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Café Innovation – Collaborative Communities must necessarily extend beyond your (fire)walls

In my last post I mentioned that one of the things that stood out for me at this year’s joint SAPPHIRE and ASUG conference was the discussion of the role of communities in the context of driving newer process models. It was particularly emphasized during the major keynote addresses by SAP Board members. In its most recent issue (June 2 2008), Business Week has dedicated its cover story (“Beyond Blogs – What Business Needs to Know”) to talk about how “social media” is impacting business. At the heart of it is the matter of collaboration. A recently released book, Mesh Collaboration (Andy Mulholland & Nick Earle) presents a very lucid picture of how companies can engage in “creating new business value in the network of everything.” In the words of Chris S. Thomas, Chief Strategist, World Ahead, from Intel Corporation, the authors “examine how the global community can benefit from technology and how new models are emerging to ensure that people obtain true value from products.” The very expression “mesh collaboration” connotes that there is collaboration between groups and individuals in a manner that is not linear – in other words, it is dynamic and does not  necessarily follow set predefined patterns, and more often than not involves groups internal and external to the organization.

Both the Business Week story and Mesh Collaboration, cite BT, “the British telecom giant” as an example of how things are changing. The Business Week story actually states that BT “is famous for an approach that blends inside and outside networks,” and goes on to illustrate with a simple anecdote. Both works cite several other known names as examples of what is happening to the business world post the advent of YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook and MySpace. In a post a few months ago (November 15, 2007), I had posed the question if businesses were buying into the Facebook phenomenon (as I called it) to re-invent how they were sharing and collaborating. It appears that there is an increasing sense of urgency in this arena – we cannot sit still and be engaged in mere academic musings of how this will impact our lives. It is doing so already.

So what should businesses that are still somewhat hesitant about exploring how Web 2.0 can lead them to Enterprise 2.0 start to do? What should they be considering? This is where Mesh Collaboration can be of use to you – it uses the fictional story of a business to illustrate how problems are solved applying a practical approach leveraging the various expressions of Web 2.0.

[I think it is fair to disclose that I have the privilege of working with Andy Mulholland, off and on. So, I will not say anything further about Mesh Collaboration lest it sound like the thoughts of a biased party.]

As the focal point of this post, I challenge every business out there with the question – where do you stand in this rapidly changing environment? What steps is your organization taking to address these new influences? Repeating the question I asked in my last post, I ask you to ponder the following: “How does your organization look upon activity that calls for interaction/collaboration in communities, internal and external?” If they are positive about it, what steps are they taking to provide you with the support you need to engage in dialogue and activity that will help you do your job better? Some of this touches on another point I have made in some of my earlier posts (Dec 19, 2007 and others) – and that is, around the issue of redefining the IT role. An organization’s seriousness about adopting the necessary tools to enable the organization to collaborate across boundaries will be reflected in how much control IT is willing to cede to the users. It is an important consideration because success with people-centric technology can only be realized when it is truly driven by the people and is not something that is crippled by virtue of being tightly controlled by IT.

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