He just co-authored an excellent book for anyone who now considers how to unleash the power of collaboration within their organization and on a secure basis. His book is Dynamic Collaboration: How to Share Information, Solve Problems, and Increase Productivity without Compromising Security.
He joined the show recently to talk about his book, his company's solutions and the changing dynamics and expectations in the collaboration conversation.
You can listen to our conversation here.
You can read Part One of our conversation here.
Chapter 2 is about plugging into your existing infrastructure and chapter three is about existing architecture. When I think about the first steps of dynamic collaborative tolls and resources, particularly the first challenges, it's not the external infrastructure or architecture, it's the internal. The users and their psychology of trust and their emotions and willingness to learn new ways to trust, accept change and failure.
You’re right there.
You’re not going to put a collaborative tool in an organization and everyone’s going to suddenly start trusting each other. Trust has to come from within the organization.
Now, within the organization, they have to set up the principles by which people share data and trust each other. Collaborative environments just makes it more efficient.
But, within a collaborative environment, if a company does set up those trust principles so that I’m sharing data with others and I trust others who are not going to share it any further or keep it within the confines it’s supposed to be in. And that’s usually guided by corporate principles, corporate rules on who shares what data with each other.
But, corporations should, and we’ve seen this too, where they don’t want to share. They need to go out of their way to make rules or encourage people to share by who is sharing, rewarding those who do and are basically collaborating and being efficient.
And you’ll see as collaborative environments go on, teams will form and they’ll solve problems better, faster, than other people. And if those people get rewarded, and it’s reminded back to the employees that:
“These people collaborated and here’s how they did it.”
That’s a good lesson learned for the rest of the organization. So, you can help build that trust in the collaborative environment that way.
But again, if the organization doesn’t have trust to start with then bringing in collaborative tools is just not going to bring that trust in.
Excellent point there.
Staying in this soft, squishy content, you talk about the importance in understanding that collaboration is a service and not a product. And services are experienced. Why is that distinction so commonly not understood and why is it important to understand it.
If you go in a lot of organizations, you know the IT shop, the accounting department needs an accounting system so they stand that up for them. And they acquire a product and install it and everybody in accounting uses it. They go to HR, the same thing. They work their way around the organization.
There are certain sets of tools that the entire organization needs to use. And collaboration is one of them. So, if you go out and get one tool and plop it down in there. Now, first of all you got to get all these different organizations to use the right tool. And that’s a problem right there. If I’m the HR guy, I may or may not go to this collaborative tool. And accounting department’s the same way and legal, so on through the organization.
IT departments have looked at bringing those tools where they are needed across the organization. A great example for that is a single sign-on solution. So, that when you log in to one application you log in once every day and you log in to every application.
There used to be a time where every application you logged into you had to have a separate password for. Organizations have stood up a solution for that.
Our argument for that is that collaboration should be at that same layer because it is across the organization. Just like that same way with that package you bought that integrated a single sign-on tool, you should be able to do that with collaboration. So, I sign-on and I can see everyone who’s logged in. Same thing with the accounting tool. If I’m in HR and I need to talk to someone in the accounting department I can see if they’re online and click on them and suddenly we’re away collaborating.
So, thats why we stress this idea of a service. It’s been proven in other areas where services that need to be used across the organization and as opposed to a product that’s used in one organization.
At the tip of the collaboration experience is the Presence Awareness Tool. Such a simple thing, but so critical. Why is the Presence Awareness Tool so critical?
The easiest thing is if you went on Facebook and nobody was there, what would you do? If you log in, it’s all about the people. You want to see who else is online and I can reach out to and collaborate with.
I have a problem and I need an answer so who’s online. Without that, it’s like shooting darts in the dark. If I could just see someone from HR is online then I could just reach out to them. Maybe the system can tell me their skillsets and that’s a good match for me. Maybe the system’s smart enough to say:
“Hey search for someone with these skills.”
So, you type in you need someone who handles these types of things with HR and it pops back 3 people and tells me that 2 of them are online. Well, now i can click on one and be engaged with them. If I don’t know who’s online then what’s the point of my collaborating - I don’t know who to collaborate with.
That’s excellent. That’s a great description, too.
Back in the day I ran a conference call company. And this Presence Awareness Tool was just coming out with some of the web conference services, 7-8 years ago. And the first reaction was fear.
Why do people need to know if I'm at my computer or 'available'. Won't that add to my work or encourage interruptions?
What has driven this change in thinking from fear to cool?
Um, that’s a good question.
Part of it’s probably generational. Younger people today, you know people who grew up with these kinds of technologies, they’re used to being online 24 x 7 and being contacted. you bring them to a 2-day conference and tell them they’ll have to leave their cellphones at the door they’ll probably have a heart attack on ya.
Part of the workforce today is just so used to being connected. The other part of the workforce, maybe some of the people who’ve resisted it 7-8 years ago, they probably have seen some of the successes of it.
“Hey, if I use some of these tools, you know, it will help me perform my job well.”
That’s a great motivator right there. If they see someone having some successes with it, then they’re going to get over their fear pretty quick.
I think people also realize that they could send you a chat message right now and you don’t have to answer even though you’re online. I could call your cellphone right now. How many times have you et a call go to voicemail?
I think people have become accustomed to:
“I’m online right now, but I’m not going to talk to you right now.”
And some of the tools today will allow you to say,
“Hey, I’m online right now. But, I’m busy.”
Some of the tools allow you to say:
“Hey, I'm in a conference right now. If you send me a chat, I’m not going to get back to you.”
It’s probably wrapped up in there somewhere.
It’s amazing how far we’ve come in 7 or 8 years, isn’t it?
As we spoke at the beginning, you currently are CEO and founder of CollabraSpace, working with private and government clients on collaboration solutions since 1998. Within your clients and prospects, who drives the decision to contact you: employees or executives?
I think both. Maybe the executives are looking at trying to plan a collaborative environment. Sometimes they push it down a couple of layers to actually implement it. Then you get the people who are implementing contacting us and asking us our opinions.
And then sometimes you even get a corporate environment that has a collaborative tool ready, but it’s not being used or it doesn’t integrate into what a project is doing. So, we’re also seeing some projects where they’re saying this type of thing where:
“I’m building this kind of capability for a group of users and it would be cool if all the users could collaborate with each other while they’re using the tool.”
They’ll contact us.
But, it’s pretty much at both levels I guess.
This leads us to the next question. One of my favorite topics is employee engagement, particularly its positive impact on a company's bottomline. Do you see dynamic collaboration as a key experience increasing levels of employee engagement?
Absolutely. If you set up a collaborative environment properly and your employees are motivated to use it, we talked about trust and that kind of stuff earlier, so you got those pieces in place, being able to have a problem and reach out and find a team to have you work on it, is a great enabler for people.
If I can go in and just say:
“I have this kind of problem and I need it solved today.”
Then I can search and see that these 3 people may have worked on something similar to that or may even have the answer to my question, it enables me so much more as an employee to product results.
I think it is definitely a key.
It seems obvious. But sometimes I think our listeners may not have the time to make the connections.
And dynamic collaboration is key to creating customer evangelists, a loyal volunteer sales force as Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba called them. How do companies create a secure collaborative environment and at the same time open the door for their customers to join them?
That’s a very good question. So, let’s assume that you have this collaborative environment stood up internally in your organization. And it’s secure. So, I would argue that as part of that security piece you can segment off who has information to what pieces of this virtual environment.
I could create a space, a virtual space, where customers can come in and interact with my employees. I could set it up so they could only see employees from the sales organization. I don’t want them to see my accounting and HR people. When they log in, they’ll basically get the capability to look at whose online from the sales team or maybe only their particular sales people are logged on and if so then they can collaborate with them.
It gets a little trickier trying to figure out now where are you giving people access to. Are you giving them access to something that’s on your intranet? And how do they traverse your firewall and things like that. So, you may need to stand up a 2nd server...where external users can log into and your internal users can log in as well and collaborate with them.
That gets a little trickier. But it’s all possible. And it’s based on what level of security do you want in your system.
But, bringing your customers in and allowing them to engage with people online is a great step for companies to take.
I’m not an IT guy but when you mentioned the separate server for this collaborative environment where you could partition off certain data, that sounded like a great idea.
Do you have an example of a client who did this, obviously keeping client information confidential ?
Yeah. I’m trying to think. I believe we’ve done it for one or two customers. And I think we basically set something up in a DMZ so that external customers would not get inside the company firewalls for some fear they had there. And what happened was you basically end up with 2 different collaboration servers, which are talking to each other through the firewalls. And the entry to one internally let’s them see the external people and they can in essence go to that external server and collaborate with them there.
That’s a little more technically difficult, but it is possible.
Part Three of this conversation will be published tomorrow, Saturday, October 22.