The ideal collaborative environment

This article by KM/IM guru Pam Dargan of the Mitre Corp*. outlines what might constitute the ‘ideal collaborative environment.’ Dargan’s vision, while it may be hard to achieve with today’s technology, proved inspirational to Statoil’s KM architects.

The key tools for cross-organizational collaboration are e-mail, bulletin boards, chat sessions, and virtual rooms. While these are powerful enablers of electronic collaboration, they are only initial capabilities. This article outlines the additional requirements for the ‘ideal collaboration environment.’


Users must be able to quickly identify, locate and contact specific staff or subject matter experts in or without the corporation and obtain contact information, levels of access, and areas of expertise. The system should allow users to locate staff-members from partial information – a search for an employee called ‘Robert’ who works in Paris should return a list of possible matches. When key people have been located, the system should facilitate the organization of dispersed personnel into virtual teams on an as-needed basis. Electronic collaboration tools will help coordinate and conduct ad hoc and formal virtual meetings–possibly in virtual conference rooms with round-the-clock desktop teleconferencing.


Video teleconferencing should be available to remotely located desktop users. Automation allows an individual to be contacted immediately in a crisis. Some systems provide an ‘awareness’ feature. If they are on-line, the system will alert them that someone is trying to contact them, and will support an instant chat session. If not, the system will phone and/or page the individual until they respond.


Collaboration support lets staff and remote personnel brainstorm together and exchange insights. Business workflows unify related work activities to reduce cycle times. Intelligent search tools work across the organization to locate information using keywords and context, pruning the search space to provided a limited number of highly relevant matches.


Smart product delivery brings the right information to the right people as soon as it is available, even if not specifically requested. Security systems need to be proactive and disallow unauthorized access, detecting and disabling intrusions before damage or compromise occurs, and protecting systems from malicious code and viruses. Advanced security systems such as biometric recognition reduce the potential for unauthorized access. System monitoring identifies suspicious behavior from user profiles. A user logging onto the system at midnight on a Friday would probably raise a flag.


The need for industry standards and commercial standards-based products is seen as the single most important factor for enabling application and data interoperability. But where industry standards are lacking, organizations need to define their own. The ideal collaboration environment provides services using standards-based products.


Collaborators are responsible for assessing the expertise, knowledge, and accuracy of information from other staff before basing their conclusions on new information sources. The ability to rely on information from others is referred to as ‘trust’ and poses a challenge for virtual teams whose members are remote and not known personally. How can you assure sufficient levels of trust when collaborating with possibly unknown co-workers? As we approach the ideal collaboration environment, we forget what it was like to collaborate when limited to the phone, video teleconference centers, and physical meeting rooms. A colleague recently asked how briefings were prepared before Microsoft PowerPoint was invented. No one could remember!

* Mitre Corp. affiliation does not imply support for the opinions expressed by the author.

This is an edited version of an article originally published in Crosstalk, The Journal of Defense Software Engineering.

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