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Collaboration Considered 'Essential' and 'Time Wasting'

Your boss knows that collaboration is essential to the business, but he dreads hearing from you.

That might be one conclusion from an industry-sponsored study on C-level executive attitudes toward collaboration in the enterprise. The study was sponsored by Seattle-based Avanade, a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft. Avanade provides consulting, software development and system integration services with a focus on business intelligence, portals, enterprise content management and infrastructure architecture.

Collaboration was defined as "the process by which two or more people work on a task to achieve a common business goal," according to Markus Sprenger, Avanade's global solutions director for information management, in a phone interview this week. He said that the study did not focus on technology.

The study was conducted in February by Kelton Research, surveying the attitudes of 538 executives (CEO, CFO, CIO and CTO) and business leaders (general managers and department heads) worldwide. They expressed positive attitudes generally about collaboration. More than 80 percent felt that collaboration was "the key to success." Communications and collaboration tools made it easier to work with others over the last five years, according to 30 percent.

An important finding for Avanade and other consultants that might end up implementing the technologies is that 75 percent of those surveyed planned to "increase the use of communications and collaboration tools in the next year," according to the study.

However, these positive attitudes came with some executive grumbling, which the study attributed to "cultural issues." One in three respondents said that people use collaboration technologies to offload work, rather than do problem solving on their own. The fobbing of chores was seen as more problematic in the United States, with 54 percent saying that collaboration was used to offload work.

One in four respondents said that they actually dread collaborating "because of the amount of time it can waste," according to the study. C-level executives took that position more often than IT decision-makers by a 3:1 margin, according to the study. The dread of collaboration was perceived more acutely at smaller companies.

Sprenger said that Avanade sees this cultural issue as "an opportunity for businesses to evolve."

The study found some signs that "the worst recession in decades seems to be ending," based on respondent attitudes in the survey. Executives now feel more pressure to innovate rather than save on IT costs. Pressure to innovate jumped from 18 percent in the previous year's study to 28 percent in this study. Still, execs want any software-based collaboration system to pay for itself "in the first 24 months."

Avanade has notice this change as well.

"In the last 18 months, the majority of the discussions with clients has been around saving money and now it's about achieving growth," Sprenger said. He added that a lot of Avanade's clients have deployed Microsoft's 2007 solutions and about half are now involved in serious projects on how they can upgrade to Microsoft's current 2010 products.

For the study, "Global Survey of Collaboration in the Enterprise," Kelton Research surveyed large enterprises (Fortune 1,000 companies) in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. The executive summary of the report can be downloaded here (PDF).

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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