Monday, March 29, 2010

Contextual Collaboration. (Part 2 in a Series) What Are Businesses Searching For?

(This is part 2 in the "Contextual Collaboration" series. Read Part 1 here.)

The Question: As business leaders we are constantly being asked to generate more value from the teams we lead. One promising way to do that is to engender a culture of productive collaboration. The challenge is how to make that happen. What are business leaders perceiving to be the key elements of great collaboration? This is the question I want to address today.

The Background: After the recession’s focus on trimming down the costs all business have had to become very lean on resources. All business leaders are being asked to get more done with their reduced workforces.  The traditional approach to getting work done of "ramping up staff" and "sending the over the top" is no longer an option. Today's leaders have to find non-linear solutions that generate high productivity with small teams. This recession is forcing businesses to rediscover the non-linear leverage of productive teaming and collaboration.

To investigate this question I began researching what businesses are looking for in collaboration technologies and solutions.  My jump off point for this investigation was to look at what people were searching for related to "business collaboration". Using Google's ad-words keyword suggestion tool I was able to identify the key themes people are searching. Here is what popped out as the top 25 most searched for keyword phrases related to "business collaboration": 

Business Collaboration


A
B
C
D
1
Keywords
Advertiser Competition
Local Search Volume: December
Global Monthly Search Volume
2
technology
1
13600000
16600000
3
open source
1
1500000
4090000
4
logistics
1
2240000
3350000
5
innovation
1
1220000
2240000
6
supply chain
1
1220000
1500000
7
document management
1
368000
1220000
8
procurement
1
823000
1000000
9
workflow
1
450000
823000
10
team building
1
368000
823000
11
challenges
0.93
823000
823000
12
teamwork
1
301000
673000
13
content management
1
450000
673000
14
conferencing
1
550000
673000
15
collaboration
1
550000
673000
16
best practices
1
550000
550000
17
supply chain management
1
301000
450000
18
project management software
1
368000
450000
19
collaborative
0.93
368000
450000
20
business process
1
301000
450000
21
portals
1
201000
368000
22
knowledge management
1
201000
368000
23
value chain
0.93
60500
201000
24
web conferencing
1
90500
135000
25
groupware
1
90500
135000
26
collaborate
0.86
74000
110000
27
wikis
0.93
40500
74000
28
enterprise content management
1
33100
40500
29
collaboration software
1
33100
33100
30
sharepoint wiki
0.8
12100
27100

The highest ranking areas (Blue) show key areas where people are looking for better collaboration technologies with the keyword "Technology" right at the top. Everyone is looking for the "technology silver bullet".  Right after "technology" are "open source", "SW development", "logistics",  and "innovation".

Next in the rankings we find the tools, methods and practices people believe will help to achieve better collaboration. Bundling closely related searches and ranking by search volume the key pain points are as follows.

1) Work Flow and Business process
2) Document and Content Management,
3) Team work and team building,
4) Conferencing
5) Collaboration
6) Knowledge Management
7) Portals, Wiki’s
8) Groupware

The thing that immediately jumps out of this data for me is it looks like businesses are struggling with managing information and workflow in team contexts and are searching for solutions specific to team environments. I believe much of this is a result of a ramp up in use of highly distributed teams and the deep cuts in staff size.

In the past a lot of information would get processed and problems solved by having face to face interactions in a common office location where communication fidelity was high. Even more important than face-to-face planned meetings it was the random "chance" meetings that are now fully lost and had something to do with a big part of business productivity. These chance meetings often were the most important meetings that allowed work teams and individuals to address issues before they even emerged as problems. Now we have globally distributed teams spanning continents and cultures and all that sorting through info that was done in these face to face encounters has been lost. It's clear businesses are struggling with teaming and process topics in the workplace. They are looking hard for technology to solve these productivity problems for them in the context of the new "globally distributed workplace".

Is the only solution a return to the days of large office buildings full of hundreds or thousands of centrally located workers? I don't think so. I think globally distributed and "virtual" workforces can work. But we need some new types of collaboration solutions for the enterprise worker and also some new "best practices" in using the collaboration technologies we already have. I'm convinced the teaming benefits of regular chance encounters, and the organic productivity those encounters delivered, can be recaptured.

In this series on Contextual Collaboration I started by talking about how "context" is critical for businesses and individuals in managing the information overload problem. In this post I looked at the specific areas in which businesses are suffering from a lack of collaboration productivity. The next step is to start looking at specific approaches to implementing collaboration using context as the key tool for delivering truly productive collaboration with small and/distributed teams?

What's your take on this topic? Do the collaboration technologies you have at your fingertips today actually address the problems you face? Or do they perhaps even make them worse? How do you think we can "think differently" about how we design, deploy, use and support collaboration technologies so we can "resolve" this age old problem? Is "context" the key" Will it turn loosely bound, distributed teams into powerhouses of productivity?

Add your comments and continue this discussion.
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