During the Cisco Collaboration Summit the other week a question was posed to a customer panel about the future of collaboration and what it would look like in five years. Quite a daunting question with the explosion of devices and applications in this post-PC era. When you consider Moore's Law and that the capacity of technology doubles every 18 months then five years would see three cycles, or an 8x increase of processing capacity in that time. I was impressed the respondent didn't go talking about holograms, communication implants, etc, but rather his answer was both simple and profound. He said that in 5 years collaboration would just happen, it would be natural and you wouldn't have to think about collaboration and how best to collaborate. The question about what device to use, what application to use, how to access the information would simply happen, without having to give it a first thought- let alone a second. This got me thinking about how much thought actually goes into effective collaboration.
As human beings we all have preferred methods of communication. I know depending on who I want to communicate with I may need to call, e-mail, IM, or set a face to face meeting to have the most effective form of collaboration. This is compounded by geographical, organizational, and technology barriers. Essentially, I become the workflow engine for collaborative efforts and have to build up a working knowledge-base of how best to communicate with different members of the collaborative team. As second nature as it seems, the fact is we still have to think about how to collaborate with each person, which application to use and if the device we have available can support that application. There are also different degrees of what we can do given the application or device available to us, for example an e-mail composed on a laptop may be more verbose then one composed on a mobile phone or tablet, some applications may require connectivity to the corporate network meaning remote access in terms of bandwidth and VPN are required, and some interactions are synchronous while others are asynchronous. Once again, these are all things we keep in our heads, consider and act upon when collaborating with others.
What will happen in five years? Will we no longer have to think about how we collaborate, but just do? Will there be (for those of you that have read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) a "collaboration babelfish" that automagically translates every form of communication into your preferred form, so you can receive a phone call from somebody's e-mail, so linqua franca becomes a thing of past with everybody able to work in their local language and read other foreign content as their local language, and so multiple pieces of information and data are automatically brought together, correlated and presented in the form you want, when you want it? I don't know what technology will bring to collaboration in the next five years, but I'm inspired by the idea of not having to think about how to collaborate, but having it just happen naturally and effectively.
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