02 February 2009

What is collaboration software?

I wrote a short reply on actKM tonight in response to Matt Moore's question about Collaboration software. It would seem my thoughts let me a little further than I expected so I thought I would share my response here too to see what others think about what defines Collaboration software.

Bon appétit!
The reason for this post is I am yet to solidify my own definition. I am formulating the idea based on a few quotes I have read lately and also my own experience with Wikis. I think the difference also speaks to the difference between communication, cooperation and collaboration.

It seems to me that two parties can cooperate in order to bring benefits to each of them which outweigh the sum of their individual results. For example the Government cooperating with a car company to build a new plant. Car company gets a cheap implementation due to tax concessions, etc. Government gets increased revenue and lowers the unemployment rate a little...But the Government doesn't make the cars.

Collaboration then is when two parties work together on a single product or project. A single outcome if you like. Customers collaborate ideas with engineers about the upcoming model - more power, better fuel economy, extra 10,000 km between services, etc. Mitsubishi designs a car that Chrysler builds the engine and drive-train for. Not just a plug in, actually using the specific expertise of those companies teams to create a car that is better than either of them could make alone.

So, collaboration software in my book would be any software that enhances multiple parties ability to work together on a single outcome.

Communications software in general can do this, yes. I actually know a person who still prefers a phone to do it. The issue is custom fit to modern collaboration techniques. Some of the early bio-tech collaboration efforts were done with phones, faxes and email. It took months or years to get a project finished, but they did actually collaborate around the world on single, amazing projects. But time moves on, after research, design & development comes efficiency and newer customer collaboration tools can allow people to do their slice of the work and resubmit it to the whole in just hours or even in real time. And now we have the social media side coming in to help communicate the often unseen cultural and contextual markers that were absent before in non-face-to-face communications.

By this definition I guess tools like twitter would not be collaboration tools. They are communications tools that communicate the context and background missing in older, more formal communications tools. Both old and new can be used to enhance collaboration, but I think we need the full gamut of IT and KM solutions, custom built to our complex environment and special needs to see the most efficient collaboration initiatives emerge.

For me, any technology that can transfer a thought, word or idea from one human being to another is communications. That is the beauty of a working wiki. It isn't that you can edit too. It is that in reading and then editing you are participating and communicating as part of a community. That might be used for collaboration, it might not. It is all communications software I think. The collaboration tag comes down to what you do with it and how well it does it.

Well, what do you think. Am I on the right track or am I crazy? Have you pulled out the dictionary and looked up "Collaboration" yet?

Let me know your thoughts.

Thanks: "DNA Rendering" by ynse (Flickr)