Collaboration happens between people. People collaborate around content that is created and/or shared during collaborative interactions. It is a continuum that includes multiple technologies and modalities that people weave in and out of depending on the context of the collaboration. Individuals involved in collaborative interactions move between solo activities and group work in community spaces seamlessly. We move through periods of synchronous and asynchronous activities throughout our work day. The key thing required in this continuum is context.

Having context helps to keep purpose front and center in collaborative interactions. This includes capturing ad hoc collaboration and providing some structure so that it is outcome-based. The growing convergence of collaboration technologies also provides an opportunity to contextualize them. For years, contextual collaboration has been the Holy Grail. One of the major barriers has been the proprietary islands of technology built by major vendors. It has been hard to push real interoperability on technology providers who use non-interoperability as a weapon, but I digress. However, convergence around cloud and mobile has been impacting this.

With regard to context, using cloud resources to integrate collaborative events within a “smart” workflow would let participants focus on the business process, not the collaboration process, giving them smooth and predictive navigation, transparent access to the right people and content and the tools, permissions, profiles and other metadata they need. That is essentially structured collaboration that leads to real outcomes.

An enterprise collaboration strategy should focus on the people doing the collaborating and the tasks they are doing it to perform. It should use multimodal technology that supports mobile users inside and outside the enterprise. A big problem with traditional collaboration tools is that they are stuck in a desktop paradigm. They were designed for desktops, which alienates remote workers.

Technology choices should be evaluated against specific use cases and should result in measurable business outcomes. They should also take into account the sunk cost of the existing infrastructure, and the collaboration design for each business process should consider the resource needs of different interactions.

It is extremely important to put people first: If collaborators agree that certain interactions are optimal in a given context, and the measured business outcomes confirm that, then consider making the infrastructure investments that will empower them to succeed, and it bears repeating, but enterprise planners have to ensure collaboration technology app designs support mobile or remote workers.

I’ve discussed the rise of the business buyer repeatedly, but this phenomenon is at the heart of the people, content and collaboration continuum. Lines of business leaders increasingly possess budget to make significant technology buying decisions. For example, the chief marketing officer (CMO) budget for technology procurement is now larger than that of information technology (IT) in many organizations. In fact, there is a growing number of CMOs who possess both business and technical skills. I spoke with a senior vice president of human resources for a large media organization, who explained that their recent recruitment process for their CMO entailed looking for candidates with both soft and hard skills. A key driver is the push for technology investments to directly support specific business outcomes.

The focus has to be on the people, their content and the full life cycle of interactions that span inside and outside of the organization. Along with that should be a holistic collaboration strategy that ensures tools help people arrive at measurable business outcomes.

Dave Smith is the research director and lead analyst for collaboration at Aragon Research. Previously, Mr. Smith was a research analyst at Gartner, where he covered collaboration and web conferencing. Follow him on Twitter @DaveMario.

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