Building a Collaborative Enterprise? Start with an Architecture

Author: David Mario Smith
Date: December 12, 2013
Topic: Collaboration
Research Note Number: 2013-48


Issue: What collaboration technologies and architectures should enterprises leverage?

Summary: Collaboration is converging, as once disparate tools come together to form a unified social collaboration platform. A flexible and effective collaboration architecture should be built on these key pillars – with people at the center.


External collaboration has always been an important part of business, but so many users have access to so many cloud-based real-time tools that IT departments can’t keep pace. Many enterprise users who bring their own consumer devices (BYOD) to work have learned to provide their own tech support. This phenomenon is also taking work outside enterprise borders and creating a new “generation” of collaborators differentiated by more than just age.

With business demanding ever-higher levels of innovation, agility, and productivity, the pressure to collaborate across and between firms has never been greater. Increasingly, workers need to connect with more individuals, often outside the enterprise. Trying to provide seamless collaboration among product and project teams from multiple enterprises around the world inevitably exposes weaknesses in collaboration tools and strategies. This research note identifies the key elements of a collaboration architecture that enterprises need to maximize productivity and knowledge sharing (see Note 1).

Over the past few years, the workforce has included a broader range of generations than seen before, in part because people are retiring later. Differences in attitudes, skills, expectations, and technical expertise create additional challenges for collaboration planners. Users see technology as a tool, and experiment with different ways of collaborating. Within the enterprise, they often start with email at the center of the collaboration universe.

Content In Context is King

Technologists often see things through different lenses, and many see content and collaboration as separate problems. In truth, however, they have always been intertwined, and a collaboration strategy won’t be successful if it doesn’t address the issues of content.

Today, the definition of content is expanding beyond text and numerical data, and the “content” part of a collaboration architecture needs to manage all kinds of graphics and rich media, especially video, which is fast becoming the most important new content type. For most enterprises, this means taking a close look at their content repositories and how they link to the collaboration architecture, from a high level all the way down to what the user does. It also means that today collaboration can occur in real time inside of a document.

Video Is the New Document

The fastest-growing form of content is video, a large and complex datatype with extensive metadata that requires high network speed and bandwidth and high-precision, high-volume storage. Many of today’s content repositories are not designed to store or manage significant quantities of this challenging content, giving many enterprises an increased need for video content management. User demand for this form of content will grow exponentially through 2020, so enterprises need to develop a specialized strategy for storing, transmitting and managing it as part of their overall content management strategy.

Prediction: By 2020, video and text content repositories will converge, requiring new strategies and investments.

This content and collaboration integration brings the most value when the content is in the context of work activities. People collaborate around content, and the content is focused on goals. Efficiency and productivity increase when this context is rich across processes and user communities.


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