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By Karen S. Henrie  |  Posted 03-07-2007 Print

Large-scale, inter-enterprise collaboration is on the rise, and maturing collaboration tools make it easier to support those efforts.

Thomas L. Friedman's metaphor of a flat world, which he describes in his bestselling book, The World Is Flat, is centered on the notion that lower trade and political barriers, combined with advances in digital technology, will produce an exponential growth in collaboration while allowing people and companies anywhere in the world to effectively participate in the global economy. Today, a wide range of corporate strategies and initiatives across many industries—concurrent product design, capital markets financing, mergers and acquisition integration, global supply chains, outsourcing—can join far-flung partners at the hip in pursuit of common goals.

Perhaps no one understands this better than Boeing Co., the $62 billion aerospace company that is engaged in a massive, global, concurrent design effort with its new 787 aircraft, known as Dreamliner, due to be delivered next year. The design program comprises significant high-level collaboration among Boeing and its partners, located in 11 countries. Boeing, along with each of its partners, has had to overhaul its design and manufacturing processes to accommodate the concurrent design strategy, and all parties are committed to using the same product lifecycle management software from Dassault Systémes.

This huge undertaking involves what Boeing CIO Scott Griffin characterizes as high-level collaboration: two or more companies working together as if they are the same company. And the most difficult form of high-level collaboration is designing—at the same time—two or more parts that will be attached to the same product. Most other day-to-day work at Boeing surrounding the production of the new aircraft, in departments such as marketing, IT and finance, he considers low-level collaboration. In making that distinction, Griffin doesn't suggest that all work other than concurrent design is neither important nor strategic. Rather, he simply highlights the orders of magnitude greater complexity that concurrent design entails.

Much collaborative work, especially that involving people located across time zones, takes place asynchronously, in online workspaces where people share documents, files, project plans and calendars. Business users also increasingly turn to weblogs, wikis and other newer-fangled Web 2.0 tools to support asynchronous collaboration. When real-time, or synchronous, collaboration is needed, CIOs must support tools such as Web conferencing, presence awareness, instant messaging and live chat, all of which are increasingly embedded in the software and everyday business processes.

Many CIOs view collaboration as having value only in the context of a specific process, task or project, perhaps because that is how business users shape their requests, says David Coleman, managing director of Collaborative Strategies LLC. And Gartner Inc. Vice President Bern Elliot adds that it is much easier for an IT executive to clarify the return on investment for a tool when it is assigned to a specific project.


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