Master of Arts in Communications & Technologies

Master of Arts in Communications & Technologies

Extension 506 - Using and Managing Communications Technologies Assignment #2

Skunk Works to Success: A Case Study

Mary Pat Barry

1. Executive Summary

In today´s Internet-speed, new economy selecting and championing the "right" suite of technologies for corporate business applications is risky. New products hit the market daily. If, as Panko (2000) and others suggest, time is now measured in dog years, how do you keep up? What processes can you use to separate the high quality, value-added technologies from the less robust and possibly workplace disruptive products? Who is best positioned to lead the introduction of new technologies in the workplace? Once endorsed, how do you encourage use? Equally and perhaps more important, how do you ensure the products you introduce have a 'fit' suitable to the organizational culture? On the other hand, if organizations want to move beyond the status quo, is 'fit' advised?

The questions are endless. The answers are complex.

No one-size-fits-all approach can be taken to the introduction and diffusion of technology. Through this case study, the introduction of an electronic collaboration tool - NetMeeting - will be examined in a technology-based, monopoly rooted organization undergoing a tremendous degree of change.

This case examines the introduction of NetMeeting as a skunk works - without a business case, without budget and without formal corporate sanction. NetMeeting was introduced as a local initiative, outside the Chief Information Officer´s (CIO) scope of control. Regardless of the barriers, NetMeeting has cultivated a strong following within the organization by those who increasingly use it as a day-to-day business tool.

In discussing the corporate context into which the technology was introduced in late 1998, the organization at that time will be referred to as 'OldCo'. The current organization has significantly evolved through a series of mergers, acquisitions and changes in senior leadership. Today´s organization will be described as 'NewCo'.

NewCo is distinguished by an intensely competitive industry reality. As a result, today´s corporate context is change amenable - evidenced in cultural shifts, a change in the emphasis toward technology adoption and innovation, and a geographically expanded scope of operations.

This case study provokes thought about the roles, responsibilities and change management implications related to the selection, adoption and diffusion of emerging technologies in the workplace. How a skunk works emerged; why it was able to take hold and gain sanction; and the implications of a skunk works approach to technology introduction on roles and functions will be discussed. This examination stimulates insight on alternative approaches to technology introduction and management in the workplace.

The issue at the heart of this case study is how Information Technology professionals and the organizations they support stay afloat in the ever-expanding ocean of technology options available to an increasingly empowered and technically savvy workforce.

2. Introduction: are we ready for collaboration?

The Internet, extending what communications technologies before it have claimed, is suggested by many to be a tool of democratization. By linking individuals via networks, we go beyond the individual. The argument supporting the value of these electronic networks of thinkers, problem solvers and collaborators is that the complexity of issues today, requires collective input for resolution. The power of these networks is provoking thought about new approaches to organizing work. According to Rost (1993), the industrial era is being replaced by a relational world of post-industrialization and a 'new' concept of more engaged and more local leadership.

Historical North American styles reflect a lone ranger, cowboy image - an individualistic, influential andtraditionally male model. This style translates into an individualized culture where "you strap on the guns and go fix it. We are not a culture of collaboration" (Roberts, 2000, p. 3).

This image may reflect past, post-industrial views but it is increasingly being questioned. Rost (1993), Kanter (2000) and others suggest a new set of expectations reflecting a more collective, relational style is emerging. We are seeing the beginnings of a more inclusive, community-based and collaborative culture. The impacts are being felt in the workplace through on-line collaboration tools like NetMeeting.

A technology-comfortable generation is actively exploring electronic collaborative tools (ECTs) or groupware. Introduced in the early 1990´s, some believe ECTs are the software industry´s response to shifts in organizational culture (Hapgood, 1998). While not a panacea for all, ECTs hold potential for significant impact. Evidence suggests more and better ideas result when people work together linked electronically than when they meet face-to-face (Beebe & Masterson, 2000). Into this context comes NetMeeting.

NetMeeting, a Microsoft Office product, is a real time, multipoint data conferencing tool supporting communication and collaboration between two or more people. Meeting participants share applications, transfer files, co-create and brainstorm on a shared whiteboard, and have access to a text-based chat feature.

NetMeeting brings convergence to the desktop - uniting audio conferencing (shared voice connection), video conferencing (shared images) and data conferencing (shared information and data). From a business perspective, data conferencing is perceived to be one of the most important advances supporting interactive desktop collaboration in recent years.

Multipoint data conferencing features supported by NetMeeting include:

• Application sharing. A program running on one computer can be shared with colleagues working on their computers. Collaborators 'see' the same data and information, as well as the actions when participant(s) work on or adjust the program (for example, editing, creating or adjusting content or scrolling through information). Participants share Windows-based applications transparently without special knowledge of application capabilities.

• Application collaboration. The person sharing the application can choose to collaborate with other conference participants allowing them to take turns editing or controlling the application. Only the person sharing the program needs to have the application installed on their computer.

• File transfer. File transfer allows participants to send files in the background to one or all conference participants. Dragging and dropping a file into the main window, allows the file to be automatically sent to conference participants, who either accept or decline the information.

• Whiteboard. Multiple users can simultaneously collaborate using the whiteboard to create, review and/or update information. The whiteboard is object-oriented (versus pixel-oriented), enabling participants to manipulate content by clicking and dragging the mouse. In addition, a remote pointer or highlighting tool can be used to point out specific content or sections of shared pages. (Version 3 has two different whiteboards, one that is T.126 compliant and another that is used in NetMeeting 2.1.)

Recipient of Internet Telephony´s 1999 Editor´s Choice Award, NetMeeting did not enter the business world with much success. While free with the Microsoft platform NetMeeting 2.0 had limitations. Meetings could not be password protected, the GUI took up considerable desktop space and chat messages were not delivered real-time. This early version of NetMeeting, useful to hobbyists and pornographers, did not find much business acceptance (Internet Telephony, May 1999). NetMeeting 3.0 addressed these limitations adding remote desktop sharing, improved security, Internet telephony functionality, and a do not disturb feature - all at no cost. "NetMeeting 3.0 the version your mom will use" (Scoble, 1999, p. 1).

3. How NetMeeting became a shunk works

The champion (who we will call 'Champion') of NetMeeting at OldCo was a systems developer in Field Operations. Competent and current in terms of emerging technologies, Champion had a technical background, was a Web Master for the Field Operations web site, and provided mainframe support and database management to the Field Operations area. Not located in head office, Champion worked out of a regional center.

a) The key driver: overcoming distance in daily operations

In 1998, Field Operations was exploring technologies for potential workplace application. In particular, they sought ways to work more efficiently with a geographically dispersed organization. In considering technology alternatives, one group came across NetMeeting.

Version 1 of NetMeeting was highly technical and unfriendly. Version 2 was suitable for testing and review - but did not have features the non-technical person could easily use. It was expected that once Version 3 was released (in 1999), a more reliable, consumable and fully useful application would emerge. While NetMeeting was admittedly in the early development stage, it was decided a demonstration would be of value.

Champion was aware of NetMeeting having assessed the first release as a concept not yet smooth enough or sufficiently reliable to be considered "business ready". Other high-tech early adopters in OldCo had unofficially tested NetMeeting sporadically and with mixed results. When a demonstration of Version 2 was organized, Champion attended.

The demonstration did not go well. The consultant, not appreciating the working reality or needs of the user group, tried to sell the audio feature. Supported by a 28k connection, the audio aspect of NetMeeting was substandard and inferior to existing audio conferencing at OldCo. Once emphasized as a key feature, the reality of poor quality audio significantly reduced the perceived value of NetMeeting. Computer-transmitted sound was scratchy, jittery, broken and delayed. As Panko (2000) notes, a delay of even 1/5 second (or 200 milliseconds) can make conversation difficult. In its early stages, NetMeeting´s audio feature suffered from latency issues that were a far cry from the synchronous connections available through audio conferencing.

b) The idea to implement via problem identification and resolution

While the group who originally identified NetMeeting as a possibility dropped interest, Champion´s interest was piqued. He felt the file sharing and on-line collaboration aspects of NetMeeting held potential for Field Operations. From his perspective the audio issue was a red herring that could be managed using OldCo´s audio conferencing system. This approach made adoption potential easier as it immediately removed costs and enhanced audio quality levels.

On the cost front, while some desktop computers had sound cards and drivers, few had speakers. In fact, speakers have still not been included in the corporate standard although all new computers have sound capability.

Having eliminated the NetMeeting-based audio issue, Champion started to research and test NetMeeting for stability, reliability and business application within Field Operations.

Champion´s method of testing was hands on. He used and critically evaluated NetMeeting. He applied the software in a variety of scenarios: with one application open, then with many applications; with and without audio; utilizing file sharing; employing the chat function; and, with and without video.

Champion concluded NetMeeting had potential for cost-saving application within Field Operations but only if it was introduced with ease of use as a driving factor. Champion turned his attention to determining what it would take to make NetMeeting successful in Field Operations, and identifying the software aspects that might cause it to fail.

Champion had used and tested the Microsoft directory servers on the Internet. From a technical perspective, these servers worked but were unreliable and frequently congested. More than 10,000 users regularly accessed Microsoft´s NetMeeting servers. This traffic volume resulted in an overload situation incompatible with the accessibility requirements of a workplace tool. In addition, Champion realized it would be next to impossible to encourage employees to work outside the firewall.

c) Design logic: ease of access and ease of use

Champion considered the average, non-technical user´s local working environment and level of knowledge. To succeed, NetMeeting would have to be inside the firewall, easy to load, reachable within the suite of start up functions, and immediately available for day-to-day business applications.

The first part of the solution was to establish a dedicated server and directory for NetMeeting inside OldCo´s firewall. The presence of a dedicated server would not only ensure accessibility, reliability and security but would also enhance the ease of ongoing maintenance and send a message about the legitimacy of NetMeeting as a business tool.

Review of the Microsoft license identified that OldCo could, within license parameters, install NetMeeting on a company server. It was estimated installation would cost $1,000 CAN. With a degree of arm-twisting, Champion secured budget then convinced a manager to place NetMeeting on one of the Field Operations servers. Microsoft eventually supported the installation at no cost.

The second part of the solution was to configure the user registration and set up process for maximum ease and availability. Desiring to have NetMeeting as accessible as a stapler or three-hole punch, the installation wizard was adjusted to automatically place shortcuts on the desktop and Quick Launch bar, and to immediately register users in the directory upon start-up. Following this configuration allows NetMeeting to run in the background as a start-up function triggered when the employee logs on to the system. Requiring less than one per cent of CPU power to log onto the server, NetMeeting is a highly efficient and instantly available tool.




4. Implementing the application

Once NetMeeting was successfully located on a server inside the firewall, Champion began a low-key introduction through a network of PC and more technically literate colleagues he considered 'early adopters'. As many areas of OldCo were technophobic and concerned about the potential abuse of such software, initial applications purposely targeted business tasks that would obviously save time, money and effort. One of the most immediate and obvious benefits was in avoided travel expense and time.

Champion officially went 'public' when he shared the availability of NetMeeting in Field Operations with fellow Corporate Web Masters. Champion won recognition and additional users as a result of this meeting, but also drew a degree of push back. One group - the CIO team - was not impressed.

Not an issue of technical integrity, the concern expressed by CIO representatives lay with roles and responsibilities for the introduction, management and maintenance of new technologies at OldCo. The Information Technology group owned the mandate to implement and control new technologies. Information Technology representatives had studied NetMeeting for 12 to 18-months. While they thought the technology was interesting, they did not see a business need for NetMeeting at the time.

From the perspective of Field Operations, the head-office, centrally located (or, as the field commonly described it, the golden tower) CIO group was removed from front line realities. The CIO group had no need for a collaborative tool like NetMeeting. When they needed to collaborate, they walked to the office next door. In the field, the challenge of problem solving, information sharing and collaborating with employees in remote locations was a persistent and costly issue.

a) Recruiting an early adopter team

Once NetMeeting was up and running in Field Operations, use slowly began to spread. The late-1998, 1999 rollout was purposely low-key and selective. The application was made available to about 20 management/professional employees who would clearly and responsibly use the technology as a business tool - working through administrative procedures, sharing information and problem solving. This 'underground' of Field Operations users compared notes, shared knowledge of what worked and what didn´t, acted as a support team of trouble-shooters, and slowly extended the reach of NetMeeting to others.

To support effective use, a Field Operations NetMeeting Web Site was developed. Simple and informative, the site provides tips on how to optimally use NetMeeting, background on its evolution, installation instructions, trouble shooting tips and links to other sites, news groups and sources.

The value of NetMeeting to users within Field Operations was immediate, however without the support of a business case, quantifiable benefits were not recorded or reported. As a result, the cost savings and cultural implications of NetMeeting were below the sight line of senior management.

For the small, but steadily growing group of Field Operations managers now using NetMeeting for day-to-day administration and shared procedures, quantifying the value was unnecessary. The ability to work with teams and small groups of networked colleagues, visually collaborating on shared information was far superior to meetings and 'blind' audio discussions.

With the arrival of SAP, the application and awareness of NetMeeting within Field Operations expanded as it was adopted to support training. Linked by audio conference small groups of SAP super users in remote locations could connect and in a live, interactive session walk through SAP processes and technologies discussing what worked and why, and gaining instant feedback as they went. NetMeeting easily replaced off-site training videos and simulations as a tool supporting work place learning.

b) Growing user base prompts corporate sanction and support

When awareness and use of the tool expanded to the point where about 40 people were registered on the NetMeeting directory two things happened. NetMeeting became recognized as legitimate, and the Information Services group began to panic concerned about bandwidth implications and the possibility of system congestion if traffic got too heavy. In late 1999, the server was moved to accommodate greater numbers of users beyond Field Operations. Adding computer IP addresses to the server directory allowed users to more efficiently link into NetMeeting.

c) Software and hardware implications on policy

When NetMeeting was first examined, Information Services technicians were concerned about the implications on the daily operations of OldCo´s wide area network. NetMeeting was a video bandwidth hog and weak in terms of the audio feature. Concerned about network congestion, the guidelines and eventually the policy that developed for NetMeeting use discouraged video and recommended teleconferencing rather than computer-based audio.

These policies remain in place today. While some have tested the video feature, its general use is rare. Further, Champion indicates he doesn´t know anyone who uses the NetMeeting audio feature.

Concerns continue relative to the impact of video on corporate bandwidth. All traffic generally goes over a 10 Megabit stream. A new corporate backbone system called Eaglenet was installed to enhance bandwidth and support video streaming. However not a lot of budget was allocated for this aspect and use of video continues to be problematic. As fibre optic and high-speed connections are not universally available, and not all computers have the capability for video, applications continue to be low level and rare.

At the same time, some groups are testing this feature to see the added value it might provide. Camera costs are minor running under $200. A USB camera linked to the USB port on the computer allows faster data transfer. Parallel port cameras are available, but are discouraged for general use due to their bandwidth requirements and impacts.

Video transmission over NetMeeting is slower than television broadcast quality. The UBS cameras transmit at 15 frames per second compared to the 30 frames per second of television. As a result, transmission tends to be jerky and is often affected by latency issues when the network is busy.

Champion also experimented with the optimal design of Netware to allow a greater number of participants on a call. The approach suggested allows up to 32 participants in a NetMeeting. However, to effectively use the tool with this many people requires greater meeting management skills and more deliberate call structure.

To accommodate greater numbers, calls are clustered through eight or nine key points of contact that each additionally link two or three participants. Through this branched approach more people are included on a call, efficiently sharing computer resources.

The optimum configuration of NetMeeting involves six participants:


To accommodate more than six people sub-hosts are established. To illustrate, participants call host A as shown below, while other groups of participants call Hosts B and, if required, Host C. Hosts A, B and C then call the NetMeeting Host.

d) Communications and corporate endorsement

While awareness and use of NetMeeting slowly and steadily grew in Field Operations, acceptance beyond that group was and remains relatively low. The release of Windows 2000 within NewCo included NetMeeting as a corporate standard - available through the portfolio of office products on the desktop. The trouble is that no one knows it is there or the benefits the application may provide.

While NetMeeting has been mentioned in corporate bulletins and in recent demonstrations, unless the tool is introduced more personally and demonstrated as a business tool, people aren´t inclined to install it. One-on-one exposure through use of the technology remains the key approach to diffusion.

5. Post implementation

NetMeeting now falls in the domain of an enterprise-wide corporate group within the CIO area whose job is to support technology applications in the workplace. The goal of the Workplace Services team is to build awareness of technology services at NewCo. Workplace Services support conferencing services (including interactive conferencing, NetMeeting, teleconferencing and video conferencing), document management and messaging services (such as email).

The teams focus is to: help employees learn how to best use the services to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of daily operations; help people find better ways to work with teammates; and to support greater individual self-sufficiency.

Through Workplace Services, promotion of NetMeeting is more active. In addition, NetMeeting is being positioned in conjunction with other technologies - including a network of SmartBoards geographically dispersed throughout NewCo. Expanding the view and interactive capabilities of NetMeeting through larger conference facilities further evolves the collaborative theme of the technology.

While an expanded profile is possible through a corporate group like Workplace Services, the Champion who launched NetMeeting continues to be the prime troubleshooter and internal subject matter expert. While knowledge is indeed growing about NetMeeting, many IT professionals supporting desktop services are not aware of the availability of the internal server, and discourage users believing NetMeeting is only available outside the firewall.

a) Next generation electronic collaboration tools

While in use for less than three years at NewCo, NetMeeting is now being challenged by newer ECT technologies. A new product, CU-SeeMe (read as 'can you see me' and available at: https://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/stories/reviews/0,6755,2472790,00.html)

is a collaborative application now being tested within NewCo. Supported by a dedicated server, CU-SeeMe boasts greater video ability (up to 12 people can be linked via video). However this advantage is tempered by the fact that the server takes a much heavier load and requires extra bandwidth. Because video-streaming issues have yet to be fully addressed wide spread use of video may not be practical for some time.

At the same time, NetMeeting itself is evolving with a new version expected in late-2001. The new version will likely also include enhanced video features.

Additionally, NetMeeting is being explored for its controlled and limited use outside the firewall - particularly for collaboration with business partners, customers and vendors. In a manner following the initial introduction, selective 'work arounds' are being conducted to test applications beyond the firewall. Highly controlled, these forays into extended use are limited to ensure security is protected and access is monitored.

b) Skunk works: success or distraction?

Installed without a business case, without corporate endorsement and without budget, 30-months later the NetMeeting skunk works is assessed as having made a significant difference.

Download statistics illustrate the diffusion rate of NetMeeting. In late 1998, 20 users had downloaded the application. More than 1000 downloads of version 2.1 were subsequently recorded. When version 3.01 was introduced more than 600 downloads were recorded as of April 3, 2000. With the release of Windows2000, NetMeeting became available to all employees. The directory grows daily with an estimated 700 employees regularly using NetMeeting. Only recently has NetMeeting been advertised and promoted.

While tangible dollar savings associated with reduced travel, collaborative problem solving and enhanced teamwork have not been recorded, it is estimated that Field Operations has saved millions of dollars through the application of NetMeeting.

In mid-2000 NewCo introduced a plan to web-enable the workplace. This corporate agenda has instantly prompted greater interest and awareness of NetMeeting and other electronic collaboration tools. Rates of knowledge transfer about NetMeeting have been enhanced as business units and working groups challenged with greater budget management and geographically distributed work units, actively adopt the technology.

In the corporate context present today, NetMeeting stands out as a real and powerful example of a high value technology whose application illustrates NewCo´s values of: embracing change and initiating opportunity; having a passion for growth; believing in spirited teamwork; and having the courage to innovate.

6. What have we learned?

Key learning #1: develop a flexible and engaging technology plan

It is clear that a strategic technology plan is not an option for today´s corporations. Technology has never been more essential to business operations than it is now. In fact, many believe the Internet economy means all businesses (and by extension all employees) will have to become e-businesses, and e-business competent in some form in order to survive (Fast Forward 2.0: Taking Canada to the Next Level, 2001).

At the same time, approaches to technology identification, testing and adoption likely need to be revisited. While a skunk works introduction of technology may be perceived as sub-optimum, it clearly illustrates the challenge being faced by IT professionals. No longer sole 'subject matter experts' with roles and responsibilities based on old-economy control models, IT professionals are increasingly considering more collaborative, engaging and inclusive partnership models. Emergent roles for IT include skills in areas such as consultant, facilitator, partner, coach and guide.

Realities prompting consideration for these 'new' roles include:

  • the pace of new product development
  • the availability of information on such products
  • an increasingly engaged, informed and empowered work force
  • local 'application experts' in the field

At the same time, it is increasingly important that the range of professionals exploring new technology applications also have a basic level of understanding of the issues, opportunities and risks inherent in selecting and adopting technologies in corporate settings. A heightened sense of internal collaboration is required for new economy companies to effectively optimize available technologies for competitive advantage.

Key Learning #2: build in ease of access for ease of use

History confirms many and perhaps most new technology applications have their roots as novelty items, games and toys. While a soft introduction of technology can be less intimidating, it also challenges more traditional, control-centred organizations.

For example, a television advertisement for a Microsoft instant messaging application shows an employee playing a game on his desktop computer, alerted by the instant message that his boss will soon arrive. The employee immediately calls up a business-related screen and looks to be hard at work when the boss arrives.

While a light hearted view of instant messaging, some argue this presentation challenges the perception of value and benefit of an instant messaging system in a corporate setting.

How do forward-thinking professionals see beyond the game, to identify technology applications that might become legitimate workplace tools? How do they introduce these tools as business aids into work environments that are less trusting, and perhaps less confident in technology?

The Internet has driven speed into product life cycles. Internet time means products are introduced early, with the expectation they will evolve a more complete range of applications through users who in essence become collaborators on subsequent generations of software development. A similar logic may need to be cultivated within organizations in terms of adoption. Victory may not ultimately rest with a singular overwhelming adoption. True success might better be measured by the progressive ability to flexibly embrace technologies and also to release applications past their prime.

When considering workplace applications local 'collaborators' (not to be confused with early adopters) may provide strategic advantage - particularly in designing simplicity, availability and ease of use. If share of workplace is a measure, NetMeeting - for those registered on the directory - is a success. Once installed it is in fact as available and as easy to use as a stapler.

Key learning #3: understand the readiness of the culture

As the NetMeeting skunk works illustrated, controlled introduction on a selective basis allowed the technology application to be managed to a standard suitable to OldCo. The risk of abuse was managed. The expectation of legitimate business application became an unwritten standard. At the same time, the diffusion of this technology was slow.

How can other organizations assess their readiness for these technologies? Some claim value in conducting quantitative surveys such as those by Collaborative Strategies. Insights on the likely impact(s) of ECT introduction (Roberts, 2000) can help an organization identify, assess and manage the implications.

The technology mentoring system so essential to the skunk works would likely hold promise in supporting future technology introductions helping create a mutually supportive learning environment in the workplace. This low-key but highly personal approach balances high-tech with soft touch - supporting a more people-friendly approach to change management.

While it might take longer, the time invested in actually engaging people in a larger-scale collaboration allows a degree of technology application forgiveness as well as a spirit of continued exploration and progressive learning. This approach encourages greater trouble shooting and more expanded understanding of what could go wrong, what might make it right, how best to use the technology and how everyone can contribute to making things more effective.

Key learning #4: The human problems, not the technological problems, pose the largest challenge in terms of technology applications in the workplace

While the NetMeeting shunk works is viewed as a positive first step, adoption rates and levels of awareness within NewCo seem low. Is this unusual? The experience of others suggests not. While readily available, ECTs like NetMeeting often have moderate adoption rates. Few organizations appear to optimize their potential (Roberts, 2000). This may be because they are introduced without fanfare within a suite of products Microsoft´s NetMeeting is a case in point). Or, it may be that their fit (or not) is individually determined and culturally dependent.

While the approach of our Champion followed some aspects suggested by Everett Rogers (1995), deficiencies existed in terms of the ability to exert extended authority and to encourage effective mass communication supporting the technology. At the same time, Champion did consider and actually followed the five critical characteristics Rogers recommends when considering the introduction of an innovation: relative advantage; compatibility with existing values and norms; complexity; trial ability; and observability. Assessing these five dimensions may provide another way to gauge the potential success of ECT adoption in the workplace.

While organizations, and their leaders, may positively view collaborative models supported by technology-enabled sharing, the availability of the tool isn´t enough to create a collaborative work place. Culture comes first, technology second. A growing community of thought believes "collaboration is not about technology; it´s about culture and training" (Grigar et al., 1996, p. 4).

7. Conclusions

The concept of collaboration is not a new. More than 2500 years ago in ancient Greece, the agora was the forum used to bring people together for the purposes of discussing business. The agora became central to Greek culture.

Whether or not the electronic collaboration tools available today will have the same impact remains to be seen. While the concept and value of collaborating is endorsed by most the route to the optimum end is not so clear. While we are witnessing many exciting Internet-stimulated developments, we have merely begun. As Panko (2000) notes "we are only in the early childhood of networking today."

According to Collaborative Strategies, real-time collaboration tools constituted a $500M US market in 1999, more than double 1998. The average growth rate through to 2002 is predicted to be 64% annually. In contrast, teleconferencing and videoconferencing are expected to have average annual growth rates of 19% and 25% respectively (Kandarian, 2000).

Future generations of ECTs are expected to continue combining the best attributes of real-time communication and groupware. As encapsulation processes continue to be refined, some suggest collaboration tools like NetMeeting will allow simultaneous and essentially transparent sharing and control. Digitization and bandwidth growth are seen as key enablers for this ongoing evolution. Collaborative tools will be even more advanced when IP telephony is successfully integrated with the desktop through computer telephone integration (CTI).

Some suggest that further Internet development will be contingent upon our ability to achieve agreements on standards. It is ironic that our ability to use IP technologies for enhanced collaboration may increasingly be required to further advance IP technologies.

While the technology hurdles appear to be manageable, the true test lies with application acceptance and use. Electronic Collaboration technologies must continue to push hard to overcome the adoption hurdles arising from a collaborative culture still in its infancy, and a technology far from mature.

Through the technology advances, the questions continue.

How do business applications of networked technologies get introduced in corporate settings? Who starts the change process? Is a deliberate plan to manage change possible or practical in light of the speed with which new applications are being developed, discovered and introduced?

This skunk works example of NetMeeting illustrates the organic approach one organization perhaps somewhat inadvertently, has taken to on-line collaboration tools. Introduced as it was, in a culture much less change supportive, it is a credit to Champion that NetMeeting survived.


References

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