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