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Enough Talk

Enough Talk

CIOs need to start thinking smarter about collaboration technology and the culture shift it requires

ENOUGH is a word that should be deleted from the directory of business lexicon. These days, nothing is ever fast enough, profitable enough or good enough.

Those who work in government often complain about how nothing ever happens fast enough, seeing their colleagues weighed down by inertia, poor systems lack of vision and, in some cases, no compelling reason to change or accelerate their work practices.

Anyone who has worked for a publicly-listed company will know that no matter how much money you make, whatever profit you bring in, it is never ever enough. The boss always wants and expects more.

The search to find additional business speed or profit will often begin with the ubiquitous team meeting, where ideas are shared about how to maximize strengths and dump or improve behaviours that drag the proverbial chain.

At any such gathering I have attended, the No.1 priority on the whiteboard is the need to improve communication, followed closely by a mutual commitment to work together.

Everyone is sincere in this desire but few are honest enough to take the pain of being more communicative and collaborative. Most believe the answer lies in being able to make themselves heard. Of course, it is the opposite: it's all about listening. To use the sales cliche, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Nevertheless, we all like to use our voices far more. Well, we're only human. So perhaps it makes sense that CIOs are again turning to technology to fix the frailties of mankind.

Their tech-of-choice has become the application de jour - collaboration software.

Brochure-ware

Organizations across the economy are blowing budgets on big-ticket solutions that say all the right things in the brochure and on the box but sometimes prove to be a crushing failure when the humble workers get their hands on it.

The culture and history of IT works against the collaborative mission, too. Technology teams have developed skills and built their reputation on putting in systems that automate predictable routines; sometimes enshrining poor business process rather than delivering improvements beyond thinning out the workforce.

To bring the teamwork challenge to reality, IT departments must now be the catalyst for enhancing colleagues' relationships, rather than deliver them pink slips. This is no easy task. It does not help that those who hold the purse-strings - the ROI-demanding senior executives - question constantly the pay-off for collaborative software.

A common question for the CIO is, "how do you put a price on collaboration?" In times of such budget sobriety and responsibility it is reasonable to ask but ultimately hard to answer.

Getting hung up on the cost-benefit issue is a bad start to a collaboration project. The benefits will be found in the qualitative, not the quantitative. Their answer lies in the transformational, not purely the operational.

It is also dangerous to ignore the trend of colleagues to work together more in the virtual than the real world. Instant Messaging, with which staff write to each other when they are only a couple of cubicles away, is the first sign of this happening. It might be a Dilbert scenario to the old cynics, but this behaviour becomes more entrenched every day. It is possible that by the end of the decade workers will spend by a factor of five more time collaborating online than face to face.

When today's cutting edge technologies, such as peer-to-anywhere wireless and presence systems, hit the mainstream the trend will accelerate.This means CIOs need to start thinking harder and smarter now about collaboration technology and the associated culture change. To ignore it risks an outcome in five years in which companies will trail competitors and be out of step with their younger staff, who will expect such technology to be a click away.

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