|IBM Watson Research Center |
White Paper: Communication Trends and the On-Demand Organization
IBM has defined and popularized the notion of eBusiness on demand and is focusing its products and consulting business on enabling customers to transform themselves into on-demand organizations. The impact of this technology model has repercussions within the culture and social hierarchy of any organization. In a recent white paper, Irene Greif, Director of Collaborative User Experience (CUE), and Researcher David Millen explore the socialization of collaboration -- the social effects of technological innovations -- and how organizations have responded to them. The paper looks at the subject from three perspectives:
- Bottoms-up communication changes, most often associated in business settings with email and instant messaging
- Top-down enterprise-driven changes, usually associated with portal and workflows
- Ad hoc team interactions and team technologies
Research shows that email has empowered workers from the bottom up, changing their work habits, making business operations more efficient, and reducing their dependency on hierarchies. Email and its close cousin, instant messaging, have freed individuals to work with people they have never met and who are not related to them in the formal organizational hierarchy. At the same time, portals and business processes have been created to serve corporate goals in top-down initiatives. More and more businesses are setting up intranets or portals to publish corporate strategy messages, deploy cost saving line-of-business applications, and promote community-building and common understanding of business goals. Even fairly rigid forms-based workflows deployed through portals have been accepted widely. Teaming happens on a more ad-hoc basis and is about shared goals and views. When used well, group software can nurture both, boosting productivity and morale. But in many organizations, IT policies undermine design of products, inhibiting ease of creating meeting places and limiting their value as long-term information repositories.
While these technologies serve the on-demand strategy well, they also bring challenges that could impede their adoption unless addressed. For example, new technologies and services are needed to help people manage their attention and keep on-demand technologies from overwhelming them with interruptions. There will be a place for new data archiving and retrieval capabilities to handle the increased volume of data that results from successful communications deployments and to make team spaces as compelling for long-term storage as email is today. (Many people report they can find attached files more easily in email than in file systems, but many fewer people find themselves going back to team spaces for reference material.) Organizations will need new tools tuned to supporting tighter integration between informal communication such as email and the more formal workflow processes associated with them. Because email, portals, and team spaces are all used in the context of activities that cut across communication medium, a rich representation of activity and workflow can serve as a foundation for integrating them. And finally, companies will look to IT for new and more flexible administration policies and infrastructures to support the on-demand work environment.
These trends inform IBM's approach to software design. In terms of product, the Lotus Workplace will provide companies with a platform that integrates email, portal, and team technologies as components and new design tools that allow these components to be molded into new business applications. Customer experience with current technologies put them at a new point of readiness for collaboration that Workplace can exploit. Research challenges still abound, however, for accelerating change, socializing collaboration, building links to consulting, and building some of the new technologies needed in the workplace mix.