Collaboration capability: A new imperative for information workers

The way many experts see it, collaboration is no longer one of those touchy-feely, nice-to-have corporate concepts. It’s an absolute must-have for survival and growth.

“Collaboration is a business strategy—a way to improve the productivity of people and teams and accelerate the flow of information through the company,” Forrester Research analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler write in "Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business” (Harvard Business Press, 2010).

And it’s a safe bet that collaboration will continue to grow in importance, especially for information workers (or, in Forrester’s shorthand, “iWorkers”) such as those involved in dynamic case management (DCM).

In the big picture, the global economy is already evolving from its historical industrial base to a new model based on largely on collaboration, according to consultant Don Tapscott, mostly recently co-author, with Anthony D. Williams, of "Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything” (Portfolio, 2008) and “Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World” (Portfolio, 2010).

That collaborative model is, of course, primarily due to the Internet, which not only allows people in widely dispersed locations to work together in new ways and at unprecedented levels, but does so at dramatically reduced costs. Increasingly, collaboration even occurs beyond traditional organizational boundaries—for instance, when employees in one company reach out to their counterparts in another. As Tapscott has put it: “The world can be your HR department.”

That, in turn, drives new types—and new heights—of innovative capability, experts say. Science writer Steven Berlin Johnson has succinctly summed up the relationship between collaboration and innovation this way: “Chance favors the connected mind.”

Meanwhile, the same shift is revolutionizing organizations right down to their foundations—even to the level of long-established definitions. “This is changing the whole nature of ‘what is a corporation?’” Tapscott has said. “Every organization, every firm, needs to figure out a strategy on how to embrace this new phenomenon.”

Not surprisingly, social networking is also skyrocketing in importance for improving employees’ ability to collaborate not just with each other, but with customers as well. In forecasting its top 10 trends for the current year and beyond, Forrester predicted that social approaches and technologies would continue to “infiltrate” both internal and customer-facing processes.

Gartner Inc. takes a similar view: “Today, people are getting onto social networks, the social Web, in unprecedented numbers,” Susan Landry, a managing vice president in Gartner Research, says in a video entitled "Business Gets Social." The consumer numbers alone are staggering, Landry notes: more than 500 million users on Facebook; more than 10 billion “tweets” on Twitter. “This is going on all around us,” she says. “Business must get social, too.”

Another top trend in collaboration: the growing role of cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) in enabling corporate collaboration. “Thirty-nine percent of North American and European enterprise IT professionals tell Forrester that their businesses have invested in, or plan to invest in, collaboration SaaS,” says TJ Keitt, a Forrester senior analyst whose research specialties include collaboration and social computing.

ebizQ’s own mid-2011 survey of business and IT professionals revealed similar levels of interest, with about a third of those polled looking to cloud to enable collaboration in process- and case-management initiatives.

Then there’s the role of mobility. As Schadler and colleague Rob Koplowitz, both Forrester vice presidents and principal analysts, put it in a presentation at Forrester’s most recent Content & Collaboration Forum: “Collaboration and mobile are two hot areas of investment that are best served together.” Their recommendation: For maximum impact, tightly align the two strategies.

Especially important to consider: the impact of smartphones and tablet computers as they move from the consumer world to the workplace. By 2015, about 160 million consumers will use a smartphone, while 80 million will own a tablet computer, according to Forrester’s projections. Many of those consumers are iWorkers—and they’re already looking to use their mobile devices on the job as well as at home. (And they don’t even necessarily expect their employers to provide those devices: Currently, 50% of the smartphones and 70% of the iPads used for work are owned by the employees themselves, the analysts say). Meanwhile, Forrester estimates that better than 40% percent of the U.S. workforce is already highly mobile.

Bottom line, according to Schadler and Koplowitz: “Mobile devices are driving a seismic shift in customer, employee, and partner engagement: in-the-moment, task-specific, and context-rich.”

All those factors are dramatically reshaping the case management landscape. For one thing, they’ve helped reveal plenty of new applications and opportunities for the approach.

Just consider the results of ebizQ’s mid-2011 survey, which focused on business and IT professionals’ current challenges and priorities. Not surprisingly, survey responses indicated that many companies still use case management for traditional purposes. About 48% of the ebizQ survey respondents reported using case management for customer relationship management (CRM) and customer service; 36% reported using it for financial applications.

But significant numbers also said they were using case management to streamline workflow, improve productivity and enhance collaboration in other area, including:
--Operations (29%)
--Human resources (26%)
--Sales (26%)
--Supply chain (19%)
--Marketing (19%)
--Manufacturing (16%)

That expanded usage is dramatically affecting how case managers and other iWorkers serve customers, clients, prospects, employees, partners, patients and others affiliated with the cases they handle. That, in turn, places new pressures on businesses to make sure employees involved with case management are fully prepared to handle not just an ever-growing amount of case work, but a more diverse range of tasks as well.

Perhaps for that reason, the biggest case-management concern that surfaced in ebizQ’s survey involved people rather than technology: Nearly half the respondents said their biggest challenge in the coming year is providing adequate training for their case-management employees.

READER FEEDBACK: Are there big collaboration plans in your company's future? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at

About the Author

Anne Stuart, ebizQ's editor from mid-2010 to mid-2013, is now senior editor for at ebizQ's parent company, TechTarget. She is a veteran journalist who has written for national magazines, daily newspapers, an international news service and many Web sites. She’s specialized in covering business and technology issues for 20 years. Based in Newton, Mass., she can be reached at Follow Anne on Google+ and at annestuart_TT on Twitter. For general questions about ebizQ, please e-mail

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