Collaboration was very much top of the agenda at the recent World Economic Forum where the great and good meet to discuss the world's ills. Even outside the rarefied atmosphere of Davos, the world in general is becoming more attuned to the concept — virtual or otherwise — and many companies are now looking at ways to effectively utilise this aggregation of data and interactivity.
When you look at some of the biggest success stories to come out of social media — companies like Groupon and Demand Media, they are built on the idea of community and their success comes from harnessing collective participation.
For the CIO the value of collaboration is nothing new. It has long been viewed as a critical factor in driving innovation and building a bridge between the IT department and the business. It's not necessarily about social media and its use within the enterprise, but rather any tool that enables dispersed groups of individuals to work together toward a single objective.
The best and most successful companies rarely build anything these days. How much of the iPad is actually built by Apple? Not much. Why? Because Steve Jobs definitively understands that Apple's success is down to ideas and conversation – not production.
The problem for most companies is retaining control over people, processes and tools, and that is why collaboration is so far up the agenda at the moment. At its core, collaboration is about relationships – bringing end users closer to the development of new products and services or harnessing their power as advocates – and also about facilitation within the supply chain and, perhaps most importantly, within the business itself.
Just about anything can be measured, including the impact and future potential collaboration can have on an organisation if properly orchestrated.
For example, I recently met with a large-scale customer in the manufacturing industry that felt the marriage of cloud and collaboration could be instrumental in significantly boosting cost-savings and imparting a well overdue information-sharing culture change within the organisation.
The results of a TCO and ROI analysis on deploying next generation collaboration were staggering: £10 million total potential annual benefits could be achieved as the solution is rolled out and users start to take advantage of the advanced functionality.
The study highlighted a number of key areas that could be augmented by faster, smarter and cloud-centric collaboration including: application and desktop sharing; voicemail; VoIP; web conferencing; peer-to-peer audio and video; Instant Messaging federation; and security.
The excuse that centralised and cross-functional communication within an organisation is limited by the tools at employees' fingertips is out of date. Collaboration in all of its forms is an increasingly important part of the business success story.
From a CIO's perspective, closer collaboration with the business means a transparent departmental approach that is far better able to support organisational goals and drivers moving forward. At a practical level, collaboration is also about the right tools to maximize opportunities and foster new ways of developing ideas and social interaction.
It's enabling people to come together in a safe but open environment. It is as much about being able to share information securely as it is having the ability to open your doors to partners, suppliers and customers without jeopardising integrity and privacy. I think if there is one thing worth putting on your wish list this year, it should be investing in new ways to enhance collaboration.
Trust me — your employees, customers and bottom line will thank you for it.