Globalization and the digitalization of the economy increase the pace of change and forces organizations to quickly adapt to new conditions. Consumer behaviors and preferences are changing rapidly as we move towards an even more connected and digital economy, forcing businesses to constantly innovate their products and services. This is a reality an organization has to accept and adapt to, and the pace of change will not slow down.
Increasing competition forces many organizations to focus on their core business and engage in close collaborations with a network of partners and customers, transforming into an extended enterprise. A functioning extended enterprise requires all the involved organizations to continuously improve their responsiveness, agility, productivity and ability to innovate – and be aligned in these efforts. The key to do this is to make effective use of all their collective intelligence: the people and their talent, expertise, knowledge, information, and ideas. They simply cannot afford to let organizational design, geography, shared attitudes and behaviors (culture) and other factors limit the access, allocation, rapid dissemination and use of its collective intellectual capital the way many organizations still do today. They need to make everything they can to make all of it available and accessible to anyone within the extended enterprise who needs it – as quickly as possible, regardless where they are and when they need it.
Up until now most of the efforts aimed at improving information work and workforce collaboration has been focused on making individual workers and teams more efficient. Most organizations have created digital work environment to optimize personal productivity and teamwork, but doing so they have neglected the fact that information work is becoming increasingly interdependent and collaborative, relying on collaboration in networks across locations and organizations and stretching far beyond teams. Although it might seem as a paradox, these digital work environments have in fact made people more isolated and unaware of what is happening at work. Many of us need to interact with lots of people in different organizations and locations on a daily basis, but our digital work environments don’t provide the transparency and openness that is required if we are to see what is happening elsewhere. It becomes harder for us to make decisions that are benefiting the company as a whole and not just ourselves and our teams. This is something that creates inefficiencies, duplicate work, sub-optimization, lost innovations, low reuse of knowledge and solutions, and so forth.
A common reaction to this lack of transparency and openness is that we tend to work primarily with the people we already know, and preferably people in our close proximity. It doesn’t matter if we would have achieved better results if we had worked with other people, with other skills and information. Since team members tend to think alike after a while, it leads to group thinking. We focus on our own goals and act on the things we already know. We don’t get access to the new information existing elsewhere that would improve our performance both as a team and as a company. We don’t make use or relevant expertise, talent and resources which are available elsewhere.
The starting point is by necessity empowering and engaging every individual in their workforce to share, interact, collaborate and build their professional networks across teams, locations and other organizational structures. For this to happen it is a necessity to create more open and transparent digital work environments, where we can see and interact with each other throughout the workforce, across organizations and locations. The environment needs to increase the visibility of people and information, and provide mechanisms that allow people to find and discover relevant people and information, without drowning in a rising sea of information. First of all, such an environment will allow an organization to improve its capability to serve unanticipated information needs by connecting people and information across the extended enterprise, thereby improving its responsiveness and agility. Secondly, it will allow it to improve its ability to innovate by enabling ideas to be shared across to those who can implement them. Thirdly, it will help to improve productivity by minimizing sub-optimization, rework, redundant work and bad decision-making as organizational silos are being dissolved.
The harsh reality is that companies that continue to only help a small fraction of the workforce to become well connected, such as managers, sales people and formally appointed experts, will be outperformed by companies that are able to connect all their people regardless of position, budget or whatever. Dealing with business challenges all starts with connecting the right people. As we have written in Tieto’s Transforming into a Social Business (http://www NULL.slideshare NULL.net/TietoCorporation/transforming-into-a-social-business-opinion-paper-from-tieto) opinion paper:
The digitalization of businesses has laid the corner stone for building powerful networks and utilizing the power of those networks. All that has to be done now is to join up the dots (or rather, to enable them to connect by themselves) and make sure that the concepts of collaborative intelligence and crowd-sourcing find their way into the organization. Now is the time finally to unleash the power of operational networks that solve problems and act upon opportunities in a fraction of the usual time. This can now be achieved with significantly fewer resources and by activating underused resources such as expertise hidden in distant corners of the enterprise. Connecting the right people with each other and connecting everyone with the right information at the right time essentially is what social business is about. It allows large enterprises to operate with similar agility, responsiveness and ability to innovate as a small startup business.
Much of this can be achieved by introducing new and innovative collaborative tools and technologies originating from the commercial and social web. These kinds of tools allow collaboration to happen more easily and across barriers, and the technology investment is often a lightweight overlay to existing infrastructure. By embracing and learning from the consumers and the massive innovation happening in the marketplace, an organization can facilitate workforce collaboration to boost their productivity.