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The Office 2.0: Trading Cubicles For Smarter Collaboration

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The first time I learned of the word c-o-l-l-a-b-o-r-a-t-i-o-n, was probably around…uh…I don’t know, maybe around the age of eight. My teacher had a tough time explaining its concept to me during a science project, “Kevin, collaboration is not making your partner do all the work while you tie his shoelaces to the chair!

To the back of the lab!” How was I to know what collaboration meant then? But true to form, I got the hang of its meaning and put the musician’s mantra of “Practise, Practise, Practise” to its limit but getting the smartest kid in the class to ‘collaborate’ with me during all my math tests.

Today, collaboration seems to be the hottest act since Baywatch hit our television screens, for what seems like eons ago. But unlike Baywatch, collaboration produces results. It has become the epitome for almost all things Web 2.0.

But it shouldn’t come as any surprise. After all, collaboration software (sometimes referred to as groupware – though this is more commonly associated with business processes using shared databases) developers are tapping into something that is already innate within the human species; the uncontrollable desire to share, give and sacrifice. We are a communal and altruistic species. Believe it or not, we want to make the world a better place; donating ourselves in one form or another. Collaboration thus comes naturally to us.

Linus Torvalds understood collaboration only too well. And this led to the open-source operating system Linux, being born. Ray Ozzie’s understanding of human collaboration led to the release of Lotus Notes back in ’89. Jimmy Wales’s understanding of collaboration led to the creation of the world’s largest and most up-to-date encyclopedia online (Larry Sanger may have a bone to pick with that, though).

But collaboration software was probably catapulted into the mainstream with the invention of e-mail. It’s an excellent communication tool (don’t let spam tell you otherwise), but as a collaboration tool, it isn’t very productive. Passing attachments back and forth doesn’t really cut it when a team is working simultaneously on a task. Today’s files and documents are getting way to big to even attempt stuffing them in team members’ inboxes (remember the ‘sneakernet’ days of carrying floppy-disks from one person to another?).

There are no hard and fast rules where collaboration is concerned. You can do it on a personal level, within or across organizations with established processes, from the bottom-up in an ad hoc way, or just communicating with clients and customers. It’s also more than likely you’ll never always be working in a same team more than thrice in a row. Your business will tend to form and dissolve teams as quickly as sugar in hot tea. Bear this in mind when choosing collaborative software. You may own the latest and most up-to-date gizmo on the planet, but another organization you’re corresponding with may not.

The Make-Up Of A Collaboration Software

There are three very basic functions a collaboration software embodies: Communication, Collaboration /Sharing and Management

The communication tools:

instant messaging

e-mail

voice mail

fax

web publishing

blogging

skyping

The collaborative tools:

wikis

video conferences

webcasting

teleconferences

data conferencing

Discussion forums

chat rooms

The management tools:

Office suites

Workflow systems

Group calendars

Project management systems

The new wave of collaboration tools populating the market today, spawned by the popularity of the Internet has an eclectic mix of features; applications catering to large enterprises right down to consumers. Some ASPs (Application Service Providers) offer a fully-integrated package, combining communication, sharing and management tools while other ASPs offer specialized services zeroing in on one specific segment of collaboration. With the nomadic lifestyles of most entrepreneurs today, mobility becomes a determinant factor in how collaboration software developers are building their products.

You may have heard then of Office 2.0. Office 2.0 is collaboration and production tasks managed fully online. That’s the simplest way I can describe it. With the surge of broadband access, this is a very viable future for the mass market to take to easily. Though still very much in its infancy, the potential for managing most or all your business processes online is very real. Synching various business tools and keeping track of all your business transactions could just be a matter of five mouse clicks and a task is completed.

I’m sure you’re already itching to know what the future of collaboration software holds for you, so let’s start with some desktop clients:

Microsoft’s very own Groove

Colligo

Socialtext

Web-based software:

Microsoft’s Sharepoint

IBM’s Lotus Notes

Joyent

Zimbra

Zoho

Google Docs & Spreadsheets

thinkfree

Atlassian

Goowy

GroveSite

37 Signals

near-time

itensil

For a more extensive list of Office 2.0 applications, I recommend you’ve a look at this database, http://itredux.com/office-20/database/. Visit those sites and see what’s on offer.

So What Does This All Mean?

As an entrepreneur, saving a buck here and there, adds up to a considerable amount of savings for your business over a year. So if you can find avenues to do so, why shouldn’t you?

Forget paying for proprietary software if there is a viable open-source alternative available or, consider using an ASP for your business. It will probably cost less than what it takes to run and manage a small IT department. Just ask yourself, how much of the productivity tools like Microsoft’s Office do you actually use? 50%? 70%? 10%? Think about it.

Does it make sense to purchase Microsoft’s Office Suite only for you to use Word or Excel? Would a more cost-effective option like the free Google Docs & Spreadsheets or Zoho be intrinsically more viable?

The dawn of Office 2.0 applications puts you in charge of the choice of tools you really need at a fraction of the cost of shrink-wrapped software. Sometimes offered to you for the unbeatable price of free. While true that many of the current applications are not yet primed for enterprise usage, SOHOs or SMBs, will stand to gain first. So why not take advantage of this cost-cutting measure?

We’re moving in a direction where the Web itself will become an operating system of sorts where every aspect of business, social and personal activities will be done online. And that includes storage. Prepare yourself for it. Prepare your business for it. Exciting times truly lie ahead.

So really, who needs cubicles?

Copyright 2006 Kevin Singarayar. All rights reserved.

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The Office 2.0: Trading Cubicles For Smarter Collaboration
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About Kevin Singarayar
Found this article useful? Then subscribe to the Technopreneur blog at http://technopreneur.wordpress.com/ to stay on the cutting-edge of Internet technologies and emerging trends for Entrepreneurs. Learn the art of leveraging online technologies to boost your business growth and discover insights into booming trends for business expansion from Kevin Singarayar, your Internet technology evangelist. WebProNews Writer
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