In a hyper-connected world in which organisations are increasingly focused on core competencies, some businesses seek external collaboration to create value that they cannot complete alone.
For others, external collaboration is a way to rejuvenate internal processes via an injection of new ideas from external actors, whose vision is not constrained in the same ways as internal personnel.
Both of these circumstances can be addressed by traditional or dynamic collaboration.
In traditional collaboration, a defined group of contributors works to achieve a particular goal, often via a single project.
Such projects may include hundreds of contributors, both internal and external, but project membership and goals are often tightly controlled.
In virtually all such cases, participants can't unilaterally self-select. Dynamic collaboration often encompasses a range of projects with a shifting cast of contributors over time.
Cloud might be the preferred means to rapidly enable technical support for any collaboration in which participants are widely dispersed, and do not otherwise share an infrastructure of tools and support for collaboration — traditional or dynamic.
CIOs considering using the public cloud as a collaboration platform need to answer some questions first:
- Are Our Needs Best Met by a Traditional Collaboration or a Dynamic Collaboration?
- What Are Our Goals?
Any collaboration, including cloud, starts with shared goals.
If goals are concise in scope and purpose, clearly structured, and considered achievable with a limited and largely known collection of contributors, use traditional collaboration.
If goals are broad, evolving, and only achievable with contributions from a potentially large and fluid group of contributors, use dynamic collaboration.
Do We Know Who Should Be Involved From the Start?
If ideal participants can easily be identified by name, or if the skills required are specific enough to narrow participants down to a finite group with very specific skills or capabilities, use traditional collaboration.
If ideal participants are unknown or can only be identified by a general description, then the collaboration is probably dynamic.
What Culture and Governance Are Appropriate?
All collaborations require governance.
Governance is more difficult (if less formal) in a dynamic collaboration because participants change frequently, new participants must accept and be oriented to the governance mechanisms that control the collaboration, and collaborations may extend over years.
In some dynamic collaborations, such as the open-source movement, it is assumed that participants share values and beliefs that are consistent with the goals of the collaboration.
In the absence of shared values and beliefs, it might be better to scale back to a traditional collaboration, with more clearly defined (or less ambitious) goals and simpler governance mechanisms.
Who Owns the Products of the Collaboration?
In a traditional collaboration, intellectual property (IP) and other property rights are usually allocated among participants as part of the ground rules for the collaboration.
In a dynamic collaboration, individual property rights may be abandoned from the start in favour of the common good, however that is defined by the participants.
If the dynamic collaboration is intended to produce desirable outcomes for a particular person or entity, then sponsoring participants must be ready to define property rights in terms acceptable to a wide range of potential contributors, or scale back to more limited, traditional collaborations.
Consider also the extent to which participants wish to be identified to other participants and third parties, and to what extent must contributions be protected from others.
Is the Public Cloud the Appropriate Vehicle for the Collaboration We Have in Mind?
Traditional collaboration can be less attractive candidate for the public cloud than a dynamic collaboration.
Some collaborative projects require performance that is not available in the public cloud.
The limited number of participants, concisely structured goals and often the shorter time frames involved makes traditional collaborations more likely to be housed in on-premises shared spaces.
Even when participants are more widely dispersed, traditional collaborations often have extensive requirements for security and privacy that are more easily fulfilled within an enterprise infrastructure designed for such purposes.
Finally, the urgency of many collaborations argues strongly for supporting them with an infrastructure that is already operational and known to meet requirements, even if a suitable public cloud environment is available.
By contrast, a dynamic collaboration is often well-suited for support via public cloud. If the collaboration is already open to all who are interested, security and privacy requirements are probably not very high.
The sponsoring organisation may find it difficult or impossible to extend its on-premises collaboration tools and support to widely dispersed participants, especially if something more than a simple commodity like email or team rooms is required.
If collective-intelligence tools, such as rating mechanisms, are necessary, they may not be available in-house, but may be easily supplied via the cloud.
If there is potential for the number of participants or the volume of their contributions to scale rapidly and steeply, public cloud can make it easier to meet demand, and can do so faster and with lower costs, in many cases.
Should We Experiment With Collaboration in the Cloud?
Some CIOs will look on collaboration projects — traditional or dynamic — as opportunities to experiment with public cloud in a relatively low-pressure environment.
However, it doesn't mean that the next collaboration that comes along should be thrown into the cloud.
Many traditional collaborations are anything but low-pressure fodder for experiments. In fact, they may be strategic initiatives whose success, failure or compromise has big consequences for the organisation.
Most CIOs will soon experiment with cloud-based collaboration, if they haven't already.
These guidelines can help select the best candidates for experiments, keeping in mind that, in many cases, businesses have very usable alternatives and can take their time to explore collaboration in the cloud.
Richard Hunter is vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner