The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

« Gartner EA Magic Quadrant 2009......what's in store..... | Main | How do web 2.0 technologies really impact business processes? »

Business Collaboration - Is it a Business Function or Business Capability?

I am new to "Technology Enabled Collaboration in an Enterprise" as a subject. I list here a perspective of traditional, competitive business and the structure of how people, process and tools/technologies so far has come closer to achieve the enterprise vision.

First things first - Questions
First few questions to probe from a CXO Community/Operational Manager perspective:
1.    Does the CXO community really care about the ROI for an Email communication application and if so how exactly to calculate and suggest the ROI for an email application?
2.    Does the CXO community is worried about a communicator application and its usage towards improving productivity or decreasing productivity for its employees? How to gauge the value of the communicator application? What is the relationship between communicator application and the business processes upon which the Role/Actor act upon?
3.    As Operational Managers, do we try to monitor the telephone usage of employees towards each of the projects/project codes running in our enterprise - towards analyzing the spend on telephone usage and its implied productivity improvement?
4.    There is a million dollar investment for a new product development in a technology company - what is the traditional way of collaborating compared to modern way of collaborating here? What is the impact of collaborative technologies/enablers towards Apple MacBook development - a pizza chart on the collaborative technology impact towards incubating, designing, developing, producing and delivering the product - over the entire lifecycle would be helpful for managers to organize their efforts for utilizing technology based collaborative enablers? A complex product like a Steam Engine produced by GE Energy needs multiple hundreds of parts assembled together and sourced from hundreds of vendors from hundreds of locations - all these things should go along well within six sigma limits for defects - what is the difference from traditional way of collaborating and technology enabled way of collaborating here? Does technology enabled collaboration affects the main goal - getting innovating ideas organized and developing the product itself in an efficient way or just enabling ways of documenting easier and structuring contents easier and may be reaching to the various teams quickly through video conferencing and net meeting? How to analyze and what are all the metrics to use to define the enabler technologies towards achieving the main goal of innovative product development?
Post those generic queries, I come to the classical definition of Business Functions and Business Capabilities.
Business Function:
My take on Business Function is something like this: 'An abstracted group of processes that are related and can be grouped together to make it work smoother or to define a vision for it and able to track it effectively'. DoDAF defines Business Function as "Action for which a person or thing is specially designed, fitted, used, or intended to accomplish or execute". Examples of business function include Sales, Marketing, Human Resource, Production, Supply Chain Management, Brand Management, Accounting, Reporting, Procurement etc. So, now as a CXO community member, I want an analysis - which are all my business functions that are performing well and how to identify to improve the performance of those business functions. I have a problem in Supply Chain Function and I need to understand the problem, the root cause and a solution approach - I get a business architect - he analyses the function through mapping the function, decomposing functions to business processes and then associates various enterprise resources to these business processes and completes the mapping excercise - we need to remember here by resources I mean inputs to business processes - organization, location, information/data, knowledge - structured and unstructured, events, application, technology and physical resources. Later he associates the goals and KPI for the function and the process. So, what the architect has captured essentially is the landscape of the function that can be modeled - the bones, flesh and organs of the function body. What about blood and the network that flows message from the neurons to the hand to make the movement - the "network or the networking context"? So, elaborating Business Function and organizing information around business function and processes are traditionally done this way - giving a structure and trying to incorporate measures to maintain the structure; there is less on the life of the structure - is this networking is enabling organs connect to each other to enable the body to deliver movements - run, sit and jump? Is this collaboration? So, traditional problem solving approaches for enterprise function analysis is to extended beyond modeling and process improvement?
Business Capabilities:
My take on business capability is something like this: 'An inclusive set of processes managed by role-players with a specific skill to perform them'. DoDAF defines business capability as: "The ability to execute a specified course of action 2. The ability to achieve a desired effect under specified standards and conditions through combinations of means and ways to perform a set of tasks". Think of a Lego Set - the blocks are your functions or processes, but the ability to organize the blocks to create a structure is 'capability'. That’s the reason why enterprises take a capability viewpoint - to define what is that they are good at and how to improve or utilize the something that we are good in doing at. Take a cricket team - the primary activities or functions are score runs, take wickets and save runs (field). But there are capabilities that allow to organize these primary activities effectively - Build Partnerships, Rotation of Players and Effective Running between wickets - these are capabilities to improve score runs activity. Similarly, Effective Seam bowling and Pace/spin combo can be capabilities to take wickets. From a business perspective, New Product Development can be a function, but effective innovating can be a capability that the enterprise has developed or nurtured over a period of time - though everyone make car, Honda is good at making fuel efficient engines - that’s their capability and it in turn might be elaborated as the ability to have a modular mind set and technology investment that has enabled Honda to be creative in designing fuel efficient engines. A hospital can be good in acquiring or attracting experienced doctors - that’s a capability; at the same time it might be bad in running a pharmacy alongside the hospital - outsource it. So, identifying capabilities and the subtle details around it is essential for competitive advantage. Again it boils down to the same question - how to identify, nurture and reap capabilities - is there a way to bring in my best people and technology together to provide the enterprise the ability to lead and excel in our market? This is a flat world - so capabilities which are flexible or modular enough is the need of the hour rather than rigid and holy stone imprinted processes. Can collaboration enable business capability improvement?
So the confusion I have is this: Is business collaboration is to be considered as function in itself (may be primary or secondary function while defining the Value Chain for the enterprise) and the enterprise is to define processes, policies and governance for collaboration; Or is business collaboration is an enterprise capability that is the need of the hour and it is indeed 'the' capability that cuts across other capabilities as well and so, to be treated to appreciate it in a modular, fast changing and always to be challenged capability?

Final word is: Enterprises are to have a "mechanism" in place to address business collaboration internal and external either as a business function or a business capability. Having this "mechanism" is the first thing; later comes the best of breed technology as an address to the mechanism.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Please key in the two words you see in the box to validate your identity as an authentic user and reduce spam.

Subscribe to this blog's feed

Follow us on