WAVE Report

Collaborate West 2002
by John Latta
Wave Issue 0243 12/6/02

Anaheim, CA
November 4-6, 2002

Buzz words were everywhere: perceptual collaboration, community hubs, bridges, disorganized paper processes, e-learning, intelligent information and electronic meetingware. Yet, words crept into the comments like - Why has this market not taken off? A seminar yesterday said it well:

"Make sure that the pilot (collaboration) solves a specific problem, is visible to the whole organization, and has the full support of those who will use it."

The fundamental intent of all this activity is to:

Create the next major use for information and communications technology in business.

Collaboration Struggles

The problems are:

In spite of 10+ years of efforts going back to the early networking and groupware, collaboration and RTC technologies are immature. Issues such as application integration and user interface are hot topics. In a mature technology these should be non-issues.

Collaboration goes to the center of how a business operates and to take the next major IT leap means understanding and impacting:

Organizational culture;
Business processes;
Workflow; and
The essence of each individual business and those that work in it.

Collaboration has subsumed communications technology, i.e., video conferencing, IM and more, but the integration of communications within workflow and businesses processes is crude.

What is new today, as one of the few bright spots in the enterprise use of collaboration, is IM. This is characterized as the only serious contender to the telephone in decades. Yet, this is hardly collaboration, but a simple text substitute for the phone. Presence is another way of saying - the other person is able to respond when I communicate via IM. Even the phone can't do that. We should not confuse IM with the full potential of collaboration.

Collaborate West was a tiny event. We counted about 200 at the first keynote, which was no more than a panel discussion. The economy certainly plays a role here. Investment in new technologies or even new software solutions has dried up. Communications is in a depression. The VCs have shrunk the purse strings to the point that it is nearly impossible to get any funding.

Here are some points made in the presentations:

Web conferencing has the potential of being viral, and Webex is one of the strongest companies in this space.

IM changes the way individuals make calls. It is the first serious application to challenge the phone.

In collaborative interactions, Metcalf's Law applies. That is, the value of the network goes up by the square of the number of participants on the network. Exponential scaling means that collaboration application complexity rapidly becomes huge. This includes: managing communications, traceability, security and content management.

Right now the "Pain exceeds Pleasure" in collaboration.

Across multiple talks the following forms of collaboration surfaced:

Perceptual Collaboration - Screen Sharing

One or more individuals sharing the same screen content, such as a PowerPoint presentation. This frequently involves web conferencing.

Workplace Collaboration - Virtual Teams

Participants have a common job or task objective.

Data Centric Collaboration - see IntraLinks below

Individuals involved in the creation, review or management of documents.
Typically an application is the window to the data or a web browser.

Contextual Collaboration - Application sharing

Requires tight integration with applications to allow individuals to work within applications and share its use. This includes the ability to shift application control between individuals during collaboration.

Michael Schrage Illuminates

The keynote on the second day was given by Michael Schrage, Co-Director, MIT Media Lab eMarkets Initiative. Michael began as the first technology reporter for the Washington Post, has written a number of books and now has a key position at the Media Lab. I have long enjoyed his perspectives because of the depth of thought and out-of-box thinking. Today's keynote was no exception. We will report on the essence of what was said, in the order given.

The most valuable part of networking is not the networks but the networkers who are created. These are the individuals who use the networks effectively.

According to polls of workers - what is the biggest waste of organizational time?


Why do we want to replicate meetings with technology?

We should not and this is what collaboration is about today.
We need to redefine where value is created in an organization and focus our efforts there.

History has shown us that the dominant collaborative medium is a shared space.

Significant advances frequently come from creative relationships, not creative individuals - discovery of the stucture of DNA was discussed.
The share space in the discovery of DNA was the model used, not original research done.
An electronically shared space can take many forms: a room, a CAD drawing, and a model.

The properties of the shared space shape the quality of the collaboration.

The architecture of the shared space is critical to the evolution of the collaboration.
Keys to a quality shared space are models and interactions.
The goal in creating shared spaces is to build great collaboration.
IM is the creation of a shared space.

The emphasis on networks today is on bandwidth and the transport of bits - this is a classic capacity vs. capability tradeoff.

Rather than networks we need to think of worknets.
Accomplishing work is the focus.
It is important to think about enabling interaction between individuals in shared spaces

With an emphasis on efficiency accomplished by interaction in shared spaces, this drives collaboration to accomplishing work in the organization.

The following question was asked of the audience:

Which would you prefer?

  • Technology that would provide a 10X efficiency improvement in handling information, OR
  • Something that would improve your ability to work with your boss by 20%.

Only one hand in the audience went up for the information improvement.
This was used as an illustration of the value of technology if it improves the work environment.

What organizations are the most effective in using the concepts of shared space?

Those that evaluate employee performance using the 360 degree method.
Employees must see beyond the narrow scope of the job and interact well with employees throughout the organization - both up and down, to be most effective.
The same criteria for effective workers in a shared spaces applies.

The mind shift that Michael brought can be summarized as:

If electronic collaboration is to be effective it must improve the interaction between individuals in the work environment, NOT just to make possible access to screens, data or with applications.

It is Michael's premise that electronic collaboration must exceed the limitations of work accomplishment today. Web conferences are an electronic makeover of the traditional meeting. Michael's premise is that a shared work space, as it now exists, is the vehicle that shows collaboration can be accomplished. He showed an example of the British Petroleum HIVE in Houston, which was developed by MIT Media Lab. This is like a control room, but for the purpose of enabling interactive real and virtual shared work spaces. He also described where it works and does not work - both being organizational issues.

Shared space is a concept that mandates closer working relationships in organizations. One example cited, where management dictated the use of a shared space, was in the design of the Boeing 777. This is the first all CAD built aircraft using a French software package called Catia. The top-down dictate from Boeing was - if it is not in Catia it does not go on the airplane. That forced the use of this shared space.

Company Views

In one of the more interesting presentations, IntraLinks described how collaboration was used successfully in pharmaceutical trials. Here there are massive amounts of data, the process is highly regulated, there is a need to keep stringent records and many different groups are involved. The solution IntraLinks has created is a Community Hub that serves as a repository of the data, and access is provided via HTML to involved parties with varying levels of permission. The same type of application applies to M&A or large institutional loan transactions, where multiple organizations are involved in the creation and modification of documents. This is certainly a collaboration process but we came away wondering is this not just an application for web access to a central server of the document store? Is collaboration a form of sheep's clothing?

These forms of collaboration are the means to enable different forms of interactions between the individuals. In addition, there is a communications overlay. This includes networking to link computers, voice or video and any combination of these. The inclusion of the last two is called rich media collaboration. Web conferencing is the scheduling of multiple individuals, at the same time, to accomplish any of these forms.

Show Floor

The show floor was like a different world from the conference. Many of the leading companies with collaboration software were not present. No IBM Lotus, no Microsoft, and most of the small cutting edge collaboration software companies did not have booths. What was on the floor were video conferencing equipment companies and service providers like AT&T, Spring and SBC. There was even a company that makes video conferencing furniture. Even the show has not made the exhibit jump to collaboration.

WAVE Comments

At Collaborate West 2002 there were three vectors, which can be largely independent, to make collaboration possible. Thus, the expectation to create a business model is formed around the following:

1) Software that enables collaboration. There are many forms including, but not limited to:

Virtual workplaces
Collaborative content management;
Portals and online communities;
Distributed project management;
Knowledge management; and
Meeting participation and management.

2) Communications and interface technologies - typically with a communications service:

Video conferencing;
Web conferencing;

3) Hardware

Video cameras;
Video conferencing;
Displays; and
Conference workstations.

The challenge is to provide something useful to the participants that management can reduce to an ROI benefit. This means that one or more of the three categories above must directly contribute to the business function in a quantifiable way. Selling technology alone is no longer adequate. It is here where the disconnect between the concept of collaboration and reality surface. In the past, management could come to grips with potential travel savings using video conferencing. It is possible to see how, for special vertical markets, such as pharmaceutical trails, benefit could be realized from IntraLinks software. However, the ROI benefit from many of the other forms of collaboration is much more difficult to quantify.

Given the three parts cited above, is the whole of the three larger than any one? Based on what was presented at Collaborate West 2002 I have a hard time making the case that collaboration, which includes communications, has any additional traction. Adding software for document collaboration to video conferencing may make meetings better over a video link, but it is unclear if management will spend significant funds for an enterprise-wide document collaboration software.

Given these hugely disparate conditions we now set an expectation for collaboration:

The integration of business function into individual collaboration tools and communications has significant promise.

Logic implies this makes sense. The real issue is how to accomplish it. What we saw at this event, at least in terms of the talks, are the fruits of many efforts to accomplish this. What is missing?

The integration of collaboration tools into applications

This is not only hard to accomplish, but it is a fact that Microsoft controls all the major desktop applications. Thus, collaboration should be integrated into Office, the OS and more. This will happen in much the same way that the Internet was embedded into the OS and HTML into Office. Keep in mind that Internet embedding enables access to the sites of others using protocols and data formats. Collaboration is about individuals and work processes.

Ease of use

There are as many user interfaces as collaboration applications. In fact, the user interface is the means of product differentiation. Another user interface issue is the one click collaboration access button, no matter where the user is, including any application. This access should also be context sensitive. The whole area of user interface needs to be researched and tested by use. We come away daunted by all the possibilities. We found it interesting the number of multiple monitor setups with video cameras on the show floor.

Work and application sensitive presence

The ability to establish a rich presence criteria, which includes personal business activities, Internet and application use and others as factors in determining presence.

Ubiquitous XML documents with standard vertical usage formats

It could be said that Adobe Acrobat has such a presence but it appears that the value of XML documents could go well beyond what Acrobat provides.

Enterprise adaptable collaboration

This has a close parallel with e-commerce application servers, which can be tailored to industry segments and individual companies. In the case of collaboration, the company can readily tailor a collaboration suite. The software is scalable to large enterprises.

Built-in performance metrics to measure the impact of use

This is hard to do, of high value to the enterprise and not addressed at the conference at all.

Integrated connectivity and communications capability

The independent silos of the above three, software, communications, and hardware, have to be seamlessly integrated. Further, the user responsibility for connectivity should be eliminated. One no longer has to think about dialup for Internet connection and such messiness should not apply for collaboration.

Licensing for use that is not onerous

Not infrequently the issues came up - management of licenses or attendees in a collaborative conference so all could attend, or the attendance was limited in advance to avoid the use license restrictions.

Note that the keynote by Michael Schrage takes these issues up the abstraction ladder. That is, he suggested that shared spaces are the means to enhance the process of work. This brings some very interesting possibilities that remain to be explored. Collaboration as the next wave of computer integration into work remains in its infancy.