Will Groupware (oops, I mean Collaboration) Drive Mobility?

Collaborative systems will re-define the mobile enterprise

I this week attended part of the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, which is dedicated to a broad discussion of the issues surrounding collaborative systems and their impact especially on and within larger organizations. I must say the organizers, led by my friend and colleague Steve Wylie (we worked together on Interop for several years) did an amazing job of truly building a community around this event, which attracted practitioners from many firms and industries. Now, this isn't my field, but my interest stems from my very early days in wireless, almost 20 years ago, when we assumed that groupware, an early name for collaborative systems, would be the key driver for the adoption of wireless in the enterprise. As it turned out, e-mail filled that role, but, as I've noted before, I think e-mail is about to be supplanted for internal corporate communications by collaborative systems that are essentially the closed-user-group version of social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The main takeaway for me from this event is that is indeed going to happen, and, while mobility wasn't a theme for this event, mobile systems are indeed up to the task subject to the usual constraints of cost, availability, reliability, throughput/responsiveness, user interface, and carrier and corporate support. As these are the same issues challenging the adoption of any mobile application, there are no technical showstoppers here, although a couple of speakers noted that senior managers lacking self-confidence and the ability to trust (and we all know some of these) may push back because they feel threatened that they're now less influential or even out of the loop altogether. But collaborative systems are really all about keeping everyone who needs to be in the loop just so, regardless of their physical location. And that's why they'll ultimately be successful. I learned a long time ago that business is fundamentally about people, not technology. Collaboration, sharing, communicating, informing, asking, and answering are the keys to success, even in small organizations. Now, there are a number of questions that I have around collaborative systems in general, including ROI, productivity, filtering, security, and management and operational strategy. I worry that too much data and too little real information, as we've seen with Facebook and Twitter, will lower productivity, impact ROI, damage competitiveness, and trash the bottom line. But technology is always a double-edged sword, just like fire or any of the other great technological advances since the dawn of civilization. Don't look for collaborative systems to replace management, organizational disintermediation or not. And self-discipline will always be a factor - as it says is the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for e-mail and Twitter, and a time to pay attention to what's going on in the meeting you're in right now. Check out the E 2.0 Website for more information on this topic. I'm sure we'll be hearing much more about collaborative systems in mobile environments in the years ahead.

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