Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Classifying collaborative technologies

As we work on our collaboration strategy, the biggest hurdle is how to communicate what exactly collaborative technologies are. In short, any tool that enables people to work together more effectively or in wholly new ways regardless of distance or affiliation is a collaborative tool. While accurate, this definition is so broad that some folks have difficulty getting their arms around it. "So, when are you going to roll out collaboration?" is not a meaningful question, and not one that you want to hear.

So, after discussion and consultation with others, we decided that there are two distinguishing characteristics of collaborative tools -- synchronous v. asynchronous and ad hoc v. formalized. In general, tools in a given quadrant have similar characteristics and address similar needs. Of course, there are tools that bleed over these neat boundaries, but it gives us a starting point.

On reason these tools bleed over is that many of them are really collections of multiple functions. Team workspaces such as eRoom or Sharepoint Services are examples of this. Another reason is that the physical space analogue of the tool may cover multiple dimensions. For example, there are many different types of meetings. While all are synchronous, they fill the spectrum between ad hoc and formalized. Virtual meeting tools may support some types of meetings well, and not support other types of meetings at all.

Another limitation of this model is that it doesn't show how collaborative technologies relate to other technologies. This was a common question asked as I used this model to gather input on business priorities and pain points. There was confusion around the relationship between team workspaces and document management, for instance.

So, maybe this approach, while somewhat helpful, isn't really the right approach.

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