Building communities of interest to unite global companies

icones_(8)_5x8.gifIn this interview we spoke with Orange Business consultant Romain Resmini about his vision for the future of the workplace, why companies should promote communities of interest in their organization and what impact the economic downturn will have.

What does the workplace of the future look like?

Collaboration, participation and cooperation are the real drivers for change in the workplace of the future. The actual physical location of the office of the future will be unimportant and the vast majority of business users will be able to work from anywhere. This increase in mobile users is happening now and attitudes towards them have already changed. Managers are increasingly comfortable with having mobile users working from independent locations. What they are interested in is managing their objectives, and they don't care when or how they work, as long as these objectives are met or exceeded.

Does technology have to change to support this new way of working?

The tools of choice for the vast majority of workers will become the mobile phone, laptop and PDA; they offer access to line of business applications and corporate resources. The company infrastructure needs to support these workers by providing them with real-time access to centralized corporate information, because any delay will make them lose time in decision making and ultimately affect profitability. In addition, the organization needs to acquire information from all these workers in the field in real time so that the rest of the organization can benefit from their insight. And one of the best ways of sharing information across large organizations is through communities of interest.

How do communities of interest work?

Communities of interest are essentially social networks that help employees work cooperatively and share information. For example if a worker wants to export chips to China, they first should check if anyone else has done it before. This will require a search engine that finds documents throughout the company and indexes them according to relevance. The employee should then be able to use the workspace to initiate a discussion with the author. Once the issue has been resolved, the information should be then moved to a wiki so that other employees could benefit from this aggregated information. With the right technology in place, this collaborative environment can sustain communities of interest and benefit the business as a whole.

How similar are these new tools to the knowledge management products that were on the market up to a decade ago?

They are very similar in concept; companies have always had a requirement to gather information from across the organization, centralize it and distribute it to all employees. The first wave of knowledge management tools largely failed, because companies failed to realize how complex an undertaking it was, and users didn't see any benefit in using these tools. Today, the consumerization of technology and the popularity of wikis and blogging means that users are much more enthusiastic about the power of these type of tools. Of course there will always be a minority of users who will be reluctant to share their knowledge with the rest of the organization. But once collaboration and knowledge management is fully integrated into business processes and the workplace of the future, even these naysayers will see its advantages.

This is an abridged version of an article that appeared first in Real Times: Romain Resmini is Business Unit Manager for one of Orange's largest outsourcing customers. Over the past 10 years he has worked in a variety of roles for Orange, including Customer Program Director, Consultant and Business Development Manager.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.