Monday, November 12, 2012

Defining Virtual Collaboration

I had an interesting conversation this week with a colleague regarding the relative lack of success with many current Knowledge Management Platforms / Systems. One of the first and most obvious problems is that there isn’t clear a set of expectations as to what constitutes Knowledge Management in contrast with Content Management and Virtual Collaboration. Add to this a blending of case and/or workflow management capabilities into the picture and it becomes perhaps even more confusing to determine just what type of a solution one needs or may be using. The end users find this confusing as well, which is why many of these systems are underutilized and the alleged ROI associated with them is never actually realized.

There are a couple of common threads across these types of solutions that tend to be shared. Most of these systems expect or depend on some sort of collaboration capability and most of them recognize that unstructured data is legitimate and in fact vital to the day to day routine of end users these days. So you will find similar features across these solution categories but radically different expectations for their use. Getting back to the conversation, after discussing several areas of confusion and reasons why these solutions weren’t working as anticipated it occurred to me that the issue might be resolved by semantics, on several levels.

First, the nature of vendor marketing tends to push solutions towards obvious differentiated pitches and descriptions. The spectrum of available software solutions is in fact an Ontology (or a set of Ontologies depending on how you view it). Many organizations have attempted to lend more credibility to these through neutral (3rd party) interpretations of typical IT capabilities. Many of you may be familiar with these, they include ITIL and predetermined reference models built within various Enterprise Architecture frameworks such as FEAF (an SRM in many ways ends up mirroring ITIL and software vendor categories / groupings or terminology). So, there exists the possibility that there may be improvements made in the way that software solutions are defined, described and arranged. This actually becomes more vital given the trend  towards SOA which implies more interoperability and discovery capabilities – as software features become ‘atomically’ separable and universally available, the manner in which we manage the naming conventions becomes critical.

Virtual Collaboration doesn't just happen, it requires an approach in order to fully exploit its potential

The second consideration that involves semantics relates to achieving a better understanding of the processes that are served by these various software or service solutions. This is more important perhaps than it sounds – how exactly does one determine if an enterprise requires a KM system, a Collaboration system, a CMS or WCMS system and an LMS or some combination or hybrid of them? You’d assume that there’d be some sort of internal research that would have clearly mapped organization expectations and processes to the precise mix of solution capability that needs to be acquired. This however is seldom how such things happen. Often, the choices made are based upon the idiosyncratic preferences of individual decision makers or the corporate expectations that specific technology innovations or trends must be adopted in order to avoid falling behind (although what that means is often never fully explained or quantified).

All of which got me to thinking about the nature of one of those common threads, Collaboration. What exactly does this mean? Is collaboration a daily expectation or is it an extraordinary circumstance needed to address unusual issues? Or has available technology changed the nature of what collaboration is and could be within most organizations? I soon recognized through my own line of introspective queries that I was viewing Collaboration in a one-dimensional context, and that I wasn’t the only one doing so. What I realized was that there were a variety of collaborative processes at work in most organizations and that they were all in the process of evolving as a result of the technologies being introduced in most environments. So, I decided to take a stab at trying to classify them and begin providing a foundation for mapping them to solution Ontologies (both at the macro/software or service and micro/feature level).

The two major categories of Virtual Collaboration are Active & Passive. Within each of these there exist various temporal options – most notably ’Synchronous’ and ‘Synchronous.’ There are expectations regarding how groups of collaborating end users are managed or not; ‘Laissez Faire’ and ‘Deterministic.’ There are also a number of other elements that can be added to this Ontology, including Workflow Expectations.” Many of us who have worked in situations where we’ve had to evaluate industry solutions using complex criteria and testing can appreciate the value that an industry-wide ontology might provide. Defining these categories and characteristics can help provide the necessary guidance to determine what solutions might be required to facilitate them.

Types of Collaboration Processes
•    Active (participation in the larger entity expected main benefit extends from individual to group)
•    Passive (participation welcomed, not expected, main benefit extends from group to individual)
•    Hybrid

Temporal Collaborative States
•    Asynchronous
•    Synchronous
•    Hybrid

Group Management Styles
•    Laissez Faire
•    Deterministic
•    Alternating

Workflow Expectations
•    Routine (daily)
•    Highly Coordinated (reporting chain, active oversight)
•    Exceptional (Tiger Team)

Copyright 2012  - Technovation Talks, Semantech Inc.


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