Trends that will affect enterprise collaboration

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —January 7, 2009
Filed in Collaboration

The beginning of the year is a good time to take stock of where things are going and try and get a handle on the macro trends affecting our work. For me that means enterprise collaboration in all its forms. Here are six major trends that will encourage leaders to take action and help their organisations to be even more collaborative.

Six global trends that encourage enterprise collaboration

  1. Global financial crisis. Customers are tightening their belts in preparation for a tough year. Companies are looking for ways to reduce costs, and importantly for collaboration, this also means getting the most out of what they have already invested in. Sometimes this investment is in collaboration technology, which to my mind mostly under-performs because it’s often implemented without supporting practices and processes. Mostly, however, the investment is in the salaries paid to their people who could become more productive with a systematic approach to team, community and network collaboration
  2. Increasing speed of business. Things will continue to speed up and it looks like, despite the GFC, economic growth is likely. This means opportunities will appear and disappear in a flash. Competitors will appear from nowhere and only the fleet of foot will survive. But organisations cant move fast enough by merely building their own capabilities. They’ll need to partner and collaborate to create new products and services faster than their competitors.
  3. Rise of Gen Y. By some accounts Gen Ys make up a third of the population and are pouring into our workplaces. These guys expect to learn, to change, to have responsibility and they are already using a range of communication technologies to collaborate and expect similar capabilities in the workplace.
  4. Information explosion. This trend has been in play for sometime and it doesn’t look like slowing down. It’s a fact of life: we will never know everything and the percentage of what anyone knows is diminishing. At the same time, as our next trend describes, problems are getting trickier, more intractable. The only way we will be able to make progress is to combine our collective intelligence to nut these tricky problems out.
  5. Increased complexity. The world is getting more connected in all sorts of ways. We know more people, we visit more people, organisations are partnering, flights are increasing, information networks are getting more joined up and so it goes. When we increase the connections in a network things become more unpredictable. Small things in one part of the network can have a disproportionate impact in another part. There are no single rights answers in these situations. But groups of people can come together and work out initiatives to make progress. When things get complex, collaborate.
  6. Outsourcing to Asia. Dan Pink observed that outsourcing to Asia is a solid trend. Last week I heard a good example of collaboration directly related to this phenomena. Sony has been outsourcing some of its customer service functions to a range of outsourcing companies in Asia. The people in each of the outsourcing companies thought it would make sense to get together to share what they knew about being a Sony customer service representative, so they establish a community collaboration initiative.

Are there other macro trends that will encourage or discourage collaboration?

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Daryl Cook says:

    Nice post Shawn. Large numbers of redundancies/layoffs might have an impact on collaboration and the willingness of employees to share with others? In times of change, some may see power in hoarding their knowledge thereby justifying their positions. I guess we’ll see.

  2. Mike Baldwin says:

    Great summary of the trends that are emerging. I would like to also propose that another emerging trend will be the ease of collaboration including software that now exists. The sophistication of this software is increasing and the cost decreasing all the time. Maybe we are at the stage of collaboration 1.0 whilst collaboration 2.0 or 3.0 our smart machines will find information/knowledge and even suggest what reply we need to make!

  3. Good point Mike. The ease of use of many of the social technologies will make a difference. Also how these technologies are becoming mainstream in the sense that as we see the access of broadband increasing (another important trend) we are seeing the home computer much more a part of everyone’s life at home. This change flow over to work.
    An astute observation Daryl. You might also see people contract the boundaries of what they think their bosses consider real work, which will particularly impact community and network collaboration.

  4. A couple of other trends spoken of with colleagues over the last couple of months:
    – growing need to make corporate / enterprise services / information easily available on small portable portable devices (v.s internal big footprint applications/systems) to better support anytime anywhere collaboration AND to better support continuity of operations in the event of a disaster (virus epedimic / terrorism threat)
    – increasing conflict between the need for transparency of information, process, practice, results and the need for privacy/security of people and information

  5. Hannah Baudert says:

    Really interesting discussion. Just a thought that comes from observing collaboration drivers in the social welfare arena. It relates to the aforementioned complexity and information explosion trends. As we have access to more data (and sometimes better information) there is an increasing destire to share and collaborate because the possibility of actually improving our responses becomes more real. My view is framed by the human services field however I will be interested to see whether this applies more generally as we seem to be moving into an age where happiness is gaining favour over material possession.

  6. Delicious conversation people, Enjoyed reading through. Well the collaboration space have been evangelized enough to lure the innovators to innovate and the users to adopt every next innovative collaboration tool or software. I see collaboration space getting into the phase where ‘supply creates its own demand’.

  7. More then a year later, these trends are still accurate. However, you forgot to mention one of the most important factors in enterprise and collaboration evolution: the techology.
    Lately so many collaboration tools were launched that they will shortly change the way we interact with other co-workers or clients. I wrote a blog post on this myself. There you can read more about my view on trends in business collaboration.

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