Increased productivity is one of the most common rallying cries when people, myself included, talk about the consumerization trend in business technology and the related growth of personally owned mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad in the workplace. Increased productivity and the comfort of choosing and using the best apps or devices for the job is one big advantage that these trends have to offer, but it isn’t the only one.
The ability to collaborate is being unleashed by these trends in businesses around the world. That, perhaps, points a finger to why the iPad, cloud services like Box and Dropbox, and social networks have gained so much popularity in so many offices. They allow people to interact and collaborate in ways that traditional business collaboration tools do not.
I’m not suggesting that tools like Microsoft’s SharePoint and Basecamp from 37 Signals aren’t important tools. They are very important tools for document, content, and project management. Even the track changes feature in Office is important when multiple team members collaborate on a single document – after all, track changes has been the holy grail of iOS business apps (Office2 is the only on-device Office-style suite for iOS to offer track changes integration).
There is, however, a difference between working together on specific files or with specific data and true person-to-person discussion. Tools like these might be better described as tools for managing collaborative work instead of collaborative tools. They exist more to put needed boundaries around the pieces of work that team members do than to encourage active discussion and broader collaboration.
Leigh Jasper, CEO of Construction and Engineering Collaboration company Aconex, recently described the ways in which iOS, social networks, and cloud services are transforming the workplace as eliminating friction. That’s a terrific metaphor. Traditional office tools are designed in many ways to instill friction in the collaborative process for the purposes of keeping everything organized and manageable as well as for securing content and network resources.
Jasper points out that such friction has always been a collaboration inhibitor in businesses of all types and sizes – something that users tolerate when they must but will avoid and circumvent when they have the chance. New mobile technologies – the iPad in particular – and social networks are all about removing that friction. So are Cloud services, because they allow users to bypass many points of friction created by security and management systems.
The challenge for businesses and IT is to deliver solutions that remove as much friction between users, resources, and information– and even between users and their coworkers – as possible while still providing core security. That’s not an easy task, but ultimately it’s the best possible option.