I spent the past week in the UK and Europe talking to customers about their ITstrategies and priorities. It was a great trip; I always enjoy getting direct perspectives and I find it especially valuable to spend time outside of the US. One of the most pervasive and consistent conversations was around collaboration technologies. Specifically, these conversations were about how a companies’ IT strategy can enable more effective collaboration.
As I was holding these meetings, I was also personally transitioning to my new role in CMA. To communicate our initial plans and get feedback, we used conference calls, web-casts, town hall meetings, and global Emails. As I began to interact with the various team members from around the world, it really became apparent to me how much had changed in terms of collaboration. Each of us is now using a wide mixture of the tools to communicate and collaborate; and we each have our personal preferences.
While this is no great revelation in itself the fact is however that there is no one preferred, or even best way, to collaborate. A person might argue that sitting down and having a face to face meeting is always the best, but that is simply not the case. For example, I will often IM or Email someone 20 feet away to ask a quick question or send an update.
I believe, for large companies, there are 3 key characteristics of collaboration that need to be addressed: I will label these
- Global Collaboration
- Generational Collaboration
- Contextual Collaboration.
Global Collaboration and Global Companies
EMC, like most large companies, is a “Global Company.” Being a successful global company these days has a whole new meaning in terms of how we must operate. In the past, I would characterize most large multinational companies as being, for example, a US company, with “operations” in given countries. While selling products globally, the company would still identify itself as an American, Japanese, or German, etc. company. This identification is no longer even relevant in today’s marketplace. To operate globally, companies must now innovate, operate, support their customers, and most importantly, collaborate around the world as if they were a “local company.”
To do this, companies must do more than just sell the same product and services around the world; truly global companies must posses the ability to leverage their global strengths while also understanding and reacting to unique needs and priorities. To do this, companies must use every means possible to build collaboration and communications capabilities that enable global teams.
Most people (my age at least) will remember having at least one boss, that when confronted with the Email phenomenon, dealt with it by having an administrator print out his/her Email to read and then would hand write replies for the administrator to transcribe a response. At the time I was amused by the individual’s unwillingness to embrace change. Today, many of us face these same communications shifts as our kids communicate and collaborate in whole new ways.
The next generation of employees is communicating and collaborating in whole new ways and so companies must adapt their methodologies and IT strategies to embrace these new forms of collaboration in order to get the full value and remain competitive. From Blogging to IM, we have a whole new generation of communication modes. Even gaming is changing how we prefer to collaborate and even how we make decisions.
As I noted, there is no one “right” way to collaborate. The ideal method will depend on many factors. One principle factor is to understand the context. In this case, by context, I mean the situation. Where are the team members or participants? Is this a discussion or is a decision needed? Are there time zone constraints, language constraints, etc? The list goes on…..
So, collaboration is no longer a simple matter. Our companies are more global, our employees have new preferences and we simply have more tools at our disposal. Success in IT used to be mostly about building best-in-class ERP, CRM, operations, and Email systems. The critical differential today will be how a companies build their IT and Information Infrastructures to embrace and facilitate global, multi-cultural, and multi-medium collaboration.
The answer though (for IT and Business Managers) as to a strategy, however, is very simple – ENABLE EVERYTHING – especially the low-cost alternatives to travel. I believe that companies that embrace these new methods of collaboration will gain a significant competitive edge over those that choose to constrain their employees to today’s methods.
In the next blog, I want to talk about ideas to differentiate your collaboration strategy.