What is Collaboration and what does Collaboration Software do?
Collaboration in a business sense is essentially the process of working jointly with at least one other person
typically with the goal of producing something literal and usually leading to the production of ‘something’
containing intellectual value.
The history of Collaboration
Before the advent of electronic collaboration or collaboration software, the general process for creating
collaborative documents or content was time consuming, difficult to enact, often only linear and very manual.
In most organisations, collaboration took two forms;
documented business processes that required that the information was passed from one place or
employee to another, being added to or amended at each stage by each contributor in the process. In
this way content such as order forms, complaints, sales enquiries, product development or anything
that needed multiple contributions would be (usually) manually transferred through the organisation.
ad hoc events would be events that could not be turned into a routine of business process – but
would require that individuals come together or work together to create a collective output such as
The evolution particularly of Microsoft Office, Email exchanges and Document Management Systems meant
that suddenly content could be converted to electronic format and made available to all contributors in a
business process without being manually transferred – for both linear and simultaneous input.
Collaboration software has evolved to become a term that is used to describe any tool that helps people
electronically work with each other on a variety of content types in a variety of non paper based ways.
As such collaboration software can be found embedded in a number of different applications. All collaboration
tools have the primary business benefit of improving the efficiency of how individuals electronically
communicate and work jointly with each other – which in turn improves productivity of an organisation and
reduces traditional costs associated with the manual processing of collaborative content.
As in the days when collaboration was non electronic, collaboration software tools can be broken down into
two main categories – those that are business process centric – and those that are ad-hoc collaborative
Business process centric collaboration tools are often more closely linked with the way that a
business chooses to run re-occurring events such as purchase orders. For example when an order is
received it may have to go through a defined number of actions before a product is shipped. Most
process centric tools are given the term ‘Business Process Management Software – aka BPM’.
Ad-hoc collaboration tools are everywhere! Within a business environment examples would be
email, text messages, calendars, group discussions, online meetings, white-boarding. Other emerging
technologies such as chat rooms, bulletin boards, forums and blogs are becoming increasingly
popular with the advent of Web 2.0 and are increasingly finding their way into the corporate
environments. The main characteristic of an ad-hoc collaboration tool is that it is invoked by the user.
For example – content contributor A may decide to send an email to a group of five other contributors
B to F – and ask that they look at a word doc they have written and comment or amend – or it could be
to arrange an online meeting to discuss a new product idea without having to get everyone to attend a
Both ad-hoc and business process software are centric to many of the more Enterprise Content Management
solutions – but both have a place and a value in an organisation. Its also worth considering that even solutions
that don’t belong to the Gartner ECM Quadrant of Enterprise players have evolved to have integrations with