Monthly Archives: August 2011

Bringing Collaboration to Your Organization

What does it take to integrate collaboration and social networking capabilities into your existing applications? If you are like most organizations, your enterprise architectures consist of components from many different vendors. When a problem arose, you researched solutions and decide that Oracle, for example, provides the best option for your particular needs. But perhaps the last time a new problem arose, Microsoft had the best solution for you. And perhaps next time around, it will be another vendor or possibly an open-source solution. Through time, your IT architecture becomes an amalgam of many different interlacing components. Eventually, as an organization grows large enough and the architecture becomes complex enough, leaders cannot simply ask, “What is the right solution for this particular problem?” They have to tack on a caveat: “What is the right solution for this particular problem that will integrate smoothly with my existing architecture?” In other words, how will the new component fit when the organization is using Oracle here and Microsoft there and a little IBM in between?

A complex architecture is not necessarily a detriment for an organization. Organizations must have a wide array of options when it comes to problem solving, and this naturally means that they’re going to end up with many different types of solutions. A complex architecture is often an optimized architecture. So the fact that your architecture might consist of many different kinds of applications, tools, hardware, and so on is a positive thing. However, this type of architecture can lead to disconnected systems and in some cases a duplication of functionality.

Since having a complex architecture is inevitable, you have to continually ask yourself, “What’s the best way to piece all this together?” Today, most organizations have adopted a service-oriented architecture (SOA) in a virtualized environment for building IT infrastructure. The services in a service-oriented architecture perform a defined set of work that is useful for one or more applications within the organization. As systems have gotten larger and more complex, SOA has enabled large organizations to decompose large software systems into common services. Each service then has a predefined interface through which other services can access its capabilities. This allows the organization to have a series of services that are reusable and can be used by other solutions as they become necessary. Core services, such as identity management and authentication, then become the foundation of an SOA environment. An SOA not only eliminates the cost of duplicate services but also allows the sharing of information across various applications.

With the wide spread adoption of server virtualization in data centers, it is now even easier to launch a new service in the enterprise. What once required obtaining a dedicated server or identifying an existing server to host a service can now be easily accomplished by creating a virtualized server on existing hardware. This flexibility allows IT staff to easily launch and test the viability of new services within a timely manner creating a more agile environment for hosting and testing new services.

If your collaboration solution consists of a series of services, they can be easily combined together to provide additional capability.  In addition, by integrating these capabilities into various enterprise applications, you eliminate the barriers to entry for your users.  This provides a robust easy to use environment for users to utilize collaborative capabilities without the traditional barriers to entry.  By looking at collaboration as a series of SOA services, we now have the ability to integrate these services across the organization – similar to the way core authentication service works.

Has Collaboration Gone Viral in Your Organization?

Forward-thinking leaders understand that collaboration is crucial for any organization that wants to be productive, adaptable, and creative. Collaboration allows employees to connect with colleagues, share information and ideas, discover who else in the organization is working on the same issues, and increase productivity. People solve problems they wouldn’t otherwise have solved, get work done quicker than ever before, and feel connected because they are working together toward a common goal.

Why, then, is it sometimes so difficult to make the leap from knowing that a higher level of collaboration would be good for your organization to actually implementing it? What tools does your organization need to help facilitate collaboration, and how do you ensure that your personnel will use those tools? Why do many organizations struggle to provide their employees with collaboration tools that can gain the critical mass necessary for collaboration to “go viral”?

If people in an organization want to collaborate but the tools are not easy to use, will they go the extra mile to collaborate or will the barriers still be too high? When people go to the collaboration site and no one is there, will they come back? Would you continue to go to Facebook if nobody else was online? The key in the corporate environment is to put collaboration literally at the fingertips of employees and to generate mass involvement—which is the only way that collaboration works.

You need to eliminate any barriers to entry by integrating the collaboration tools directly into the programs and tools that employees are already using every day.If, as you’re working, you have to pause and redirect your train of thought away from the material you’re working on and onto the collaboration tool you need to use to share your work, chances are you’ll opt to skip collaborating. But if the collaboration mechanisms are seamlessly integrated into the programs you use on a daily basis, you can share a document or initiate a chat without having to change your focus.

The philosophy of many organizations is “If you build it, they will come.” In this approach the organization has a vision to implement a new collaborative environment that includes all of the tools necessary to collaborate effectively.  The new environment is launched with great fanfare.  At first users use the environment but over time its use dwindles.  The barrier to entry is too great or users must consciously leave their existing applications to collaborate.

How often has your organization taken this approach?  Occasionally, that approach has worked; Facebook is probably the best example of this type of success in the consumer space.  But a lot of dead companies lie in Facebook’s shadow, as well as a lot of failed projects within organizations. Just like Zuckerberg, they built environments, interfaces, and platforms—but no one came. As you’ll hear from any CIO who has tried unsuccessfully to get employees to use a new collaboration suite, simply standing up an environment and hoping people will show up is a huge gamble. Rather than “If you build it, they will come,” the philosophy should be “If you integrate it, they will use it.”