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Is Unstructured Collaboration the Key to Business Agility?


Posted by on March 22, 2010

According to a report by Microsoft, it is (geared towards the manufacturing industry).  Towards the end of last year Drew Gude, Director, U.S. High Tech and Electronics Manufacturing Industry Solutions for Microsoft, wrote a report in which he said that “unstructured collaboration is going be the key to increased innovation and business agility in 2010.”  Here’s the most relevant quote from the article:

“In 2010, manufacturers will adopt social collaboration tools as they look to integrate social computing tools and platforms into their business processes, linking internal communities and external communities.”

While I’m a bit skeptical on the time frame, I definitely think this is the direction we are moving in and not just within the manufacturing industry.  Drew cites the largest challenge as being able to integrate tier 1 business applications such as ERP, PLM, and CRM systems; something I’m sure Ray Wang from Altimeter Group is suited to address.  Interestingly, Ray recently wrote an article stating that tier 1 solutions are harder to justify and that it would make more sense to go with a two-tiered approach, but I’ll let Ray handle all of that.  Back to unstructured collaboration.

Drew highlights three key areas where he believes online collaboration will take off in 2010:

  • Innovation
  • Customer Self-Service
  • Partner Self-Service

Again, it’s important to note that the term “enterprise 2.0″ was not mentioned anywhere in the article (E2.0 usually refers to internal collaboration) as collaboration in this case refers to external facing customers (in addition to internal collaboration).  What Drew touched upon in the bolded quote above is the very basic premise of a social business; the ability to link and collaborate both internally and externally and to have that information flow both ways.

Drew also goes on to say:

“To ensure the level of business agility necessary to compete in 2010 and beyond, high tech enterprises must adopt an unstructured collaboration platform and integrate it with the structured, transactional applications to ensure their competitiveness.”

Sadly, this is once again a tool-centric approach and not the right way to go about solving either innovation, customer service, or partner service challenges.  The ability to compete in 2010 and beyond rests largely on change management and not with the platform that a company decides to integrate.  I’m sure Drew didn’t mean that tools are more important than the people but I just wanted to make sure that is called out.

If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend that you read the report from Drew over at Microsoft and let me know what you think.

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  • http://www.showdocument.com/ laura

    For web conferences you should try http://www.showdocument.com ,
    Great for online teaching and collaborating. I use it for working on my designs with other in my field.
    Its free and pretty simple – you just upload your file and invite others to view it together.
    - Laura W.

  • benziegler

    Good post. Appreciate your thoughts.

    Yet, I think unstructured collaboration fits well with structured transactional approaches! I like the idea of the unstructured approach involving use of social tools on an appropriation collaboration platform.

    The structured/unstructured approach aligns with living in the two worlds we all live in; order and chaos. Both exist… companies have to deal with it… Designing corporate approaches that recognize this is good, and makes me think those companies are really thinking about the adage “design influences behaviour”.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      You are welcome and thanks a lot for the comment. It's going to be very interesting to see how government regulated industries are going to start adopting social computing platforms. Lots of work still need to be done around this space but it's exciting to watch!

  • rileybiz

    Drew's comments about manufacturers adopting social collaboration tools into their business also strikes me as a bit optimistic. When you talk about manufacturing, that involves specifications, design drawings, chem and physical property data, production timelines, etc. While the immediacy of social networking tools may play in certain situations, generally it will be other technologies that will change the nature of manufacturing rather than social media. Social media has found a home in the consumer products market where immediacy is a clear benefit. I suspect it will be much tougher to meet the cost-effective requirement manufacturing executives require before adopting social media.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Hi Riley,

      I think it's a bit optimistic as well especially for the reasons you outlines. Deploying collaboration tools globally is challenging, especially when you start to consider cultural differences from around the world. Apparently several manufacturing companies are getting involved with social media, will be interesting to see the case studies.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.rondegiusti.com/ Ron De Giusti

    It used to be that companies would put in an accounting system, an HR system, a CRM system, an ERP system, etc. And, these systems that were put in were essentially rapid database development tools where we would go in and customize the heck out of them and make sure all the data being captured was structured (God forbid we offer the users a free form text field, let's make it a drop-down with pre-picked values).

    Well, we seemed to have moved on from those days. We are now in an era of social media where the data that is being captured is unstructured. Could you imagine a system like Twitter where those tweet streams are being captured in a structured database? No way. It just does not make sense with the quantity and type of data that is coming thru to capture that type of information in a structured format.

    And, our ability to capture data that is not structured and yet still be able to anlayze it is far superior than it ever was. With “search” and “analytics” we can now attempt to make sense of this unstructured data that we never thought was possible back in the days of structured data capture. And thru “search” and “analytics” offering us the opportunity to make sense of unstructured data we just get more and more excited about creating and capturing unstructured data.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Hi Ron,

      Thanks for the solid comment. Those tools are still important and definitely still used. The big challenge I think is that all of the online data is not-structured yet we are trying to interpret it in a structured way. We're going to have to rely more and more on the tools out there to do this for us but I don't think we are there yet.

  • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

    Hi Ron,

    Thanks for the solid comment. Those tools are still important and definitely still used. The big challenge I think is that all of the online data is not-structured yet we are trying to interpret it in a structured way. We're going to have to rely more and more on the tools out there to do this for us but I don't think we are there yet.