ColPro

Collaboration Environments for Global Distributed Product Processes
 
Length of the project 1.2.2011 -30.4.2013
3107/31/10

 

Demand

Crossing geographical and temporal boundaries in product process introduce communication and collaboration challenges, which can be addressed by developing digital technologies and the corresponding work practices and processes. Within a virtual, digital space, people meet and collaborate with the help of information and communication technologies, for example when searching for data and communicating by using collaboration tools. During recent years new technologies have become widely used, such as advanced HD videoconference and Virtual Worlds aimed to increase the natural and seamless interaction and communication by supporting real-time, face-to-face meetings. Global companies have purchased these tools and have managed to reduce their traveling costs. Small ‘born-global’ companies utilize the freeware tools available on the Internet.
 
As always, there are pros and cons to these technologies. On the positive side, the benefits include strong feelings of presence and availability among the partners and saving time and money, and reducing CO2 emission when travelling less than before. Some of the disadvantages include the fact that, currently, only a limited set of locations at a time are available for meetings, videoconference equipment is expensive, and meeting times may be inconvenient due to time zone differences.  In addition, implementation and adaptation of these tools are not always easy, and therefore, their use may suffer.
 
Virtual Worlds is another new collaboration technology intended for organizational collaboration. It probably offers employees a more comprehensive engagement and presence than the former generations of collaboration technologies. It can be used for collaborative meetings, for learning and training sessions, large events like presentations or conferences, for product launches by visualizations and simulations, and for product design. Virtual world applications contain many tools: such as, share Word and PowerPoint documents as well as show videos and pictures in addition to talking and chatting. The advantages of virtual worlds are very similar to other online collaboration technologies; for example, they have lower travel costs, provide access from anywhere with an Internet connection, and contribute to rather strong feelings of presence and visibility. In addition, they can be tailored to the specific needs of an organization. The disadvantages include the still early stage of the technology, which results in technological problems and low user-friendliness; for example, the interfaces of different worlds are inconsistent, there is no interoperability between worlds, and avatars can seldom capture users’ real appearance and movement. 

 
Technology and how it works is, however, only one part of the whole picture. The benefits gained from technologies depend on their implementation and adaptation processes and use practices in each working and collaboration environments. The user and collaboration needs arise from the joint tasks to be done, communication and collaboration processes needed for task execution, and the environments where working in concrete takes place. The environments consist - in addition to digital tools - also physical premises and social and organizational context. Person-based characteristics and competences also have their moderating role to play. For these reasons, we propose to study collaboration working environments as combination of infrastructures – both physical, as well as digital, social and organizational structures. 


Solution

The purpose of this research project is to design, analyze, and evaluate new collaborative working environments (CWE) to develop high quality interactions and collaborations in global product processes, for example, when a company is delivering customer services. CWEs are a combination of infrastructures and environments  – including physical, digital, social and organizational structures – supporting individual and collaborative work. We aim to determine factors influencing on their design, implementation, adaptation and use by identifying enablers and hindrances in these environments. We will concentrate especially on the functionality and usability of virtual tools and human and organization practices when companies are operating in different countries and continents and their employees collaborate remotely with each other. Based on the needs of work processes and human actors we will explore new technology possibilities to enhance collaboration as our focus.

Benefits

Finnish industries are globalising their activities strongly. Already two years ago, Finnish technology companies employed over half of their workforce outside the country. It is evident that strategies and company policies must follow this development and better than before meet the challenges and pay attention to how get their networks to function. If 'one-company-policy' is the vision, it is necessary to develop practices of collaborative working environments to meet the needs of tasks, work processes and people working in them. This project will demonstrate and justify ways of using collaboration technologies in distributed workplaces and new ways of working in these places. The results can be used widely in Finnish internationalizing companies.

Contact

Petri Mannonen
Aalto University

Eero Palomäki
Aalto University

Venlakaisa Hölttä
Aalto University