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.