Blogger: Larry Cannell
I have been officially involved in collaborative, communication, and content technologies since 1998, the year I joined an IT group called “collaborative applications.” What this meant practically, at least initially, was that I was the only full-time person in a group of about 15 people that wasn’t working on our big Outlook/Exchange migration. Although my interest in these technologies started long before, this fortuitous career change came at about the time the market for these solutions exploded.
The mid/late-1990s saw the arrival of the Internet and, along with it, technologies like portals, collaborative workspaces, web conferencing, various systems to manage content, and, of course, search. There was a brief hiatus (very brief) during the dot-com bust and then the market started expanding again, building on the interest created by successful Web 2.0 technologies (eventually called Enterprise 2.0) like blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, and social networking.
And it’s not slowing down! For example, now we are talking about enterprise use of microblogging (i.e., Twitter, but on intranets). Google Wave is causing excitement in how it remixes communication channels and collaborative spaces in new ways. Wolfram Alpha is also garnering attention (and just what is that thing anyway?). For all intents and purposes, it looks as if the only thing we can predict in the collaborative, communication, and content (3C) technology markets is that more change is surely coming.
The Frazzled IT Manager
It’s enough to leave IT managers responsible for these technologies exasperated (frazzled even), hoping for some stability to come to these markets. For many, every time a new 3C technology emerges IT has to respond to questions from senior management or users about how they could use it (or worse, when can we get it!).
That type of pressure isn’t necessarily bad (it shows a business eager to use technology to improve themselves) but it gets exhausting when all you can do is react to these external events. And we all know old IT tools rarely go away. In many cases, the result has been a mixed-bag of technologies, with some enterprises almost drowning in tools and the cost to maintain them.
What’s the Bigger Picture?
So, I’ll ask the question: “Are we there yet?”
A better question to ask is: “Where the heck are we going!”
What bigger set of needs do these communication, collaboration, and content (3C) technologies serve? With many IT applications the bigger picture is clear. For example, finance organizations are responsible for tracking sales, monitoring purchases, setting budgets, etc. The information technology that automates these responsibilities for large enterprises comes in the form of finance systems that can be customized with modules (e.g.,accounts receivable, accounts payable, and general ledger) from large vendors like SAP or Oracle.
When an IT person, who is part of the team that operates their company’s finance system, is at a family gathering and someone asks them what they do for a living, chances are the answer is fairly straightforward: “I work with computer systems that manage our company’s finances.” Most everyone understands, or has a sense for, the business objectives of a company’s finance organization.
What’s the Bigger Picture for 3C Tools?
If you are an IT person who is part of the team that takes care of 3C technologies how do you answer the question? Unless you are part of the e-mail team or maybe the search team, the answer doesn’t come easy or it might be best to avoid any details (“I work in IT”). This is because the bigger picture, the overall business objectives of 3C tools, are not well understood.
A simple answer might be: “I take care of IT systems that help us communicate, collaborate, or manage content better.” True, but this type of answer is kind of squishy (and may only encourage more probing questions from your cousin) and can hardly be used in really important conversations, like when you are asking for project funding.
To me, the greater purpose these technologies serve is kind of simple. It’s about work. These technologies help people work better individually and with others. In particular, they help us work online better.
This is the first in a series of blog posts introducing Burton Group’s Online Workplace Framework. Stay tuned.