When it comes to collaboration, there is no shortage of tools on the market these days. From instant messaging to file sharing, here are a couple of ways technology is changing the way we work together.
One truism that keeps proving itself is “form follows function.” This can be seen in recent developments in collaboration technologies as they move from isolation to integration.
The function of collaboration technologies is to take knowledge work from being something done by people working in isolation to something done by a fully integrated team. Early collaboration technologies were nearly as isolated as the people they were intended to help. This is clearest when looked at in terms of the various mediums of communication. There were some tools, such as email and instant messaging, that provided communication through basic text. Other tools provided audio, video, or file sharing, but each worked separately. The tools didn’t talk to each other, let alone to any other applications. This is changing rapidly.
Consider Microsoft Outlook and Lync. Each combined what were once several distinct applications into one package. In their latest iterations they are beginning to work closely together. Email addresses in an Outlook message have availability icons and can pull up contact cards that enable the user to contact those individuals by IM, email, voice, or video. If the contact isn’t available, they can be sent a meeting request. And the integration doesn’t end there. Type a coworker’s name in Word 2010, then right-click on it, and the additional actions menu lets you pull up his contact card and interact with him. SharePoint offers a different type of collaboration, but it too is being integrated with the Office applications. Form is following function. Isolation is giving way to integration.
Roy Atkinson, HDI
The convergence of mobility, social networking, and flatter organizations has produced an increased demand for tools that support collaboration. Organizations are interested in leaner, more rapid processes that support innovation, and in breaking down traditional silos. Mobility enables “work anywhere, anytime” and social networking encourages “work with anyone,” regardless of their position in your org chart or someone else’s, as long as working with them contributes to and accelerates the achievement of business goals.
Every major business trend comes in response to some problem that needs to be solved, and the need for knowledge workers to store documents that are accessible to other devices—and other people—has spawned an explosion in the market for online, shareable storage that provides for the easy sharing of documents across company boundaries.
Take the case of a scientist working collaboratively with a pharmaceutical company, a consultant working with a client, or people from different companies working together on a presentation. Nearly any solution is better than emailing large files back and forth or waiting for internal IT to provision a secure file share. The store-and-share market has responded with an increasing number of options, hoping to capture the enterprise-level customer. Dropbox has passed the 50-million-user mark and has tripled its workforce in the past year. Box.net, Huddle, ShareFile, TrueShare, and many others have also created new products and options to fit the needs of this exploding trend.