Why collaborate? It's a fair question. While almost every company I meet talks about implementing or improving collaboration, most of the time they do not have a clear sense of what they are trying to achieve.
The conversation goes something like this:
"We really need to improve our ability to collaborate."
"We need to organize better and improve access to information."
"And how do you intend to do that?"
"We are thinking of hiring a consultant to help us deploy a sharing tool."
"How will this help you achieve your business goals?".
"Having better access to information will improve productivity."
While it is true that often such collaboration revolves around information, we should not make the mistake of believing that collaboration is simply about sharing information. Better access to more information does not improve productivity unless it allows activities that were previously not possible (for example, advanced data analysis) or accelerate existing activities.
Actual collaboration refers to how to improve the processes that people use to do their jobs. Start with a focus on "information," and you will be doomed to fail. Start with a focus on "people," and you're on the right track.
This is especially true for enterprise-scale collaboration. You can not simply send a memo explaining a new information structure for file sharing and expect thousands of people to begin adapting their processes to use this new framework. The combination of ingrained habits and the learning curve often lead to inertia.
Let's look at a relatively simple example:
Creating and reviewing documents. Just making it easier to create and share documents in one central location can reduce productivity and quality rather than increase - especially if the result is a proliferation of slightly different document versions. A true collaboration platform enables processes that help individuals create documents and obtain others to provide version control and system auditing so that everyone knows which documents are the most recent and who used them.
Records management has been practiced for generations, but today, the number of actors involved in the task and how it needs to be done have changed drastically. It is no longer enough to simply establish better access to records through new technology. We need to understand the people and processes of the equation. What people in the organization have the responsibility to manage records? How is this responsibility performed and audited? How are your processes integrated with general business functions that are already in place (for example, document creation and analysis, with version control and auditing)?
It's great that so many companies are entering the wave of collaboration. However, a collaboration platform only works if it is used correctly. What it means to start not with information, but with people and processes.