Collaboration is Broken and We Need to Fix It (Soon)

According to McKinsey, knowledge workers spend a whopping 19 percent of their day searching for information and expertise. Why?

Take any one task and look at all the applications you use to get it done. Look at all the people you need to involve to do it. Look at all the time you waste switching between apps, foraging for information, searching for expertise. Think about when the process you’re following was created (hint: probably in a bygone time when business moved slower).

Frustrating, irritating and demoralizing, isn’t it?

Now add in all of the activities that pop up, causing you to constantly re-prioritize what you’re working on, based on urgency and who’s asking you to do it. The cognitive load associated with switching between tasks is by itself enough to kill productivity momentarily, but on top of that you’ve got a whole different set of applications to deal with, a different set of people to find and a different process to follow. (I’m not even going to talk about all the meetings on your calendar just waiting to kill your momentum.)

What about innovating? What about brain-swarming problems you run into? What about discovering something new going on in another part of your organization that might make you more productive and your work outcome that much better? What about being creative, and lending your talent and experience to others so that you stay energized and don’t feel like an automaton, a cog in a giant wheel, a non-human? If this ever happens today for you, it’s likely to involve ANOTHER set of tools that you don’t have time to check out, because — wait for it — you’re too busy.

Why Is It Like This?

Traditional technology vendors push organizations to standardize their stack. This has been the accepted conventional wisdom, because it’s easier to deal with fewer vendors, and the assumption is that all of their technologies integrate well together, which supposedly cuts down on the learning curve, lowers TCO and provides more robust cross-application development capabilities.

Unfortunately user experience isn’t necessarily the driving force behind these purchases. Procurement-approved vendors typically bolt on “good enough” capabilities to keep up with the changing needs of the business, quickly trying to commoditize what could be innovative capabilities — strapped on to whatever the application was originally built for. Simply put, the new features must fit into the old paradigm. This retrofitting goes on year after year until, finally, the stack is an unrecognizable mess.

Organizations think they’re saving money by going with the “good-enough” offerings of their traditional vendors, because they’re seemingly free or nearly free. Yet they spend millions getting these collaboration technologies to work the way the business needs them to. This is partly due to IT’s traditional approach to meeting the needs of business. As they continually strive to deliver exactly what’s asked for on top of these good-enough applications, they end up creating an even bigger kludge that’s even more difficult to use and maintain.

We’ve got to fix this broken state of collaboration.

Some progressive CIOs already are. They have a seat at the executive table and are becoming leaders in transforming their enterprises into more productive, more innovative companies, while reducing infrastructure and operational costs. They’re doing this by acknowledging the fact that offerings from their current vendor stacks aren’t going to cut it, since those vendors’ best interest is to preserve existing revenue by locking companies in. Forward-thinking CIOs are choosing best-of-breed social collaboration offerings, rethinking status quo IT processes and policies, and using business outcomes to measure the success of more of their decisions.

The Future of Collaboration

In the future, collaboration technologies will “disappear,” transparently allowing people to focus on work, not on the tools. People will have greater visibility into the “why” behind what they and their colleagues are doing, and how everyone contributes to the organization’s goals. Project owners will assemble the best available people to get things done, and innovation will bloom as fast as organizational culture allows. Managers will have great insight about what their teams are doing, what they know and where they could use some coaching. They’ll also be able to find individuals across the organization with career development potential.

All of this will take place using best-of-breed, cloud-based technologies designed around the end user, that can easily be integrated with today and tomorrow’s technology stacks. Analytics will push applications, information and people to individuals based on their roles and activities, enabling them to aggregate those applications, information and people on any device in a way that’s meaningful to them, without involving IT.

IT organizations will experience an increase in customer (end user) satisfaction, and be seen as leaders in innovating their business. They’ll also experience a reduction in infrastructure and operational costs by moving from on-premises to the secure, managed cloud. They’ll reduce the need for end user training and support with more intuitive UXs and more frequent micro-upgrades, develop custom applications on top of their new stackless cloud infrastructure more quickly with fewer resources, minimize upgrade planning activities (e.g., integration, customization, security testing) and reduce customizations.


As with any change, there are challenges. Organizations need to be mindful that too much transparent consensus building and opinion sharing can impede decision making, which can negate the value of the new social collaboration environment and drive the company back into the old disconnected, siloed way of working. Companies must strike a balance between transparency and privacy where collaboration is concerned.

CIOs and procurement professionals will need to balance maintenance costs with IT innovation. In a recent Forrester Research survey of IT leaders at more than 3,700 companies, respondents estimated that they spend an average 72 percent of the money in their budgets on such keep-the-lights-on functions as replacing or expanding capacity and supporting ongoing operations and maintenance, while only 28 percent of the money goes toward new projects.

IT organizations will need to become even more business outcome focused, and not rely on “good enough” cloud or on-premises collaboration stacks, but embrace best-of-breed offerings. In some cases, they will need to be more proactive in leading transformation rather than simply reacting to business requests. This will necessitate retooling IT resources and processes across the IT service management set of practices.

Final Thoughts

There is no question that there have been tremendous advances in collaboration platforms and technology, and more companies around the world are beginning to understand the value that can be realized. But we still have a long way to go (as I so delicately suggested above) — both in understanding the true impacts across companies and in breaking down the barriers to get innovative social collaboration tools installed. Here’s to seeing how far we go in 2015!

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