for my checkups, he uses the time to ask me about how I am doing and points me to websites where I can find information about the things I need to know and community sites where I can mingle with people like me. For example there is a community for nutrition information for South Asians. I value this advice from my doctor a lot and of course pay a fee for his guidance and empathy, much more than what I pay for a diagnosis.

Person-to-person interaction, knowledge creation, sharing, modification and frequent information exchange has become the norm of every day work. Business software needs to play and important role in enabling information workers adapt and embrace this new reality.


This requires collaboration and communities to be at the core of the tools that we design and build for today’s workers. Hence when we design business software we need to put people-to-people interaction, sharing, modification and information curation at the center of our tools. In other words collaboration and communities should be at the core of business tools. Not at the periphery.


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