Collaboration: People, Tools that Drive Success

Joseph Todd, CIO, City of Tukwila
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In today’s technically advanced world, it’s easy to just grab a collaboration tool set and implement it. We need to think about collaboration as a larger ecosystem where people and tools come together in a heterogenous environment, allowing for choice in the way teams collaborate. The choices can be integrated ensuring information and knowledge aren't siloed, but just by giving users choice you create a better path to adoption.  This is not to say as we continue to move into the future that mergers and acquisitions won't move us into homogenous environments that serve to ensure information is shared across organizations.

  Design thinking is fundamentally changing the way IT leaders approach technology implementation  

The Collaboration Frame Work

Collaboration in my mind really boils down to five key elements: Communication, Contribution, Sharing, Coordination, and Partnership. Together these five elements provide a framework that is agnostic to any tool set but are the table stakes for any collaboration program and tool implementation.

I think back to my time at The Boeing Company where IT tools and services were abundant. It was and is a true heterogeneous environment where tools are selected based on any number of criteria. From a collaboration perspective we were using tools like Confluence, SharePoint, home grown enterprise social, Plumtree for enterprise portals, and Google search. All these tools were excellent applications, but the problem was that they all existed separately. As IT leaders, we must first work from a baseline of a common framework. The framework needs to address some baseline questions:

• How do teams in my organization communicate?
• How do I augment that communication?
• How did I allow users to share information and knowledge?
• How do I create an environment for sharing of information and knowledge that seems informal but at the same time highly coordinated?
• How do I help users work in collaboration environments as partners aligned to ensure that knowledge and ideas are transferred all constituents in the organization?
• What devices and outlets do my teams use to communicate?

The questions and framework above should drive your total knowledge and understanding of your organization and put you on a path of complete user adoption.

Having a Mind Set of Design Thinking When Thinking about Collaboration

One of the biggest things that have changed my view of collaboration and technology in general is my introduction to design thinking. Design thinking is fundamentally changing the way IT leaders approach technology implementation. A quick definition of design thinking: “Design thinking identifies and investigates with known and ambiguous aspects of the current situation to discover hidden parameters and open alternative paths that may lead to the goal. Because design thinking is iterative, intermediate ‘solutions’ are also potential starting points of alternative paths, including redefining of the initial problem.”

How does this effect collaboration? I think IT leaders need to approach collaboration from the users’ perspective. Start with the customer and end with the customer. What is the collaboration problem that the user is having? Is it a technology problem? Is it a business process problem? Maybe it’s the culture of the organization. Design thinking tries to address all of these issues from a user perspective, and provides a path to help IT teams to be very iterative in deployment of tools and process. An example: While at Alaska Airlines, my IT team was asked to take a look at how we could deliver a communication and knowledge portal for the most mobile of our work force, Pilots and Flight Attendants.

We did this through the use of Microsoft’s Azure Cloud and Office 365 collaboration tools, but we first started with Design Thinking. We went to the users and asked some of the questions that I talked about in the paragraphs above. We did surveys and persona development to make sure we were meeting collaboration needs of Pilots and Flight Attendants. We also did iterative design and development testing getting the capabilities out to users getting there full feedback before final delivery. Design thinking is important and every IT leader should take advantage of its capabilities.

Bring People and Teams Along for the Journey

One thing that can't be left to chance is the process of bringing people and teams along for the journey. This means integrating a baseline Collaboration framework, Design Thinking, and Change Management for delivery and user acceptance. As IT leaders approach establishing collaboration tools and processes, the journey to get people on board has to be well planned out.  Understanding organizations and teams, and giving them paths to adopt new ways and tools leverages the persona development that we talked about in the section on Design Thinking. It lets us use what we have learned about consumers to now deliver a journey map with on ramps and business scenarios to help users see the benefits and use cases for collaboration capabilities.

Collaboration Now and in the Future

I talked about heterogeneous and homogeneous environments along with methods for getting users involved in selection and delivery of collaboration capabilities. We have a brave, new world ahead of us. Collaboration tools are constantly changing and morphing to meet our new styles of communication. As IT leaders we have to embrace these changes and figure out ways to integrate these capabilities into our organizations and make them more productive. As a government CIO, collaboration is helping changing how we engage citizens, provide citizen support, and change lives for the better everyday.

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