Beyond cool: The cold, hard facts on collaboration

If you aren't collaborating effectively with your business partners, then you aren't getting the most from your processes and supply chain. And if you aren't using the right collaboration tools, then you aren't collaborating effectively. It's time to get hardcore about this.

We know that collaboration means working together to achieve a shared goal. And we know that there are some pretty cool (and free or very low-cost) personal productivity and social collaboration sites that offer tools such as free file sharing or that facilitate collaborative discussions. 

But when "grown-ups" collaborate-when multiple businesses want to share information and integrate and optimize their processes-they need capabilities that reach beyond these simple productivity and social tools. Unfortunately, deploying these tools can actually introduce various forms of risk into the enterprise, such as leaks of sensitive information or violations of privacy regulations.

Enterprise-grade collaboration requires the ability to:

    Volumes of Information
  • Manage, store and move vast volumes of information

    Today's collaborative workflows increasingly involve massive data, image, and even video files. The system must be able to move this information at lightning speeds anywhere in the world, track action in real time, and consolidate metadata for reports and dashboards.
  • Handle mission-critical information

    It's one thing to use a feed application to brainstorm ideas or track the status of non-critical milestones. But truly optimizing business processes requires a broad feature set that recognizes and supports the mission-critical nature of the data and processes-including system availability and data security, high performance and sophisticated search capabilities, compliance mechanisms and audit trails, and integration with other enterprise systems.
  • Manage complex decision making processes

    Collaborating on business processes requires more than simply "sharing" information. Instead, the information must be created, shared, and stored in the context of specific workflows, such as project approvals, information and document review cycles, scheduling and triggering events. Enterprise-grade collaboration must support the controlled sharing of information to the right people at the right time to ensure that decisions are based on current and complete information.
  • Maintain a complete audit trail

    Regardless of whether collaboration is between departments, divisions, or separate companies, a complete auditing capability is essential to reducing the risk of disagreements and conflicts, regulatory violations, and even potential lawsuits.
  • Focus on the company rather than the individual

    Consumer-based collaborations solutions focus on the needs of the individual, not the business. An enterprise-grade solution adapts to the needs of an organization, including supporting administration settings, custom workflows, group authorizations, and integration with other systems.
  • Meet legal and other compliance requirements

    There is an alphabet soup of federal, state, and international regulations governing data privacy and security. That said, information in enterprise systems must also be retrievable in the event of a legal hold or e-discovery process. An enterprise-grade collaboration system must support each company's specific industry and operational issues related to storing, protecting, and archiving.

A number of enterprise-grade collaboration tools exist that offer terrific features, but if these systems sit behind an organization's firewall, then there will be significant challenges when trying to extend these features beyond the firewall for multi-party collaboration. In fact, multi-party collaboration-B2B and supply chain process optimization-takes collaboration requirements to a whole new level. Now, neutrality, commonality of process, protection of intellectual property within a shared environment, and other issues become that much more important and often a lot trickier. What issues have you found are bubbling up to the top that need addressing?

Leigh is the Co-Founder & CEO of Aconex, the most widely-used online collaboration platform in the world.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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