5 ways to confront the collaboration imperative

Fifty per cent of Canadian CIOs see enterprise collaboration as a technology to have a “significant impact” over the next five years, according to the results of the recent 2015 Canadian CIO Census.

Every year we survey CIOs in Canada to get a sense of their ideas, priorities and future plans. While I’m always prepared for some new insights, this one was a surprise. Not just that half of those surveyed picked collaboration technologies, but that it surpassed the 41 per cent who chose security technologies and 38 per cent who picked big data technologies as having a “significant impact.”

Why this intense interest in collaboration?

Could it partly be enlightened self-interest? Most of us understand that collaboration with the business is an essential skill for today’s CIO. If we learned only one thing from the SaaS and mobile revolution it is that playing “Dr. No” is a one-way ticket to irrelevancy.

The results of the 2015 CIO Census validate this. Those CIOs who are seen as collaborative partners — evidenced by consistently being included in executive meetings — received budget increases that were twice that of their peers who were not always included or who appeared only when a “technical subject” was discussed.

The amounts were significant. “Collaborators” received an average of 6.2 per cent increase versus 3.2 per cent for “technicians.”

In another finding, well over three-quarters of the group acknowledged that business users were significantly better at getting funding for projects than IT leadership. Given these results, those CIOs who were most collaborative certainly won the battle for funding.

But there’s more. Astute CIOs realize that collaboration is essential for their organization and its competitive position. CIOs have known for years that technological benefits can only come when we engage “the holy trinity” of people, process, and technology. Technology has advanced like a runaway train — every year it gets easier and cheaper to acquire and install new hardware and software.

In a world of cloud and SaaS, a credit card and a few minutes can dial up a fully-fledged system. But the real challenge has never been installing technology. The challenge is implementing systems in a way that yields real business benefits. That requires more than technology. It requires commitment and cooperation from a wide range of people and departments. Or in other words? True implementation requires extensive collaboration.

The CIO who pursues collaboration as a strategic theme will see real benefits — for their company, for their department and inevitably, for their careers.

The barriers to collaboration

Given that, we have to ask, “what’s holding us back?” Why not jump in — both feet forward? Again, it’s not for lack of technology. There is a large and continually growing list of tools that claim to enable collaboration. Cloud offerings and intense competition make these affordable with even the most constrained budgets. Google, Microsoft and a host of others have entire suites of tools that are more than ready for prime time.

The challenges? At one time the real barrier was a need for cultural change. But in many organizations, that ship has sailed. In the Internet age, the old ideas of hoarding information to increase one’s power or status just don’t hold up.

So if the tools are readily available and even corporate cultures are changing, what’s the real impediment? According to our CIO Census, one real impediment is security.

Most forward-thinking CIOs acknowledge that increased collaboration also yields increased exposure to security breaches, risk of lost data and even severe damage to corporate reputation. This is not paranoia. For many, the perception is that the threat landscape is growing faster than our ability to manage, or even mitigate it.

Technology makes it easier and easier to breach corporate security. The tools are almost universally available. But companies rarely fall victim to technical vulnerabilities alone. The real points of entry are more often than not provided by people. If people are the major area of exposure, their impulse to share simply expands that threat landscape. Would the Target breach have occurred without exploiting the weakness in the security of an outside contractor?

The tools of collaboration that have enabled quantum leaps in the retail industry by making the entire supply chain more collaborative have also created a greater potential for risk. Phishing –the art of extracting user identities and passwords — is by far the single biggest starting point of a security breach.

The problem feared by many CIOs is that increased collaboration, open exchanges and interactions – particularly in the new Wild West of mobile collaboration – further increase the risk level. But failing to expand collaboration and collaboration tools also threatens the organization. Restricting collaboration constrains the creative forces of the organization and make it vulnerable in other ways.

That’s why secure collaboration — particularly secure mobile collaboration — is a new organizational imperative. Companies that embrace and conquer this challenge will also be the ones to implement collaboration technologies. These collaboration technologies were seen by our CIO audience as having the most “significant impact” of any technology in the coming years.

Companies and careers will both be affected by the choices made.

So what should a CIO do?

We can share what we are doing. We’re:

? “Doubling Down” on our existing investments. We’re taking the collaboration tools we have and pushing them to their limits. We are squeezing every bit of benefit we can out of current toolset for collaboration. We do this with the realization that collaboration is not about tools — but it does require tools — the right tools. We embrace new ideas, but we also to back-to-basics and drive better and better results from of our existing tools. Results come not from the technology itself, but from the way that people use technology. So a lot of focus is on ensuring that what we have is fully used. When functionality and user experience collide — choose user experience every time. It’s not the tools you have, it’s how well you use them that really counts.

? Focus on training. Don’t assume that collaboration will emerge naturally. It needs a strategy, but great ideas are not enough. You need to be prepared to not just encourage collaboration but to enable it. Collaboration requires structures and skills. Successful firms go so far as to actually teach the skills of collaboration. They realize that collaboration is a skill that can be learned and continually improved. They think of collaboration not as a scarce resource that we have to protect. They see it like a muscle; the more you exercise it the stronger it gets.

? Embrace mobility. Get better and better at managing secure mobile collaboration. Focus on employee behaviours and attitudes as key exposure areas. Improved password hygiene and reduced phishing reduce the risk of security breaches as much or maybe even more than any tool.

? Re-examine corporate metrics to ensure that they enable and not subvert collaboration. More and more of our measures are being designed to measure outcomes. Looking for creativity from people in how to get those outcomes efficiently and securely is critical.

? Celebrations and stories drive forward motion and momentum. Stories trump data every time. Celebrations of success, fueled by measurable achievement creates success stories as well as momentum. And success breeds success. Tell the positive stories, but also confront the negative stories. In fact, you may have to do some “myth busting” about the barriers and obstacles that people will raise.

Taking the next step

All of these are essential, but it’s the fifth that will drive us forward. Metrics will enable us to find and celebrate success — in managing security and collaboration. Success stories will drive your collaboration efforts; and when those success stories feature tangible, measurable successes they will ring with credibility.

Will we be perfect? No. Our metrics will also inevitably point out where we need improvement and where we’ve lagged in our efforts or been distracted. Sometimes that will be a tough lesson, especially when the day-to-day demands of business, budgets and serving customers are what take us off track.

There is that old phrase, “it’s hard to drain the swamp when you are up to your ass in alligators.” Yet, if we don’t drain the swamp, we’ll be fighting alligators every day and making no progress on the real issues. Sometimes when given the choice between strategic and tactical progress the only answer is to do both.

Let’s talk mobile collaboration and security

Those are our plans — following those five pillars to guide us. What are yours? Drop me a note at [email protected] and let us know what you are doing to reap the benefits of what we all agree is the technology that will have the most significant impact over the coming years. Or better still — I’m doing some small group sessions on this topic in Toronto (February 3) and in Calgary (February 10). It’s by invitation only, so let us know if you are interested today!

CIO event


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO and Chief Digital Officer of IT World Canada - Canada's leader in ICT publishing and digital marketing.

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