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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Being close makes a difference

10:28:00 PM Posted by Oscar Berg , , , , , No comments
Efficient communication - when people communicate and understand each other - is the most important ingredient in any enterprise where people get together and need to collaborate to achieve a common goal.

To be able to communicate something to someone directly whenever you need to by using the most appropriate communication tool - anything from your voice and body language to drawing or writing - in the current situation is essential for communication to be efficient. It is especially important that the persons who are communicating can give each other instant feedback and have an dialogue. The ideal situation is that they are located in the same room or space, talk the same language, share a common conceptual horizon, know and trust each other and have the most appropriate and convenient communication tools at hand. Being close makes a difference.

Being close is also important for innovation to happen. Have you ever wondered why so many successful enterprises are born in a basement or in a small college room? Being close creates room for spontaneity and ideas to flow freely. No structure or constraints need to be imposed to the communication processes. Ideas can be articulated with simple and even primitive means and they can be exchanged immediately as they pop up in our heads. In addition, if we know and trust each other, we are more likely to share our ideas with each other instead of keeping them for ourselves. Being close forces you to get to know each other.

So, being close is the ideal when it comes to collaboration. But this does not mean that we should always be close physically. The main reason is that it is often not practical or economical. There are always costs associated with being close unless we are not located closely to each other from the beginning. The most obvious is the costs associated with traveling - unproductive traveling time, monetary and environmental costs of traveling, mental stress and exhaustion due to time zone adjustments and lack of sleep, loss of calendar time due to the problem of finding space in calendars for traveling, social consequences of being away from our friends and family, and so forth.

All these things and more make traveling something most organizations like to avoid unless it is absolutely necessary. Still, we cannot escape the fact that we live in a globalized world where we need to be able to collaborate with people distributed all over the world.

What I just described here is the overall business case for helping people to communicate and collaborate more efficiently with the use of various collaboration technologies. This does not mean that you should start with looking at collaboration technologies. What is more important is to articulate efficient communication and collaboration over time and space with all relevant stakeholders as the overall guiding principle for all IT initiatives - even though the objectives of a specific initiative might be contradicting to this principle. The point is that this principle should never be compromised unless absolutely necessary. Even when a comprimise is needed, the business case for such an initiative should also include costs related to decrease in communication and collaboration efficiency. These kinds of costs are of course hard to quantify, but the cost of innovations not happening is even harder to quantify. That is also a reason why this guiding principle must exist and never be excluded from a business case just because it is hard to quantify in monetary terms. The consequences must be analyzed regardless.

When I start talking to customers about Enterprise 2.0 and associated technologies, I am always trying to do so from this angle. For example:
  • Social networks help to bring people who are separated in space and time closer to each other. They make it easy to connect with persons you have never met physically or not for a long time. They make it possible to get in contact with people in your own and extended personal and professional networks. They keep people together in-between collaborations and also make collaborations happen easier.
  • Blogging makes it possible for virtually anyone to distribute information to any stakeholder who might interested in it. The information can be made accessible over time and space via one easy-to-use communication point (hub). Team blogging works as a catalyst for communication and collaboration, increasing the numberof interactions between team members as well as helping to supply each other with consistent information.
  • Subscribing to and reading RSS feeds puts the control in the hands of the user. The user can it passively tap into a lot of information flows and filter out information that is useful. Instead of spending time on browsing and searching for information (including trying to find the source again), users can passively monitor the information flows from sources they trust and consume and act on information immediately after it has been made available from the source.

And so on.

Web 2.0 technologies have already proved to simplify and increase communication and collaboration over time and space for non-business users. Being easy to use, encouraging open communication and sharing and putting emphasis on people instead of technology are some of the success factors. It is time to take these success factors into enterprises, putting efficient communication and collaboration as the overall guiding principle for IT initiatives and introduce new solutions and tools that leverage this principle.

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