A New Model for Categorizing Collaboration Technology

A New Model for Categorizing Collaboration Technology

The traditional categorization of collaboration software no longer reflects the way people actually work.

As we text over phones in the same room, or chat via instant messaging in the same meeting,  the very idea of same time, same place or different time, different place seems archaic. Those categories reflect a good intellectual view of a technology in its infancy; they reflect design intent rather than use. This traditional model also makes the fundamental modeling mistake of over simplification. The attributes are too constrained for the complexity of technology or markets. The Center circle was added more recently, essentially undermining the chart, by suggesting the some technology allows people to connect any time, any where to any one.  That additional also over simplifies and, though it may create a positive marketing promise by vendors, does little to help technology buyers or architects make decisions. Although adopted widely by the collaboration intelligentsia, this model never connected with people as a meaningful way to express their day-to-day experience.

The world is a messy place, and it needs messy models.

I am proposing the following as a replacement model for collaboration technology.  Its vertical axis represents adaptability: how many ways can the particular technology be used, from single purpose to highly adaptive. The horizontal axis uses a model of collaboration that looks at communications (one-to-one, or one-to many), teamwork (with a hierarchical command structure) or collaboration (with an opt-in, organic, emergent and cooperative model) as a continuum of collaborative work.

As an example, enterprise social networking appears as a wide background swath that reaches from highly adaptive communications to single purpose, or task oriented collaborative work. This broad range of use for enterprise social networking may be the cause of its rapid uptake. Enterprise social networking was lost in the previous model. Neither IT professionals, nor analysts, could categorize against previous models because it was too adaptive; the obverse meaning that the models themselves overly compartmentalized technology. Vendors and emergent technology categories suffered from a lack of adequate  representation.

As another example, Fax and voice mail fall into a very small space focused on single purpose technology designed for communications. Few would argue with the limitation of those technologies. Both, continue to exist, however, among much more sophisticated technologies precisely because they are so functionally specific.

Of all the technologies beside enterprise social networking, e-mail has the widest footprint, and that to, may reflect its staying power. Though deep and thoughtful arguments can be made against the use of e-mail for collaboration because many of its features actually detract from the building of trust and the sharing of information, but when applied in an open and cooperative way, e-mail can be an adequate tool for a wide variety of collaborative work.

I put this out as a straw model and look forward to feedback on how to improve it, conceptually and quantitatively.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.


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