Ray Ozzie interview

In ACM Queue, there is also the interview of ray Ozzie (by Wendy Kellog. There are some very clever ideas raised in this article:

When I was at Lotus in the early ’90s, companies were a lot more vertically integrated than they are right now. At that time, people were attempting to use fairly nascent technology to break down the walls within the organization, meaning they were trying to get different departments within an organization to work together. They were trying to flatten organizations internally and get people to work together across stovepipes, within organizations, just to make processes operate more smoothly. Fast-forward to today, and you find that we all take that for granted. Most companies nowadays use a mix of technologies: certainly e-mail and, in various flavors, some other types of collaborative technology internally. But now the business imperative is much different. Essentially, many, many companies have to integrate outside business partners into their core practices. Companies are, for better or worse, needing to distribute their operations geographically, in many cases into Asia and other places where people are operating on the same project but in different time zones. Essentially, the walls are coming down in so many different ways, and organizations have to figure out how to effectively do what they need to do in a very, very decentralized manner. (...) The default technology for collaboration is e-mail because it seamlessly crosses those enterprise boundaries, but e-mail is 30-some years old and has been stressed well beyond its original design center. That’s why I believe a number of customers are looking for other types of technologies to support those cross-boundary interactions, and that’s why you see products such as Groove, products that are appearing out on the Internet, that are more or less boundary-spanning, whether they be wikis or blogs or Skype or a number of interesting technologies like that. (...) Enterprises are really different from the public Internet in that they have fairly substantial compliance issues. They have control hierarchies related to technology acquisition and enablement of end users. They mandate the use of certain technologies and mandate that others not be used. They control the upgrade tempo. I’ve never seen the technology environment as divergent as it is right now between what’s going on outside enterprises and what’s going on inside enterprises. (...) A lot of the social software that is now appearing on the public Internet, which is a bit like a petri dish, really must be thought of from the perspective of how it would play inside an enterprise. How can some of that software be adapted for use in the enterprise? It’s difficult for me to conceive of how some of that petri-dish software will become accepted inside the enterprise because of some of the overwhelming compliance and security issues that exist there.

The most interesting issue is certainly the following:

WK What should technologists within businesses be worried about or thinking about in the area of emergent collaboration technology? What technical challenges do they face?

RO The first thing to recognize is that collaboration and communication technology is not a panacea. Many people, particularly in the early years when I first brought Notes to market, would have problems that they were trying to work out within their company, and they would deploy this collaboration software thinking it would solve the problem. In fact, many times what they were really trying to do was institute business process or culture change at the same time the technology was deployed. When the initiative failed because of inadequate recognition that they were trying to change the process, or the culture, they would blame the technology. Technology can assist the change, but it can’t make it happen on its own. People really have to understand what the role of technology and the role of leadership are when it comes to effecting change within corporations.

The conversation offers good food for thoughts; besides, I particularly like when technologist put the emphasis on the fact that technology is not the best solution to world's problem.