Online Tools Can Deliver, But Choose Wisely

A new CBC News article on collaboration and productivity tools includes quotes from me on choosing the appropriate basic set of capabilities, and the importance of education and training to help people u derstand how the tools can streamline their existing work processes:

For all their similarities, online tools behave differently from what people are used to. For instance, Mader says, “it’s a shock” when other people work directly on someone’s document. “It violates their sense of ownership.”

Mader recommends training to prevent such shocks.

“I try to mitigate this issue by having people collaborate on stuff they know will be shared, like a meeting agenda or minutes from a meeting,” he says.

Even if collaboration tools take root in a company, usage may plateau. Thanks to introductory incentives like free usage for a certain number of people, different tools can creep into a business. Initial enthusiasm can give way to strife when people using different tools need to share information but find themselves in collaboration-killing “software silos” made of tools meant to enhance collaboration.

That’s why it’s better to settle on one tool for the whole company before employees start using tools of their choosing. Mader figures that this one tool needs at least three things: document handling, blogging capabilities and discussion forums (plus the ability to turn off any features that collaborators don’t need).

Consolidating financial, support, and training resources around a single primary platform gives it the highest probability of success. I have worked with a number organizations that hired me as a consultant to help deal with the fragmentation that resulted from piecemeal adoption of multiple collaboration tools, and the approach I take is to identify the tool with the best chance of long-term impact and work with early adopters to consolidate on that platform, then share their case studies to increase awareness of the new toolset, improved workflows, and overall strategy.

This hosted setup commonly evokes security fears and grumbling about a lack of offline access. While there’s no easy answer to the latter criticism, champions of hosted setups counter security fears by noting that companies selling these services focus heavily on security since it could make or break their businesses.

“It’s the most important thing for a vendor to get right,” Mader says.

In a market where the main capabilities of productivity and collaboration tools are largely similar, security is one of the best ways a prpduct can differentiate itself from the competition. A story in at the New York Times about exploiting the local storage capability of HTML5 to gather more information about peoples’ online habits reinforces this point. As tools get ever more useful, we need to be aware of what data they are deliberately or inadvertently collecting, and push software makers to treat our data as they would their own personal information.

The field will grow more mobile thanks to the spread of smartphones and slate computers like Apple’s iPad.

“Collaboration will be the iPad’s sweet spot,” Mader says, “but vendors have yet to create an interface that really takes advantage of the iPad.”

Even though I gave this interview about two months ago, no collaboration software maker has yet released either an iOS app or a more mobile-friendly interface to their products. Let’s hope we see some movement soon to take advantage of the mobile devices we are increasingly relying on for daily work.

Special has to Luigi Benetton for interviewing me and including my thoughts in this article. You can read more of Luigi’s articles on his website: Luigi Benetton Communications

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