Have you ever had to edit a Word doc with a group of committee members? If so, you know that by the time you get the original document back, itâ€™s every color under the rainbow and all shred of continuity has been extinguished.
Thatâ€™s usually the power of collaborative tools. And thatâ€™s why there are so many jokes about large committees not being able to accomplish anything.
In fact, thereâ€™s a town north of Boston where the school committee chair allows everyone from the crossing guard to the custodian to give their thoughts on policy before making a decision. In that hamlet, the meetings regularly go for 90 minutes longer than scheduled and itâ€™s taken them years to agree on topics as menial as school naming procedure.
But I digress. Technology now makes it possible - and has made it possible for years - for large groups to work together without being at the same table or even in the same hemisphere, and actually accomplish real work.
These tools, on display at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference at the Westin Waterfront Hotel this week, are proving to be the lifeblood of doing more work with fewer staffers.
For example, RollStream has a product that allows companies to build networks like Facebook for their clients. Essentially, the software creates a closed social network where teams can work together online, safely and easily.
Also at the show is a company called ThoughtFarmer. Theyâ€™ve created a tool thatâ€™s used internally at companies for collaboration and information exchange. One interesting way people are using this software is to put up company alerts, HR info, and other internal forms and data - all inside the walls of the firm and presumably safe from prying external eyes.
Walking around the exhibit floor, I saw a dozen companies with similar products and that made me realize it might be the wave of the future. But why?
I think itâ€™s got the promise of financial savings and ease of use. People are increasingly comfortable sharing their updates on Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook, so why not leverage that familiarity to create tools that work the same way at the office?
Are we hearing the bell toll for shipping, hard media forms like CDs and DVDs, and for business travel?
Well, products will still have to be shipped and people will still want to look at larger documents in hard-copy (architectural drawings, etc.). But as these tools get more popular, we are going to see fewer people jetting around the world to sit in a room with a useless committee. Weâ€™ll see less spending on shipping if people can just click and see a product or contribute their thoughts. And weâ€™ll continue to see companies tightening their belts on resources.
One can only wonder whatâ€™s going to happen to conferences like this one when everyone finally buys into distance learning and collaboration. Why would you ever need to go anywhere to be AT a conference if you could be there just by sitting down at your desk?
Whatâ€™s your take on new media tools for business? Are you marketing, collaborating and interacting only on line these days?