Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Cisco’s Collaboration Framework


   Cisco have launched a new guide describing use of their Collaboration Framework, ‘Creating a Collaborative Enterprise’.

The guide is designed to help other organisations learn from Cisco’s experience, and gain some of the same benefits from enhanced collaboration:

“The Cisco guide helps employees and customers accelerate business value creation for collaboration and avoid pitfalls through the use of a collaboration framework. This framework helps organizations effectively incorporate collaboration into their operations by integrating the right people, process, and technology components at the right time.”


The importance of collaboration

Cisco explain that their guide / framework respond to the evolution of web 2.0 / social networking and other technologies including multimedia communications, technologies such as virtual workspaces, web conferencing applications, text messaging, Internet phone services.

These new technologies are enabling organizations make great changes to more quickly and effectively connect people, information, and knowledge communities.

The key outcome is collaboration - the act of people working together to reach a common goal.  This is much more than communication. It is the way that all the people in an enterprise function together.

Collaboration has always been important in business as it supports knowledge management and also responds to our natural needs, as social animals, to interact with each other.

But the new technologies, new pressures on businesses and demands of Gen Y are making it more important than ever.

In fact, Cisco believes collaboration is the “next big thing” and is heralding a major transformation in business which provides opportunities for greater agility, exceptional levels of productivity and competitive advantage:

“Organizations need to make use of new collaboration possibilities or face a significant competitive disadvantage.  Companies that successfully adopt new collaborative processes will be able to move faster, make better decisions, draw from a deeper base of information, and more effectively operate across time and distance barriers. As is always the case in business, either you pull ahead or the competition will.”

The role of people, process and technology

Cisco’s framework is built on these three components.  However, although the opportunity is built upon new technology, it is people and process that are the most important parts.

This is because, unlike past IT advances, collaboration technologies are about increasing access to the latent knowledge stored within employees, partners, customers and even the broader public (which might harbour unknown experts with special insight.  And this human element makes web 2.0 and social networking tools different from
IT improvements of the past:

“The tacit knowledge in a person’s mind is much harder to capture and codify. It is complex, rapidly changing, and often a bit messy. New collaborative communications tools, including blogs, virtual workspaces, wikis, desktop video, telepresence conferences, web conferencing, presence communications, and instant messaging, offer new ways to tap such crucial information.”


-   People

This component of the framework focuses on ways to influence people’s attitudes and collaborative behaviours: “what people believe, how they feel about something, and what they think is proper behavior”.

New behavioural expectations need to be clearly defined, developed, and incorporated into an organisation’s culture.

Relevant levers include:

  • Leadership values, expectations and competencies
  • Management practices,
  • Company, management and individual performance measurements
  • Incentives and rewards
  • Developing / communicating role models
  • Employee and workplace, including hiring policies.
  • Collaboration readiness benchmarking and progress tracking.

-   Processes

In a collaborative environment, the unit of performance shifts from the individual to the group or team.

This means that traditional systems of performance will not work effectively (“that is, individual systems produce competition,
whereas team systems produce collaboration”).

Management models, processes (including governance, decision making, skills cultivation, funding, and operational logistics, with a strong emphasis on review-and-improve cycles) and HR systems need to change to reward and recognise the right behaviours.

Relevant levers include models and processes for:

  • Staffing
  • Priority setting and funding
  • Support services
  • Leadership and management development
  • Data sharing
  • Internal change management consulting (collaboration experts)
  • Systems of accountability and management for group performance.


-   Technology

Including wikis, blogs, virtual workspaces, video etc, ideally provided through a single intranet portal (providing individuals with personalisation options to best support their unique needs).

Networks ideally should support:

  • Voice over IP (VoIP) to provide fully integrated teleconferencing capabilities with multimedia web applications
  • Video capabilities, especially to facilitate collaboration among remote employees
  • High-fidelity communications, which enhance the effectiveness of many collaboration tools
  • Easy-to-use, dependable tools readily available through the corporate network
  • Integration with internal systems for supporting existing business processes, such as inventory management, sales, and


Cisco also notes:

“Organizations can build efficiency into collaborative tool development by finding replicable models, such as “virtual expert”
or “virtual teaming” modules that can be repurposed for a wide range of business scenarios.

These kinds of models focus on the type of interaction rather than the business model or operational function. Cisco estimates
that up to 80 percent of all collaboration processes can be addressed by replicable tools.”


Cisco’s own experience

Cisco’s framework has clearly been built on the company’s own experience, and that of its partners in its Collaboration Consortium.

The company has one primary operations organization for the vast majority of the company, with few divisions or large subsidiaries. Everything must work together as one. The more transparently that happens, the more productively Cisco’s 60,000 employees can work.

Cisco has therefore spent the past 8 years moving from a command-and-control operation dominated by competing departments to a widely cross-functional company that uses collaborative councils, boards and working groups which facilitate executive decision-making, create cross functional alignment, and guide business initiatives. (see a previous post of mine that also refers to some of this).

Cisco now has more than 750 company leaders involved in councils, boards, and related working groups. But Cisco’s goal is to broaden
participation to 2500 or more employees.

These various teams are supported by Cisco’s executive collaboration process, C-Change, which helps collaboration across virtual, global teams by ensuring everyone speaks the same language and by prescribing steps to establish group norms which offer ‘a common social foundation’:

“Organizational structures need to reflect collaborative activities. Command-and-control management does not work well with collaboration. Cisco has spent the past 8 years moving from a command-and-control operation dominated by competing departments to a widely cross-functional company that uses collaborative councils, boards, and working groups. These senior leadership teams facilitate executive decision making, create cross-functional alignment, and guide business initiatives.

In 2006 Ron Ricci, vice president of corporate positioning, formed a team to observe what works in councils and boards. The team
documented what it saw and called it C-Change. C-Change teaches ‘the people aspect: culture and process, and helps apply
the technology aspect. The principals of C-Change can lead to effective collaboration for any type of group,’ Ricci says.”


In addition, Cisco used a range of video and voice communication tools (it’s own offerings – Webex, TelePresence etc) to support its transformation.  One example is C-Vision:

“C-Vision is a video forum like YouTube, but inside the corporate firewall. On C-Vision, employees can easily make and post
desktop-quality videos for viewing at websites or on blogs. Cisco does not yet have a specific strategy for C-Vision. For now, it just provides another way to communicate besides emails and written blogs. This is okay, though. By making it easy for employees to try video, Cisco is helping employees become more adept at using the technology.”


The framework also describes the importance of change management, and Cisco’s own experience of going through their major change process.  For example, although Cisco’s CEO, John Chambers knew that he had to sponsor the change, he initially resisted suggestions to blog, recognising that “even for fast typists, written blogs can take a lot of time “ (don’t I know it!), but later took to video blogging and now often communicates with his employees this way.

Guided by the best practices of this framework, Cisco saved US$691 million and increased productivity 4.9 percent in fiscal year 2008.


Changing to become more collaborative

Cisco points out that collaboration takes time and a sustained effort to mature in any organisation.

To support this effort, the framework provides “a clear evolutionary path and a portfolio of structured methodologies” based upon three phases: investigation, performance, and transformation, which help organizations move beyond a tactical, fragmented approach to a truly
strategic approach to collaboration that can be implemented throughout an entire organisation.

The focus is firstly, on taking advantage of the uses of web 2.0 and social networking technologies that are most likely springing up in an organisation (likely perpetrated by younger, Gen Y employees).

And secondly, the focus is also on ‘Collaboration Impact Zones’ –intersections of information exchanges and expertise at which web 2.0 and social networking collaboration tools can help most ( a concept which I think is similar to the differentiated workforce in HCM):

“Collaboration ‘impact zones’ are the building blocks of the Cisco Collaboration Framework.  Collaboration zones are the highest-intensity intersections of interactions, information, and expertise in your organizational ecosystem (employees, partners, customers, etc.).  These are the high-value areas that, if improved through better collaboration, can most improve your organization’s business and management processes.”

The key activity is the creation of a ‘Collaboration Vision and Strategy’ which carefully aligns new collaboration efforts with business goals. This allows organisations to identify, prioritise, and sequence the initiatives necessary for establishing new business and management processes.

Some of the questions to ask in developing this vision include:

  • How do you want the organization to change in the next 3 to 5 years?
  • What does the organization need to do to get there?
  • What role can collaboration play in achieving additional levels of process performance?
  • What sequence of activities is needed to build the necessary collaborative capabilities?


In addition,organisations should take the following actions during the investigation phase of their process:


  • Define collaboration
  • Help ensure that executives lead the way
  • Establish a code of business conduct
  • Create intellectual property and nondisclosure policies
  • Develop collaborative decision-making processes.


  • Develop a community of experts.


  • Create a technology “sandbox,” for experimentation
  • Consider virtual teaming and collaborative processes.


To develop this strategy, an organisation first needs to use social mapping techniques and tools to find out how it collaborates now.


My thoughts on the framework 

I like most of what this very comprehensive framework includes.  I certainly agree with the need to see this sort of change more from a people than a technology point of view:

”It is no accident that people and processes are listed before technology as framework components.  People and process concepts blend fluidly. They both combine to create behavioral changes that lead to operational improvements in an organization. While technology is the crucial catalyst for enabling improved collaborative activities, the success of such efforts hinges on the behavioral changes that must take place through
leadership, people, and processes.”


However, I think this shift in focus could still go further.  Collaboration doesn’t have to depend on social networking tools, and I’d have preferred to see even greater focus on the behavioural change than the technology.  See this point from Cisco’s document for example:

”Investments in information technology help organizations change the way they can do business. But technology cannot change old habits. Time and time again, Cisco has found that leadership coupled with strategic management is the most effective way to create the organizational changes necessary to take best advantage of advances in technology.”


Actually, it’s not about taking advantage of technology, it’s all about the organisational change!

So, I also like many of the tools included in the framework, particularly C-Change.  But I think the need for social norms (common vocabularies, behaviours etc) to support collaboration applies to all organisations, whether or not they are using social technologies.

My other criticisms are about, firstly, the evolutionary change process – I don’t believe organisations need to start with an investigation phase (based again, upon use of social networking technologies – or ‘spontaneous use of web 2.0’), then a performance phase, before seeking to transform:

“Using these new tools to create a more collaborative enterprise is not an easy task.  Deploying the technology is only one part of the process. Moving from experimental, impromptu use of social networking capabilities to strategic, companywide implementation requires close attention to cultural and procedural changes throughout an organization.”


I think organisations can start work on the transformation phase straight away.  And  given the scale of the opportunity (Cisco’s ‘next big thing’), I’d advise organisations to do just that.  (I don’t mean to imply that organisations can do everything they are going to need to at the same time – but I do believe they should focus on the end vision from the very start – ensuring that all activities blend seamlessly as part of the bigger transformation.)

Also, I don’t believe focus should be restricted to ‘collaboration impact zones’.  I understand their desire to prioritise, but to get the sorts of benefits Cisco have referred to, I think the whole organisation, and everyone in the organisation needs to change.


Overall though, I’d agree with Oliver Marks at ZDNet that this is one of the best and useful guides to collaboration that organisations can use to help them gain more value from their people and (supported by web 2.0 technology).


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