It's obvious that the technological communities are thriving, despite the unstable economical situation. I was invited to submit a few topics to several IT and PM conferences that will be held next year. Browsing through the areas of focus of these conferences, I've noticed that there are more and more talks about integration between data sources and software applications.
In the era of Web as a platform, talks about integration are pretty loud indeed. Web-based application developers integrate their products with desktop software, as well as with other online tools. Mashups are hot today. This integration trend does affect the Project Management 2.0 space, as well. Here and there we witness popular project management tools becoming integrated with invoicing, budgeting, time-tracking and CRM applications, to name but a few.
However, many excellent efforts to draw together sets of data and resources utilizing Web 2.0 technologies have inevitably resulted in the creation of many silos of data that users have to interact with on a silo-by-silo basis. This problem is solved in many consumer-oriented Web applications, but in the business space, we are witnessing two major problems of this kind:
Silos within the account. Many collaboration and productivity tools use the words "project" or "workspace" to describe the barriers that they build for their users. Are you running ten projects? How would you like logging into ten different Web sites to see where you stand? This sounds like the first-generation Web, but it's a reality in many so-called "Web 2.0" tools. A user cannot keep and manage his information in one place, as he needs a separate Web page for any piece of information.
This approach kills productivity and does not allow people to manage overlapping activities in one place. Instead of getting things done, users have to jump between sites, looking for the right one to put in their updates. It also stops the network effect, preventing the team from unleashing its collective intelligence.
Silos between accounts. Many project management tools do not integrate the project management data of two different organizations working together. Companies have to have separate accounts and separate plans with duplicate entries. Imagine a LinkedIn where you would have to create a new account for every new company your work for or with. Sounds weird. Nevertheless, many (if not most) of the project management tools, both traditional and "Web 2.0," force you to manage two separate instances. A good comparison in the enterprise world is two companies running two ERP solutions with an integrated supply chain management module versus a purchaser and supplier running completely disintegrated solutions.
So instead of making users productive, many of the so-called Web 2.0 software developers often keep creating those artificial barriers for their users. Solutions that offer opportunities for true user's data integration, such as enterprise work management software, are rare.
Why create these barriers? Shouldn't next-generation applications utilize a different model? For example, e-mail or social networks concentrate the data around the user, not an artificial barrier. A globally unified e-mail network, for example, lets users efficiently communicate, collecting users' data in one workspace, centered on the user. So when the user works on many projects, or with many companies, he or she doesn't have to open ten different e-mail clients. This is one of the reasons why e-mail is the most popular communication tool in most organizations today.
Social networks like MySpace, LinkedIn and Facebook would never have acquired millions of users if they had created similar obstacles for the users.
A user-centric approach and ease of use should be the basis of truly ubiquitous Enterprise 2.0 and Project Management 2.0 applications. All those data silos should be merged in one single data network, so that any bit of information is easily accessible. By opening more collaboration options, this helps to better leverage "the wisdom of the many." Such applications also have the power to give a massive boost to their users' productivity, by making the users' lives easier. People can get more done, when they don't have to waste time on things like bouncing from one workspace to another, searching for the necessary data.
Do you suffer from these data silos? Wouldn't the model similar to that of e-mail and social networks allow enterprises to become more efficient? Let me know what you think in the comments to this post.