Why do we manufacture things in China, rather than domestically? Because it is cheaper. The compromise is that a lot of complexity is injected into the manufacturing process via the new dependency on managing the remote supply chain. If the cost of managing this supply chain was greater than the cost savings garnered by moving production to China then we would not do it.
Collaboration is remarkably similar. I co-author a document with you, because it creates a better document – and theoretically faster.
But many people hate document collaboration because it takes longer and sometimes creates worse document. Collaboration has to be a net saving if people are going to stick with it.
So at oneDrum we think about collaboration as a supply chain, where the benefits are understood but the cost through the supply chain threatens to be greater than those benefits.
We look at the process (supply chain) involved in writing a document, analyze each stage for cost and squeeze the cost out. Let me illustrate this with some simple examples:
Sharing the file: Several cloud companies I’ve spoken to recently, say that the biggest barrier they have to collaboration is getting the file on the server; users hate browser-based mechanisms. Everyone loves DropBox. Therefore, everyone is having to build their own DropBox type solution. This is to say, the cost of sharing files (in pain and time for a user) is a significant factor in the overall evaluation of the collaboration supply chain.
Questions and tasks disconnected from the document: I ask you to fix the amortization figure in a spreadsheet. Where is that again? Perhaps it occurs in multiple places. The cognitive load in hunting for the thing I wanted you to fix puts people off responding; getting it wrong can have even greater consequences. Google has done the best job in addressing this, through the now abandoned Wave project, and the new Docs commenting system. oneDrum addresses this by allowing users to comment inside parts of documents (e.g. cells, shapes) and subsequently carrying a ‘deep link’ within the message to that part of the document.
Merging: This is the classic document collaboration hell. I email a document asking for feedback; I get five copies back and have to merge everyone’s updated version. oneDrum attempts to address this by ensuring people always have the latest version of the document on their machine, and can work on the same document at the same time, with changes coming through in real-time.
In general, email looks like it helps collaboration, because it helps me communicate and pass files around, but in fact it is a huge problem, obfuscating version history, proliferating legacy copies and generally operating outside of any kind of workflow. I like the new generation of social enterprise tools like Chatter and Yammer but there is a danger that they exacerbate this issue rather than solve it.
I think though, that there are many more complex and subtle examples. A CFO needs to produce next years budget. He or she does not typically treat it as a major project, planned in a Gantt chart with the stakeholders around the table from the first moment. Rather, they have some spare time, they dig out last years budgets to use as a template, update it to reflect experience or a new reality, start filling in the figures etc… etc… . Finally, a few weeks later as the budget starts to bake and delivery moves up the priority list the CFO starts engaging with the other stakeholders, the VP of sales, the VP of engineering, to get the revenue and cost numbers that make it meaningful.
My point here is that collaboration has gears. You don’t want to start in 5th gear and you don’t want to stay in 1st. This is every much a critical part of the efficiency of the supply chain as the earlier, simpler examples.
In a sense, document collaboration looks like documents augmented for collaboration. In five years I don’t think that will be the case; the collaboration UI’s will evolve in a way that more effectively focus on the supply chain efficiencies. For example, in the case above where the CFO requires input from the head of sales: when he asks the question, why does the salesman even need to open the document? Why can’t it be asked and answered inline with the organizations social tool e.g. Yammer or Chatter, and feed the answer back into the document automatically?
We need to move away from the document and focus on the components (data) and purpose (business objectives) of the document - the inputs and outputs of the supply chain, if you like - and find the collaboration mechanisms that most effectively support these.2 years ago