Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Collaboration, Like Spices, Is Worthless When It Stands Alone

More than a decade ago, Lotus and SharePoint pioneered content centric collaboration.  IBM describes Lotus Notes software as an "integrated desktop client option for accessing business e-mail, calendars and applications. Microsoft SharePoint is a family of software products developed by Microsoft for collaboration, file sharing and web publishing. Microsoft SharePoint on its own was a little more than a visual FTP site, unless it was integrated with other business applications using considerable custom development.

Since then, we have moved away from a web of pages to a web of people. Collaboration is moving from being document centric to being people centric.

However, even today, several providers are selling collaboration tools by saying that they have all the right Web 2.0 ingredients such as a wiki, a blogging tool, a discussion tool, a micro-blogging tool, tagging of documents, RSS feeds, profile and the ability to friend or follow people. They also add take pains to point out that they have a feature like twitter, feature like Wikipedia, feature like Linked In, feature like Digg, a feature like Facebook and a feature like Stumbled Upon.

If something else becomes popular tomorrow, the race will be on to add that feature as well, so that they can check off the box with analysts and customer RFPs, which the vendors themselves helped to write. Such providers are selling these tools to IT departments saying that these tools will somehow improve collaboration within the company. Even top software analysts are getting carried away by the available ingredients rather then the overall ability of the software to make a person perform better. 

I think makers, analysts and buyers of such standalone collaboration software are missing the point. Collaboration, like spices used to add flavor to food, must be used to enhance the value of day-to-day work, and even make the work interesting. Collaboration tools without context is a bit like households buying a lot of spices, keeping them in the pantry and hoping that somehow those spices will enhance the flavor of the food they are cooking in the kitchen. If, all it take it takes to serve lip smacking food is to get a bunch of spices and dump them together, every Indian restaurant in the US and Europe should be serving very tasty food. You and I know that, it is not so. So why do you think, this approach is going to work for collaboration.

Look for software and solutions that put people and collaboration at the core, not at the periphery of work. If you do not find such tools today, insist on them. It is worth the wait.

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