In theory, IT is supposed to increase productivity. To attain that goal we have invested billions of dollars, especially in PC applications that are supposed to make people more productive.
But the only way we can really increase productivity is to collaborate more. And yet, when we look at the state of our applications, you can't help but wonder if IT is really helping or hindering collaboration.
When you peel back all the hype, the potential for increased productivity through collaboration is what drives all the interest in Web 2.0. And yet, there is very little integration between our productivity applications, messaging systems, smart phones, Web-based applications and first-generation collaboration applications, such as Lotus Notes.
Enterprise software vendors have recognized this fatal flaw and have started to move to fill in the gap. Cisco, for example, has signaled its intent to roll out a new collaboration application and now comes IBM with a new set of collaboration frameworks for the banking, chemical/petroleum, energy and government sectors.
Now in the land of IBM, you have to understand that a framework is something just short of a full-blown application. After all, IBM insists it is not in the application business. It is, however, the framework business, which provides about 90 percent of what an application provides. Business partners and independent software vendors (ISVs) are suppose to customize these frameworks in order to compete with Oracle, SAP and Microsoft. In some quarters, IBM's insistence on the use of the word "framework" amounts to some "Clintonian" parsing of the language. But what matters is that IBM is trying to make it easier for customers to collaborate by buying an integrated set of IBM software coupled with their consulting services.
The IBM collaboration frameworks consist specifically of products from IBM's Lotus Notes group coupled with IBM middleware. Depending on the situation, IBM may add in some third-party products. But if you're starting to get the idea that it sounds awfully complicated and expensive to collaborate, you're probably not alone. If you think Microsoft, Oracle or anybody else is any better at the moment when it comes to end-to-end collaboration, think again.
And yet, making it easier to collaborate is really the heart of the matter when it comes to enterprise computing. A survey of 176 business and IT leaders conducted by IBM finds that empowering business users to easily change business processes is now the single highest priority, which is interesting in and of itself given the fact that IBM says that CIOs think that business intelligence applications are their highest priority. BI is a good thing to have. But without the ability to do anything about the information quickly, BI kind of falls flat.
What the IBM survey data really suggests is that there is still a high level of frustration when it comes to making enterprise applications bend to the needs of the business. Far too often, business users have to bend to the way enterprise software works. At the end of the day, that only serves to stifle business process innovation because, right now, it's still too hard to get the software to execute the business process just the way you want it.
So are we really making any progress when it comes to collaboration, or are we just spinning our collective wheels?