The Collaboration Patchwork Quilt Problem

Posted by on April 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm.

We had the privilege of being featured in an article (HyperOffice one-stop collaboration) by Amber Singleton  Riviere at GigaOm yesterday, which is where I came across the expression “patchwork quilt problem”. The reference was an article by Simon Mackie of GigaOm. Simon discusses the issue of an ever greater number of web apps in organizations performing specific tasks, and the problem of integrating them.

How companies end up with a patchwork quilt

Normally, SMBs tend to add web tools in response to an immediate collaboration problem – sharing documents with offshore teams, managing joint projects with a partner, or the need to have distributed team meetings. But as these companies keep piling on the tools, they realize that they are compartmentalizing information which should be shared across tools, or is closely related. For example every project has associated documents, schedules, discussions, and meetings.  Managing each of these with a separate tool becomes increasingly inefficient, as information is duplicated or has to be manually moved between tools.  As companies add more and more to the collaboration mix, the more chaotic the situation becomes.

One solution is to invest money in integrating these disparate tools. But apart from the extra costs, the problem is that these tools were never primarily designed to work together, and have different architectures and interfaces. The result is more often than not somewhat hodgepodge – a patchwork quilt.

Collaboration patchwork quilt or a stitch in time?

Another approach is to have foresight, look beyond immediate needs, and invest in “integrated” collaboration solutions or a “collaboration suite”. As the word “suite” suggests, a collaboration suite is not a single all-encompassing magic bullet tool for all your collaboration needs, but a collection of tools. That is understandable, because “collaboration” is very broad, and involves a wide spectrum of activities in the organizational context – communicating, working together on files, co-ordination of schedules, managing and coordinating projects and tasks involving people across the organization, team meetings and discussions and so on.

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However, in a collaboration suite, tools are developed and designed to complement each other, and integrated at a data level so that information can seamlessly flow in all directions.

Workspaces and Collaboration

Intranet/Extranet workspaces are an ideal way to organize collaboration tools in a collaboration suite, and are also the design principle of HyperOffice. A “workspace” is a permissions protected collection of web pages and collaboration tools for specific groups inside and outside the organization. A collaboration suite can have multiple permanent and temporary workspaces depending on the company’s needs – an HR workspace, a workspace for a major client, a workspace for a temporary cross functional team and so on.

Apart from organizing multiple collaboration tools that a team needs in a single place, workspace pages also help create context around these tools. Workspaces can also be seen as a “virtual office” for teams, which managers can use to encourage and motivate team members who might never interact face to face. For example if team members log into their workspace, the landing page can direct them to group documents, highlight a prominent upcoming event, reflect the status of a team project, display the “team member of the month”, or display latest team news.

Conclusion

As the collaboration market matures, a general realization has started to dawn that being myopic can lead to problems later. Collaboration goes beyond solving a specific part of the collaboration problem brilliantly, but looking at the larger picture in light of expanding collaboration needs, and the information management problems that could arise later. The “larger picture” has always been the focus at HyperOffice, and we have sought to bring an ever wider range of essential team communication and collaboration tools in a single solution.

Does your company seem to be running into the patchwork quilt problem?

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