The Turn of the Collaboration Tide

ChangeInTheAirHow we work is fundamentally changing, not just in engineering, but across all disciplines involving information management and collaboration. There’s an escalating revolution in enterprise software, where the grand unification dreams of the past are now being set aside. Spoiler alert: there really can’t be one system to rule them all. It’s not that we haven’t tried to forge the one system in the fires of Mount Doom. But in many cases we tried and failed. Instead of a single-vendor monolithic solution, there’s renewed emphasis on specialization within a larger heterogeneous mix of options. Tools in collaboration, communication, and analysis that aren’t bound to their masters like their monolithic precursors, but instead flourish in an alliance of interconnecting and distributed technology. And here we all stand, at the turn of the tide.

We’ve read the portents in the failures of enterprise social networks, a saga I’ve chronicled in the past in the Antisocial Enterprise series of articles. A fascinating interview conducted by Gloria Lombardi with Stowe Boyd of Gigaom Research cuts to the heart of the matter:

“GL: Are enterprises trying to build [Enterprise Social Networks] ESN adoption on a large-scale missing something?

SB: I think they will give up at some point. Companies are trying to use ESNs to encourage their people to have a voice. But, it doesn’t need to be on one social network.

The monolithic viewpoint is falling out of favour in times when people have to innovate and frequently change their practices to deal with an unpredictable world.

Enterprises should enable their staff to choose the tools they want to use: a wider collection of tools that people can select from to get their jobs done.”

But this phenomenon is not limited to just enterprise social networks, it’s touching all aspects of Enterprise IT, including one of the original tenets of Product Lifecycle Mangagement (PLM) and specifically Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and that’s our old and dear friend document collaboration. In Dropbox Harmony Will Knockdown PLM collaboration, Oleg Shilovitsky talked about how new wave collaboration tools like Dropbox Harmony present a new threat to traditional PLM approaches:

“PLM is not only about complex 3D models of aircraft and automobile. It is about zillions of other documents – requirements, bill of materials, spec sheets, visualizations, product presentations, etc. These documents are part of the everyday activities in manufacturing companies and engineering organizations. Today, Microsoft Office files and pdf documents are representing a majority of these documents […]CAD and PLM collaboration tool will see an additional competitive pressure coming from Dropbox tools. It is a time to think about unique CAD/PLM collaboration features to compete with Dropbox economy of scale.”

Dropbox Harmony is certainly a step in the right direction, but it just doesn’t go far enough. If you’ve been reading between the lines over the last year, you’ve probably seen subtle signs that something was in the forge. Maybe you pondered interesting thoughts during an explanation of why Google Won’t Save the Enterprise. Or perhaps wondered a bit when I decried It’s Time for Check In to Check Out.  That’s the cue where I step out of the shadows and reveal our secret weapon cobbled together from spare bits of Narsil.

It has a name and it’s called: RevVision.

RevVision is all about bringing real branching revision control to documents, without the hassle of traditional PDM/PLM approaches. It’s as transparent as Dropbox Harmony, but isn’t tied to Dropbox at all. Or any specific storage for that matter. You see RevVision is distributed such that it doesn’t matter where documents are stored. That means people can finally collaborate securely across storage services. And for the paranoid, who favor internal solutions over cloud connectivity – yeah you can wrap it so that it stays on-premise, or plays nice with your existing document repository. We’ll be talking about it more over on RevVision’s own blog right over here, starting out with a manifesto of sorts: The Declaration of Document Independence.

RevVision needs your interest and feedback as we move forward, go sign up over here now! We’re looking for individuals, small companies, or departments in larger companies for starters, come on over and check it out.

  • Ed you are right.
    The change in enterprise information management and collaboration from the IT point of view need to reflect the trend we also see on the organizational side of the business.

    Where in the past (and conservative current) organizations were running in a hierarchical mode, every person matching somewhere in the structure, now people more and more work in matrix organizations in a team-centric approach. And the members of these teams are not necessary within the same company.

    The ultimate dream, as described in Scott Adams ‘ “The Dilbert Future” is in the future all work will be outsourced, until all work on the planet is being done by one guy. And when he calls sick the entire economy of the planet is into a depression.

    But now back to serious business. The network organization requires individuals to take instant decisions on information which is available in the context of other information. This can no longer be done through classical document management and a single hierarchical structure of information (which classic PLM provides).

    In my PLM lectures this year I have been raising this point as a major disruption required for PLM. Getting rid of activities where people structure information and let “intelligent” systems and algorithms do this necessary work. RevVision is moving into the same spirit I see, although perhaps still very file-centric (but probably not dangerous as a first step).

    Still there is a long mental way to go …

    • Hi Jos – somehow missed your great comment while traveling. Well stated! I think the transition from the current file-centric universe to an abstracted data universe where data is holistically malleable will be a difficult one. That evolution of information theory is difficult for the typical user to relate with; people have trouble wrapping their heads around it. But the file cabinet metaphor is still quite firmly entrenched in systems of record. The path forward is the essence of bridge building – i.e. building the beginning of that larger information context while still allowing the participant to operate within familiar spaces. One part of the bridging technology is what we imagine RevVision can become.