Wednesday, March 03, 2010

From Collaboration to Business Value?

#AIIM @noelrath @jmancini77 via @dhinchcliffe @skemsley .

Dion and Sandy retweeted a list of 8 Ways to Make Sure That Collaboration Adds Business Value on John Mancini's blog, possibly authored by Noel Rath of HP. I just wanted to add a few critical comments here.

1 -- Collaboration is part of a process.

One way of looking at this argument is to say that it is the business processes that deliver business value. Therefore the only way for collaboration to deliver business value is through the business processes - for example, helping people to communicate more efficiently and to make more effective decisions - or perhaps helping the supervisory level of management to control and audit what is going on.

But we can think of this in two ways. One is to think of "collaboration" as some stuff that gets plugged into an existing process, plus some additional control mechanisms to prevent people actually using this stuff in ways that might produce "adverse business consequences". This approach may well result in a more complicated and only slightly more effective process.

Alternatively, we can think of "collaborative" as a radically new way of architecting and regulating processes - based perhaps on a cybernetic paradigm (for example Stafford Beer's Viable Systems Model), with the potential to optimize the business value obtained from the transformation.

2 -- Control is essential. 

3 -- Records management is a discipline. 
8 -- Records management should be back-end driven. 

The article asserts that control of information processes is critical to reduce risk, and that it is the role of information specialists to ensure that collaborative technologies support the business and do not introduce unintended consequences. I suspect that this refers to a fairly narrow conception of risk, defined in terms of uncertainty of outcome, which is what people worry about in fairly simple business situations. For more complex situations, we also need to think about ambiguity (uncertainty of meaning) and ambivalence (uncertainty of intention). Collaborative intelligence can be extremely valuable in helping to address these higher uncertainties, but this kind of intelligence doesn't thrive in the wrong kind of control environment.

4 -- Consider content sources and types.
5 -- SharePoint collaboration.

These two points are more about technical design rather than business value, so I don't want to comment further.

6 -- Educate.
7 -- Consider the knowledge worker.

The article advocates "educating" the knowledge worker to get more productivity out of them, but doesn't want to overload the knowledge worker with the responsibility of deciding what is important for the business. Sounds like a Theory X management style to me.

Overall then, the article is mostly about records management. No doubt people who are scared by the idea of genuine collaboration and organizational intelligence will be attracted by this kind of half-hearted approach, but it doesn't have much to do with my notion of collaboration or my notion of business value.

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