Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Collaboration Chasm

I've just been looking at a Collaboration Framework published by the CISCO community earlier this year [Insights from the Collaboration Consortium Year One], which uses the well-known Crossing-the-Chasm model of technology adoption, popularized by Geoffrey Moore and loosely based on the work of Everett Rogers. The CISCO term “collaboration chasm” refers to the notion that there is a discontinuity between the use of a limited number of technologies by early adopters and the large-scale adoption by mainstream users.

Rogers himself modelled adoption as a continuous S-curve, but Moore's notion of a chasm is popular with supply-side marketing people, because it suggests a single heroic leap from an experimental product to a commercial success.

In the context of collaboration technologies within the enterprise, the "chasm" metaphor can be interpreted in multiple ways, all of which are discussed or implied in the CISCO document.

  • The categorical difference between individual early adopters and everyone else. A simplified model of adoption would regard "early adopter" as a personality type, predicting a person's attitude to any kind of innovation, similar to the Adaptor/Innovator scale developed by Michael Kirton. (Rogers himself recognized that a person could easily be an early adopter of one technology and a late adopter of another.) Additionally, some writers may wish to characterize particular organizations as early adopters.
  • The categorical difference between Generation X and Generation Y. The assumption that because younger people are likely to be more comfortable with certain classes of technology, they will therefore be more positively inclined to the adoption and use of these technologies in the workplace.
  • The difference between social and workplace use of these technologies. Jagdish Vasishtha thinks this has something to do with personal choice, saying "there is a growing chasm between how people now communicate in their personal space and how they are forced to communicate in a corporate environment" [Crossing the Chasm, May 2009 (pdf)]. The CISCO document points out several reasons why technologies such as social networking or instant messaging don't necessarily transfer easily from one’s personal life to the workplace, and quotes Ray Ozzie on the "chilling effect" of organizational dynamics [Churchill Club, June 2009]. See also Richard Dennison, BT 2.0 Case Study, November 2007.
  • The step from undirected ("bottom-up") investigation to directed ("top-down") business process change. "Carefully shaping a subset of collaboration initiatives in a top-down fashion to align them with business priorities provides the required structure to scale up an organization’s efforts into the performance stage."
    • The step from isolated experimental use to integrated use. CISCO describes a 3-stage development strategy (1: Investigative, 2: Performance, 3: Transformational), and positions the "chasm" between stages 1 and 2. For an SAP example of the "chasm" between stand-alone collaboration and embedded collaboration, see Irwin Laazar, Collaboration in Context (May 2010).
    • "Collaboration creates shifts in the organizational mindset." This might possibly qualify as a second chasm between CISCO stages 2 and 3.

    However, there are some misalignments between these different notions. For example, the fact that many young people are familiar with social networking in their private lives doesn't necessarily imply that they will be better able than their parents to use social networking effectively in their professional lives. Effective use in a given social context depends on purpose and style, and social and organizational experience may be more relevant here than technical skill and enthusiasm.

    In my work on technology adoption within the enterprise, I make the distinction between broad adoption and deep adoption. Broad adoption basically means that a given product or platform is used by a lot of different people in a lot of places, but this usage may be casual, occasional and uncommitted. Deep adoption means that the product or platform is used intensively, is embedded in processes and working practices, as well as being integrated with other relevant technologies, but may only involve a few people or departments.

    The distinction between broad adoption and deep adoption implies two "chasms" at right angles - one between narrow and broad, and one between shallow and deep. The tactics required to encourage broad adoption are significantly different from the tactics needed to implement deep adoption. CISCO's basic 3-step strategy appears to involve crossing both of these chasms at the same time, but the document also refers to some alternative strategies, including a "cultivation" strategy followed by Statoil. Some adoption strategies may permit different aspects of technology adoption to be decoupled; indeed, a number of the examples cited from CISCO's own internal processes involve localized collaboration within specialized processes, although this may be because enterprise-wide cross-process collaboration is harder to explain.

    The distinction between broad adoption and deep adoption may also encourage us to look at early adopters more critically. Those who constantly quest for technological novelties may not appreciate or experience the full power of a revolutionary innovation, and may not the best people to lead serious and sustained commitment to its enterprise-wide and system-deep adoption. By the time the organization is moving into CISCO's stage three, the so-called early adopters may have switched their attention and allegiance to something else.

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