I was recently reading a Gartner report on market trends in Team and Social Software by Tom Eid and Bianca Francesca Granetto. (The full June 2009 report, called "Market Trends: Web Conferencing, Teaming and Social Software," is available for purchase from Gartner.) The report is very insightful in pointing out "the convergence in technologies and usage across unified communications, Web 2.0, team collaboration and web conferencing."The report also very aptly points out the general benefits of collaboration software in its "ability to enhance business relationships and leverage collective intelligence."
However, the report also suggests that "collaboration software is best utilized in business contexts that enable individuals to interact informally, brainstorm, explore ideas, and encourage or challenge peers."
I found this suggestion to be a bit limiting in terms of the scope and the actual use of Team Collaboration software. Intralinks was ranked as number 1 in this category in terms of market share and we see a lot more structured use of our service in terms of formal communication, business process management and business transaction management within and across organizational boundaries.
To be specific, as we apply team collaboration concepts into formal corporate structures, business process and compliance rules, we start seeing that general open collaboration themes are not always practical or applicable in mission critical situations.
The concept of bringing together experts and generalists across multiple departments, organizations, and geographic boundaries helps create an amazing opportunity to deliver untapped business value. However, the underlying requirements for information security, auditability and compliance with any number of organizational policies and governmental regulations require a collaboration environment which is lot more formal and structured than a lot of social networking and team collaboration environments usually cited as being relevant for such work.
Maybe it will make sense to further differentiate "Team Collaboration" as "Open Collaboration" (of an informal nature) from Structured Collaboration (which is of more formal nature). In this context, Structured Team Collaboration can be defined as collaboration managed through clearly defined business processes, business rules and meeting well-known security and auditability requirements.
Structured collaboration is most often centered on management and exchange of critical information. Critical information deals with lives, money or logistics needs to be managed with lot of care and control--not usually a hallmark of collaboration environments where most people have access to most information.
Structured Team Collaboration derives its structure through:
1. Requirement for specific roles assigned to participants
2. Processes defined around creation and exchange of information
3. Security & visibility rules around the participants and information
4. Auditability requirements for all collaboration actions and changes tracked back to individuals and organizations
A good use case of this type of team collaboration is the management of drug research study startup and study conduct in the life sciences industry. Pharmaceutical companies, institutional review boards, clinical research organizations, and research sites all have to collaborate and communicate under formal guidelines and business rules defined by the FDA. These rules govern the communications, the deadlines and the auditability of exchange of information across the various participants. Intralinks has been utilized in the development of 5 of the top 10 blockbuster drugs currently in the marketplace. In particular, Phase 3 and Phase 4 trials may need coordination amongst hundreds of sites and thousands of human participants in a very structured environment.
What we have learned during this process is that team collaboration software and services need to be developed and managed to a higher set of rigorous quality and security standards. Specific business processes and business rules need to be customized and managed through the life cycle of the business transaction, which may last months in case of a Merger & Acquisition transaction, or years in terms of a clinical study.
I look forward to hearing more from people on their experiences in structure collaboration and some of their successes and challenges.