Viewpoints

Archived Viewpoints

About This Technology

Collaboration tools combine software, hardware, and networks to enable dispersed employees to work together, share knowledge, and learn. Examples of today's collaboration systems are web-conferencing software, collaborative word-processing systems, and social-networking tools. In the long term, collaboration tools have the potential not just to replicate the experience of working face-to-face but to improve on it. In ten years, perhaps every business meeting will have a virtual component as software and hardware overlay pertinent information such as the name and schedule of each participant, automatically capture meeting minutes, and assign tasks to task lists. Future tools may also generate meeting transcripts and summaries automatically, provide simultaneous translation, and insert portions of telephone conversations directly into documents. These collaboration tools begin with today's social-software tools, knowledge-management systems, and conferencing technologies but add emerging developments in augmented reality, speech interfaces, artificial intelligence, natural user interfaces, context recognition, and 3D environments.

Today, collaboration tools are already a key priority for many enterprises as virtual teams become common in large companies and as cost-cutting measures curtail business travel. However, many organizations are facing significant challenges as employees reject corporate-sanctioned collaboration software (especially enterprise social-networking tools) and source their own collaboration software from cloud providers who offer easy-to-use, smartphone-friendly formats. Traditional collaboration software, from providers including IBM and Microsoft, is failing to keep pace with workers' changing needs. Research and development trends in areas such as big data, augmented reality, context recognition, and pervasive cameras and sensors suggest that a new generation of collaboration tools will emerge within five to ten years. Also important for future collaboration systems are research and development in speech-to-text technologies to transcribe conversations accurately and progress in artificial-intelligence software to analyze the collaboration activity and automate many of the functions that require human administration today.

Demand for collaboration systems is likely to remain high because virtual teams are becoming a standard working configuration and because enterprises need to contain the rising costs of business travel. But if advanced collaboration tools fulfill their potential, they will do far more than simply bringing remote workers together. Future tools could improve productivity and reduce costs by enabling the best available team to work on a project—no matter where each individual is, automating routine work such as updating documents, automatically informing teams and managers about the location and tasks of coworkers, providing ready access to people and archived content to support a task, or analyzing workplace communications and workflows to discover promising individuals and process bottlenecks.