Once upon a time… life was simpler and more moderately paced. Manufacturers obtained raw materials from a limited number of suppliers, workers performed repetitive tasks on assembly lines to mass-produce standardized products.
Indeed, times have changed.
Today, companies dynamically reconfigure supply chains to minimize costs and ensure uninterrupted access to resources. They also have to respond adaptively to customers who might be across the globe or across town — and who expect products and services personalized to their individual requirements.
The result? The performance of most organizations hinges increasingly on how rapidly people can share and act upon critical information.
Organizations that successfully facilitate the sharing of such information will consistently achieve better outcomes in a world dependent on fast, fact-based decision-making.
The set of functional capabilities necessary to rapidly share and act upon critical information can be collectively referred to as collaboration. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the act of performing work or labor together.”
In the context of IT, collaboration refers to technologies and practices  that organizations can adopt to overcome impediments that limit the ability of people to work together effectively. Clearly, data, voice and video communications let people across and beyond an enterprise interact as necessary to make decisions, take actions, formulate plans and achieve goals.
Accelerated interaction: Effective collaboration speeds teamwork and the sharing of information through a combination of real-time, near-real-time and non-real-time communications. Real-time communication occurs immediately among all parties. It might include phone conversations, chat, text messaging and video conferences.
Non-real-time communication involves a delay between sender and recipient — as is the case with email, voicemail and online resources such as wikis, blogs and document repositories. Some communications, such as chat and text messaging, occur in near-real time because users don’t necessarily respond immediately to one another.
Anyone to anyone: Collaboration tools further remove “drag” from organizational processes by allowing anyone to communicate with anyone, as necessary. This means that everyone who needs access to phone, voicemail, e-mail and chat service (and the like) has it.
It also means that people have the ability to easily find other people in the organization with whom they may need to communicate at any given moment. Typically, some type of directory service provides the capability for people to find one another by name, department, job title, location or other attribute.
Location independence: Such environments can overcome a growing problem for many organizations: the issue of geographic distance. People working in the same organization may be scattered across multiple locations, yet need to share information at any given time.
In fact, as organizations become increasingly virtualized (by making use of outside contractors and other third parties to complement conventional in-house staff), effective collaboration with people at disparate locations becomes an operational necessary.
Demands on individual productivity combined with a growing use of portable devices means users within an organization are also increasingly mobile. They need (and want) to be able to collaborate whether they are at their desks, at another location or in transit.
Support for diverse content: Effective collaboration isn’t just about putting people in touch with one another. It’s about empowering them to exchange content they need to share. Sometimes that’s merely a brief conversation. Other times, it could be a Word document or a PowerPoint presentation. In other instances, an organization’s users may need to share within a context that requires the subtlety of human gestures and facial expressions.
Ease and convenience: Sharing, interaction and innovation, however, don’t take place merely because certain technology tools exist. People are busy; they have their own work domains to worry about. So technology must make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to interact and share. The tools must be intuitive to use, provide features for communicating effectively and integrate well with one another.