Sharing files isn't collaboration

A recent CIO Magazine article on "collaboration" had me scratching my head as to how it was talking about collaboration. And then I re-read Luis Suarez' recent article on Why Social Business Keeps Failing to Deliver and realized my problem.

Here is the CIO piece: IT Must Provide Enterprise Collaboration Tools Employees Will Use

Businesses are under pressure to enable collaboration beyond the corporate firewall as workers increasingly need to connect with remote colleagues as well as business partners, suppliers and consultants. The challenge to IT departments is that many employees are turning to email and consumer-grade file-sharing services to get their work done and exposing the enterprise to risk in the process.

Let's put this in big, bold letters. Exchanging files and data is NOT COLLABORATION. It's simply exchanging files and data. In fact, I would argue that most collaboration has nothing to do with these things.

The problem - as always - is that people are confusing the tools for the behavior. The behavior we want to see is people working together to get things done ("collaboration"). What does the CIO piece talk about? It talks about the importance of intellectual property and records management. It talks about the fact that people need to share information with business partners outside the walls of their own organization. And that most people share that information via email and other "unsecured" routes because internal tools aren't doing the job. The quotes are all from vendors who provide "cloud solutions" to exchanging files.

Collaboration has to do with people working together, developing a common understanding of their situation, and devising the appropriate strategies and tactics to move forward. And social business goes even further to considering how people are at the center of what we do in business, and how can we enable the conversations that have to happen to get things done. Both of these operate under an assumption that more and more of our work is our work, not my work or your work. We work together to make things happen. Focusing on email or file-exchange is like the drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight because that is where the light is (see Streetlight effect).

Luis Suarez' piece goes even further. How can the idea of social business take root, if business continues to focus on making a buck? Instead, business should worry about serving its customers and creating an environment where its people can thrive. If it cannot "make a buck" doing those things, then what is the point of trying to become a "social business." And why would knowledge workers want to work in an environment where roadblocks get thrown up at every turn. No wonder it is easier for people to talk about collaboration-as-sharing-files.

p.s. Please go have a read on Luis' piece. The comments alone are great - both agreeing and disagreeing with his arguments.

1 Comment(s)

budpr Author Profile Page said:

Jack, many terms, like collaboration, mean so many different things to so many people that they are, unfortunately, meaningless. I work in the electronic document management area defining business and functional requirements for endusers and I can say that many many people see collaboration as file sharing - actually being able to work on the same file in a collaborative fashion - whatever that may be. When people work together on a shared file, whether it be in Dropbox or Box, they are collaborating.

If you are really trying to make a point, I think you need to define collaboration in your terms and maybe find that other people may not agree with your definition or see it in a much broader context. Context is important in any definition - collaboration to a small project team in a small company may mean "sharing our files in Box - while collaboration to an marketing group in a large company may mean creating a common SharePoint site in which files, videos, site references and anything that can be brough to bear on a project is, Collaboration.

I had an early interest in Knowledge Management, until I realized that it was not definable and entered the lexicon as buzzword to be thrown around without regard to a true definition. (I think it has since become more stable with regard to a definition).

Thank you for a good post and starting me thinking about this. I also read the supporting blog from Luis, which I'm not sure I agree with.


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