The Strategic Potential of Collaboration Software

Those who follow the HyperOffice blog know that in our last series of posts, we have been focusing on the business problem of collaboration, beyond a narrow technology focus.  “Collaboration” in its broad sense, is what every organization is ultimately involved in – people working together to achieve organizational goals. In our last post, the “three pillars of collaboration” we had emphasized that to be truly collaborative, organizations need to get 3 ducks in a row – policies/processes, technology and culture – rather than depending solely on technology.

But that is not to say that technology is completely subordinate to the other two “pillars of collaboration”. Quite often, technology creates previously unthinkable possibilities. To illustrate, before collaborative mobile and internet technologies – there was simply no way to keep field workers on the company’s information grid. But now employees can be kept on the grid wherever they are, which creates fantastic new opportunities in terms of how organizations can operate and structure themselves. This is an example of technology profoundly impacting the organizational bottom line.

In practice though, most often companies fall in the vicious cycle of stamping out immediate fires. Technology is approached similarly – a tool to share documents with so and so client, a sounding board for remote employees, a tool to collect information from website visitors. This approach however, ignores the true potential of collaboration software and leaves organizations with a rag tag of disorganized and disjoint tools (remember the problem of collaboration sprawl?). As that darling of manager types, Franklin Covey, reminds us, keeping on top of strategic goals is important to long term success, rather than getting caught in the whirlwind of everyday activities. Companies which are strategic, look beyond the myopia of the immediate, and create a framework for future success.

Collaboration software, because of its all-encompassing nature, needs to be seen in a similar strategic light. Here are the long term strategic possibilities that collaboration software creates:

Operate at greater scale: As Thomas Friedman told us in “the world is flat”, globalization and the internet have blown off our roof, knocked down our walls, and swiped out the floor from under our feet. The whole world is now a big market for talent and resources. This creates a massive potential for small and mid-sized organizations who now have access to the best talent and resources across the globe, at the most competitive rates, without the overheads of managing such a team in house. Collaboration software creates the framework within which such teams can be enabled with all the tools to work together and contribute.

Free organizational knowledge. Traditionally, organizational information has been scattered across multiple computers, servers, or email accounts – inaccessible exactly when needed. Collaboration software can be seen as an “organizational grid” where organizational information resides, and may freely be shared across the company network. This has a tremendous impact in terms of knowledge management where every document, record or any other information is readily available to employees exactly when needed.

Beyond that, collaboration software, especially cutting edge social collaboration software, encourages people to go beyond strict roles to contribute knowledge, and help each other out – a freeing up of knowledge trapped inside the minds of employees.

Engage customers and partners. Not only does collaboration software allow companies to extend to employees across the globe, it also allows companies to engage customers, partners and vendors like never before. Companies can even bring customers and partners right into their business flow. The result is happier, hence more loyal customers and partners, besides efficiencies in operations. To illustrate, a company may set up an extranet space for a customer project which involves external vendors. This is a place where everyone has a transparent view of project status, and can access information and contribute when their activities are due.

Streamline processes. Common processes relating to information may be served right through collaboration software – project management and delegation, document review, HR requests etc. Tools relating to specialized processes may be integrated right into the collaboration software using unified login or APIs.  Collaboration software therefore acts as a central hub for company processes. Not only is it simpler for employees to access everything in one place, it also breaks process silos, where processes may share the same information and have interactions.