Magazine article University Business

Collaborative Workflow: The New Kid on Campus: Moving beyond Collaborative Software to Implement Tools That Enhance Process and Increase Productivity

Magazine article University Business

Collaborative Workflow: The New Kid on Campus: Moving beyond Collaborative Software to Implement Tools That Enhance Process and Increase Productivity

Article excerpt


Students, staff, faculty, and alumni are frequently in need of support for special projects, curriculum collaboration, and technology. Helpdesk solutions for IT administrators have been widely adopted among larger institutions to streamline IT support. But, with tight budgets, there's a need for a streamlined, collaborative workflow that allows staff, support specialists, department heads, administrators, and professors alike to be more productive, in a shorter period of time and with less staff. New technology that combines the features of workflow collaboration and social software should touch all facets within an institution to get the job done.

Collaborative workflow is expected to provide synergetic efficiency gains to all members of a group. The removal of communication barriers between team members, whether they're in the same department, in several departments, or across multiple campuses, would allow more efficient work on joint assignments. Barriers such as information silos and organizational boundaries would be minimized.

Ideally, collaborative workflow is to service management what "Cirque du Soleil" is to movement: a collection of parallel, sequential tasks that communicate and coordinate with seamless precision to achieve a desired outcome. The main difference between pure-play collaboration software and collaborative workflow is that the latter is both goal-oriented and structured. Collaboration is then carried out in a project framework with specific objectives in mind.

IT Insurrection

Prior to the 1980s, IT functions were performed at the data center--often a faceless, monolithic division housing fields of mainframes, humming softly in locked rooms. The insulated, air-conditioned splendor of the computer room was an unfortunate metaphor for the data center, all too often an unresponsive ivory tower of corporate information gatekeepers.

The introduction of the IBM PC in the early 1980s was the "French Revolution" of computing--ushering in a power shift from the data center to the knowledge workers. This change ultimately led to the democratization of computing, but in the short run led to a period of utter chaos.

The new model lacked standards, was fraught with trial and error, and required an ever-increasing level of support. It came not only from the "computer department," but soon included fellow team members helping each other. Peer support and "user" groups began to form, and although not explicitly shown in financial statements, led to an alarming drop in worker productivity.

By the early 1990s, studies published by well-respected consulting groups stated that organizations were spending a shocking amount of money on peer and informal technical support about three times the amount spent on hardware (and that's when a typical IBM PC cost approximately $5,000!). Many managers felt the PC revolution had gotten out of control.

Against this backdrop (and especially when campuses started implementing local area networks), the modern helpdesk was born. The data center had lost its monopoly, but the resulting power vacuum needed to be filled. For many, a resolution was found in standardizing and automating processes. Universities, faced with budget constraints, formed their own user organizations and folded technology into their own professional development programs.

The early helpdesks incorporated fairly simple workflows: problems were reported, dispatched, routed to a tech, resolved, and closed. As decentralized computing matured, customized workflow solutions such as change management, configuration management, and problem management enabled IT to focus on the bottom line--resolving problems and rolling out new applications faster, more reliably, and with greater ease. Workflow applications brought to the modern enterprise what Henry Ford's assembly line did for manufacturing: efficiency, uniformity of outcomes, and increased throughput. …

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