The #Collaboration Problem (And How We Can Stop It)

By: S. Kyle Davis

No one is a bigger fan of collaboration than I am. I love seeing people come together and create solutions that are greater than their individual parts. It’s something that I enjoy professionally at my workplace, and I love seeing how technology can be used to make the process better. I’ve written a whole whitepaper on the subject, not to mention all of the blogs, videos and other content I’ve created championing the ability to use technology to help employees work together better. So, to be clear, I love collaboration.

However, my fellow AVtweeps, it must be said: we, as an industry, have a collaboration problem.

There is no word in the English language more overused by the commercial AV industry than ‘collaboration.’ It even passes ‘convergence’ on the meaningless scale. We have basically gotten to the point where any device that comes anywhere near a conference room or classroom is a collaboration device. By the logic we use, we might as well call a TV mount a collaboration device.

In fact, it goes beyond the conference room and classroom to any device or technology that allows one employee or student to communicate to another. Manufacturers make the word collaboration synonymous with unified communications and other fun buzzwords when sometimes we might just be talking about phones. Sure, they’re VoIP phones with a range of benefits and complexity, but they are still phones—something that has been around for a century now. Of course you’d never know that because as an industry we call it collaboration technology.

That’s why I’ve coined the word #collaboration (pronounced hashtag collaboration). #Collaboration is distinct from true collaboration because the word has ceased to have meaning in the context of professional AV. Instead we have reduced it to a buzzword—a hashtag that we can throw on the end of our tweet about the latest conference room doohickey we want to peddle. The problem is that technology cannot create collaboration. That’s not its job.

Creating collaboration isn’t the role of technology. Technology facilitates collaboration. It helps remove logistical barriers to collaboration. It does not make collaboration happen. It can’t possibly do that, and expecting some piece of technology to magically make meetings more collaborative is not simply wishful thinking. It is setup for a massive failure.

Organizations buy into this promise of #collaboration in hopes that it will be some instigator of change, but it doesn’t address the true issue at hand. If you hate your job, you don’t buy a new car. The car is simply a tool that gets you there. You have to change where you are going to not end up in the same place. You have to get a new job. Then you can assess where you are going and if your current method of transportation (let’s say the train) will get you there. If not, you can then look at getting a better tool (a new car) to get you where you want to go.

It’s the same with collaboration. If an organization wants to improve collaboration, they need a plan of action for what they are doing and how they want to get there. The problem is they don’t know how to get there, especially as it relates to the technology. Will adding this AV thingamabob increase knowledge sharing between employees? They don’t know, but we do. We know what works because we’ve seen it. We have also seen it not work and can provide recommendations on ways the technology can be implemented and supported by the organization to make it successful. We’re the experts.

So, how do we get rid of our dependence on #collaboration? Do we stop using the word? I sincerely hope not because, as I said, I am a big fan of collaboration. However, we need to have a more realistic understanding of the word and use it properly. Both manufacturers and integrators need to focus on outcomes. It’s obviously about finding out what they want to do in a space and building it, but it’s also about focusing on larger business goals for the space and trying to provide solutions that will meet those goals.

Integrators know that to be successful you need to partner with the customer and offer services that provide value. There are obviously a number of add-on services (maintenance, monitoring, content, etc.) that are great and necessary. However, the first service that an integrator, consultant, or rep provides is being an expert on the technology. While that means understanding networked AV distribution technology and audio networking formats, it also means understanding the ways technology solutions can solve customer problems. If you interact with the end customer, your job is to advise, and that includes helping the customer understand what will and won’t be effective to improve collaboration.

While this is always basically true, this is not just your run-of-the-mill advice. Research by Aberdeen says that in the next 12–24 months 24% of organizations are planning to increase learning spending and adopt new learning modalities.  This would include technology like online collaboration tools and new conference room technology. Of those planning to make that investment, the increase in spending will be by 87%. Demand is going to come down from the C-suites of these organizations and expectations of the effectiveness of the technology will be high. If AV professionals can come in as experts not just in AV technology, but also in how to collaborate effectively using technology, we can provide value that no one else can replicate.

At the end of the day, collaboration is not a piece of technology, nor will a single piece of technology guarantee collaboration. True collaboration requires people committed to the idea of sharing information for mutual success, and true collaboration technology ensures that information sharing can occur quickly, easily and across any distance. Collaboration is a process, and the role of AV professionals is to provide advice on how collaboration technology best facilitates that process. If we as professionals can help customers separate the technology from the process, and then explain how they work together, we will have more successful roll-outs, higher adoption rates and more repeat, happy customers.

 

Kyle Davis Headshot 2016 SquareKyle has been involved in AV in one way or another for 20 years, working as an audio engineer in various capacities, as well as a university AV tech, camera operator, and live video producer. Kyle is a Technical Marketing Specialist for HARMAN Professional Solutoins and is an avid van of technology in all its forms.

Follow Kyle on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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