Whiteboard: the Collaboration Triangle

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The Collaboration Triangle whiteboard is available as an Adobe Acrobat PDF document optimized for screen viewing or printing.

Getting IT and end-users to collaborate effectively has never been easy. Often, IT people focus on the technology rather than how the technology can help users perform their work. Users may then become overwhelmed by technical details and grow unwilling or unable to express their business needs clearly. The result: unrealistic expectations, poor communication and frustration, all of which lead to failed projects, poorly re-engineered business processes and ineffectual information systems.

Successful collaboration requires an approach that is user-centric rather than techno-centric. The best way to achieve this is for the two sides to hold a structured dialogue that focuses on how users do their work—be it hiring people, producing products, selling to customers or generating financial statements. By emphasizing the work system rather than just the information system, IT people can collaborate more effectively with their business counterparts, and users can better organize and clarify their concerns. The result is a mutual understanding of the planned changes and the creation of an information system that truly meets the needs of the business.

This whiteboard provides three critical checkpoints IT and business professionals can walk through together when creating or re-engineering a work system. CIOs in smaller companies can apply it when directly supervising projects; those in larger companies can give it to project managers and sponsors for use by their staffs.

Steven Alter is a professor of Information Systems at the University of San Francisco and formerly vice president of Consilium Inc., a Mountain View, Calif. software firm. His research on the work system framework is the basis of a Prentice Hall textbook, Information Systems: Foundation of E-Business, currently in its fourth edition, and five articles published recently in the Communications of the Association for Information Systems.

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