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Collaboration is Hot … Very Hot (Update from Cisco’s Collaboration Summit Customer Track)

I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs that I regularly meet with a wide range of Cisco customers that are interested in or have begun deploying collaboration solutions across their respective organizations.  I’d like to delve further into this topic and also give you a short report on findings from Cisco’s first ever Customer Track at our Collaboration Summit held last month.

First, deploying collaboration has moved from “should we?” to “when and how can we?”  Second, interest in collaboration is pervasive across all sectors – in corporate America spanning all industries, but also in universities and nonprofit organizations.  At our Collaboration Summit, I was struck by how the business, academia and nonprofit sectors are more similar than dissimilar in their need and desire to bring about collaboration. Some of the universal objectives are breaking down silos, bringing people together, identifying the right partner or expert within an organization, and operating more efficiently.

One of our guest speakers, Professor Morten Hansen from U.C. Berkeley’s School of Information, had several compelling insights.  He cited Sony Corporation for giving away the portable music market to Apple because Sony’s key business units – personal computer group, portable audio group, Sony Music in the U.S. and Japan – were operating in extreme silos that were more inclined to compete with one another instead of embracing collaboration.  In this case, he noted that bad collaboration is actually worse than none at all.

Morten makes a compelling argument for the need to incent collaborative leaders. In his book, “Collaboration,” he has coined the term “T-shaped management”:  people who simultaneously deliver results in their own job (the vertical part of the “T”) and deliver results by collaborating across the company (the horizontal part of the “T”).  This point really resonated with our customer group – who recognized that to be successful in the future, the right rewards and incentives have to be in place to create a truly collaborative culture.

My peers at Duke University – CIO Tracey Futhey and business school professor Tony O’Driscoll – spoke at length about their disparate university audience. It consists of students – who are very comfortable with technology and are keen to use whatever technology they want – and faculty, who are still trying to figure much of it out.  So, Duke IT has to be adaptable, using collaborative tools.  Video is driving much of the university’s collaboration efforts:  lectures are recorded and then uploaded into a video library.  Five minute video reports are taking the place of term papers.  Duke is also a big user of TelePresence which enables faculty to bring in experts students wouldn’t otherwise have access to.  A key takeaway from Duke:  collaboration is the ‘killer ap’ for education.

Another big “ah hah” moment for our primarily business audience was that these students are coming to the corporate world in one to two years, and they will expect to be able to use collaborative tools post-graduation.  Companies have to be ready to take advantage of already collaborative-savvy young workers.

We also heard from Sam McPherson, program director for the UK-based HIV AIDS Alliance.  This is a global nonprofit organization with key outposts in remote locations like the Ukraine and Zambia.  So, knowledge transfer across the alliance is very important.  Efficiencies and cost savings – essential to business – are even more critical for a nonprofit.  Collaboration technologies like WebEx enable the Alliance to communicate with other AIDS organizations and with donors, which want to know that their money is being well-spent. Flip camcorders deployed throughout the alliance enable remote workers to record videos with multiple purposes – empowering staffers to be citizen journalists.

These are just three examples of how collaboration is changing and transforming how we’re working.  One significant conclusion:  accelerating time-to-market capabilities are even more important that efficiencies and cost savings.  In our rapid-paced world, business in particular has to deliver – even more and ever more quickly.

Next week look for my final-in-my-series post on Cisco’s collaboration deployment.

Happy Collaborating!

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