How many of you use Facebook? LinkedIn? Twitter? Do you believe that your ideas get stronger when you share them with others? Collaboration enables us to connect with experts and people with like-minded interests.
The tools we use to link people, information and communities are evolving at lightening speed. That’s especially true in these turbulent economic times, as organizations aim to do more with less. Business leaders and IT decision-makers alike recognize that collaboration is a way to boost productivity and gain competitive advantage within tight budget constraints.
Given the rapid pace of change and our industry leadership, what is Cisco’s vision for Collaboration?
Well in the spirit of Collaboration, I want to share my ideas with you! Throughout the week I will post my top “predictions” for the future of Collaboration. I am looking forward to hearing back from you, as we build this vision together.
Collaboration Networks will be to Enterprises what Social Networks are to Consumers
It’s an understatement to say that social networking is a rapidly growing consumer phenomenon. Twitter’s recent surge in popularity is just one small indicator. Visits to Twitter have increased about 1,400 percent since last year. Meanwhile, Facebook has seen a 566% surge from December 2007 to December 2008, surpassing 200 million users worldwide (Nielsen). It’s worth noting that 35- to 44-year olds now represent 51 percent of FaceBook’s membership, and 70 percent of FaceBook’s users are now located outside the U.S (Hitwise).
Driving this explosive growth is a natural human tendency to build relationships. We instinctively seek to share information, broadcast our preferences and contribute our expertise. The goal of technology must be to fulfill this human affinity as naturally as possible.
So how does this translate to the business world?
At Cisco, we believe that the rigidly structured silos that were traditionally put in place in most enterprises will give way to more fluid, ad-hoc communities of experts. Increasingly, companies will rely on Collaboration Networks that bring together “clusters of experts” to get critical projects completed. These groups will form dynamically to achieve a shared outcome. This self-organizing cycle repeats itself on an ongoing basis, as the need arises. It’s both efficient and effective, in part because experts are drawn to projects and are thus motivated — rather than being “assigned” in a top-down fashion.
Here’s just one example of a collaboration network: About 17% of Cisco’s employees use Macs, even though the Mac platform is not officially supported by Cisco IT. Responding to the need at hand, members of the community developed a comprehensive Mac wiki that provides critical self-support for this base of users. The wiki has enabled Cisco to avoid approximately $1.6M in annual help-desk costs while improving productivity and increasing uptime. In total, this wiki has delivered an estimated $2.6M in value annually for Cisco.
As collaboration networks evolve and proliferate, our challenge as an industry is clear. We need to develop Enterprise Collaboration Platforms that provide the same ease of use, speed and ubiquity that social networks offer in the consumer world. But we need to combine those qualities with the high level of security, availability, quality of service, and reliability that enterprises require.
It is not about “on-premise” versus “on-demand”, it will be all about the User Experience
In the technology industry we tend to focus a lot on the underlying computing model and how best to deliver functionality and value. That makes sense, because it’s core to what we do. But as an industry need to move beyond this conversation. Ultimately User Experience is what matters.
We need to provide an experience that’s consistent and seamless, with easy access to the services you care about, regardless of your location or device.
To enable this seamless experience, applications must be hosted and delivered through a combination of on-premise and on-demand networks working together. Bottom line, there will always be a combination of different types of applications – some that are local and others that are in the cloud.
There are a few factors driving this:
First, a multi-generational work force demands multiple modes of collaboration. The Millennial generation – those born after 1980 – has a natural affinity for real time, synchronous social communication, enabled by tools such as chat, SMS, new forms of video, and interactive decision-support systems. While others will still prefer asynchronous modes such as email.
Second, individual preference for collaboration tools will vary. For instance, my boss John Chambers uses video blogs as his preferred collaboration tool. I, on the other hand, use blogs, micro-blogging and social networks quite extensively. We need to architecturally combine video, voice and data on a unified platform –– and allow for the personalization of collaboration tools.
Third, mobility will be a major factor – going forward the “where” in collaboration will become less relevant. What if we can access applications from any where on any device? In the palm of your hand or a 50” screen – with the same HD experience. And while you might think that “the cloud” can actually address a lot of this on its own, there will always be a need for the security, reliability, scalability, and control of the on-perm enterprise network.
So a key focus for technology innovation is to enable an organization’s on-prem network to seamlessly inter-operate with the Cloud. And going forward, collaboration will be about technology adapting to people’s needs rather than the other way around.
Prediction # 3
Here is my third prediction regarding the future of collaboration:
Prediction 3: Innovation will be redefined by Operational Excellence
There is a long-standing debate about what drives long term success: Is it innovation OR Operational Excellence? Traditionally we viewed this as an either-or proposition, and most companies have taken pride in being really good at one or the other.
What we hear from most CEOs, CTOs and CIOs is that we need to do both — especially during the current economic downturn. We no longer have the luxury of choosing one vs. the other.
Collaboration is a critical element that allows enterprises to combine operational excellence and innovation.
Case in point: At Cisco we now have 28 corporate priorities we are driving, many of which we believe will turn into billion dollar growth opportunities for the company. It’s inconceivable to try to innovate on 28 priorities without having operational discipline and metrics to manage that.
The way we combine the two at Cisco is by collaborating on a global basis ― via segment councils, cross functional boards and expert working groups. Again, collaboration allows us to connect people, information and communities.
We take the view that our ideas get stronger when they’re shared. The quality and speed of decision-making improves dramatically when people with diverse view points and expertise come together rapidly with shared goals.
We are all facing constraints in CapEx and OpEx spending. We all face reduced budgets and the need to do more with less. In this environment, Collaboration is going to redefine the relationship between innovation and operational excellence.
Prediction # 4
Here is my fourth prediction regarding the future of collaboration.
Prediction 4: Organizations without boundaries will drive the next wave of productivity
This prediction is rooted in the fact that business processes must extend beyond corporate firewalls. That means they must encompass people outside the company as readily as they do people inside the four walls. Consider Procter & Gamble, which put a public stake in the ground that over 50% of their products are created or impacted by crowd-sourcing.
In many ways, the manufacturing industry has led the charge in driving inter-company collaboration ― operating seamlessly with partners, suppliers and customers. Now, other industries are poised to do the same, and it will result in tremendous value on all levels: operational, product/service, business model.
Ultimately we’re going to progress even further — from inter-company collaboration to the boundaryless organization. At that point, ANYONE that is relevant can be included in your business processes via a trusted inter-company network. In this long-term vision, the expertise and content you need will proactively find you, instead of the onus being on you to find them.
Information Technology will evolve into Information Fabric
A recent report from Deloitte talks about “Cognitive Overload.” They estimate that the amount of worldwide information doubles every 18 months, and corporate files double every 3.5 years. More than 35 billion e-mails are sent each day! Combine that with IM, SMS, phone calls, meetings and we it becomes clear why we have an information overload.
Various studies have demonstrated that too much unsorted information is worse than having not enough information. Add to that the stress of decision-making amid uncertainty and constant change. Never before in history have we faced the daunting task of making sense of such massive amounts of data.
So the future is no longer just about the management and routing of information. It’s about providing people with the right information at the right time, connecting communities that can improve the relevance, and accelerating decisions to drive value for the business. Importantly, it’s about weaving that information fabric into business processes so they run more efficiently and connect with each other in ways that were simply not possible before.
The meet all of these challenges, leading organizations will begin to merge their business architecture with their technology architecture — to the point where the two become indistinguishable. As a result, traditional roles will shift. For example, IT decisions will be made by business leaders while CIOs emerge as business leaders even more than before. There will be less emphasis on the underlying technology and more focus on building an information fabric that weaves together talent, technology and process.