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Flash Collaboration

July 28, 2008 - 1 Comment

By Alan S. Cohen, vice president, enterprise/mid-market solutions”œInstant karma’s gonna get youGonna knock you off your feetBetter recognize your brother’sEveryone you meet”- John LennonIn my past few blog entries, I speculated on how new and different forms of collaboration impact the business world. With the release of the new iPhone, I am amazed not by the device (although it is impressive), but rather by the creation of an application marketplace within the iTunes environment Apple calls the”app store“. By forming a rapid development and commerce environment for iPod/iPhone owners and thousands (perhaps millions) of creative software developers -including a Wiki environment for user ratings -Apple dramatically dropped the barriers between a classic publishing model and an eBay-like marketplace model.What if we could do the same thing for work? How long would it take for meaningful units of work to surface and be completed? What if a secure online marketplace, within or across companies, could accelerate the speed of collaboration, effectively creating a market-led environment for projects versus the traditional command and control structure for work?M.I.T. Professor Tom Malone, author of the book The Future of Work, is one of the best cartographers of changing workplace dynamics, mapping the shift from command and control to collaboration. In his book, he described 4 kinds of emerging work styles: – Loose hierarchies, – Democracies, – External markets, and – Internal marketsIn Dr. Malone’s research, technology is the enabler of these work styles, but human characteristics and values dictate how workplaces come together: what we at Cisco would call a technology architecture juxtaposed beside a business architecture.I had the distinct pleasure of sharing a soda with Tom earlier this week. We discussed another work architecture: what I call”flash collaboration,” the notion that a work team could come together, across company or cultural boundaries, to rapidly complete a task or project, and then dissolve, within days, even within hours. In essence, flash collaboration is a nearly frictionless environment resulting in a tangible product or service. From Tom’s research, it is clear we are seeing this work style emerge. He cites InnoCentive as an example of a breakthrough innovation and collaboration marketplace where thousands of researchers and inventors come together to solve business and technical problems. As stated in the company’s mission statement:”InnoCentive will change the world and influence the lives of people everywhere by applying our planet’s human creativity and intelligence to solving the most important challenges facing commercial, governmental, and humanitarian organizations today. By combining technology, economic incentives, and human ingenuity, we will address and resolve these problems better, faster, and cheaper than ever before possible.”Indeed it was only five years ago that the first “œflash mob” was organized to bring groups of people to staging areas in a city. At the time, the messaging capability of a cell phone was all it took. Participants were sent to locations around Manhattan and then given various instructions on the next set of actions.It turns out the idea of flash collaboration may not even be that surprising. A year after the first flash mob assembled in New York, a group of people on the other coast created the first flash mob computing environment focused on harnessing a temporary clustering of computers to form a single supercomputer. Rather than a cell phone network, a social networking and news site for our industry, Slashdot, provided the vehicle for bringing hundreds of computers into a powerful virtualized machine.So the antecedents for Flash Collaboration are very strong.I also discussed this concept with Amy Shuen, an economist, college professor and prolific chronicler of the emergence of Web 2.0. She provided additional insights: 1. Flash collaboration could be a kind of instantaneous catalyzing of knowledge incorporated in the heads of a large number of people to quickly master/achieve a mission-critical task or problem. 2. Potentially, flash collaboration is a faster or instantaneous triggering of collective (and interactive, dynamic) behavior of decentralized nodes through a Web 2.0-enabled platform. Additionally, this triggering of collective behavior might follow Web 2.0 and ‘wisdom of the crowd’ concepts and independently aggregate information algorithmically, refining input so that the outcome would be value-multiplied/enhanced.In essence, Flash Collaboration is a work environment that includes the tools and technologies to support spontaneous work teams with clear business results. Is your company ready for Flash Collaboration? If not, in the words of John Lennon, it might just”knock you off your feet.”by Alan S. Cohen, vice president, enterprise/mid-market solutions

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  1. Flash Collaboration – a definitely interesting phrase. As you had rightly stated, this may not even be a surprising evolution. In fact, we do have currently existing scenarios (e.g. emergency management, disaster recovery) where flash collaboration already happens – but not necessarily at the scale it can. The key questions here are:a) The context that drives this collaboration and the expected outcomesb) The eco-system & technology maturity required to deliver the necessary experienceOne could think of multiple scenarios in the near future where such a collaboration fits well – Event-centric Social Networking (e.g. centered around Olympics), Public/Private participation in shaping government policy initiatives. A key aspect is that the collaboration here is most effective when driven/backed by content (that too contextual…)