2015 Seasonal Special: COLLABORATIVE

(First published in December 2012 in Informatiebeveiliging magazine in the Netherlands)

For the last time this year we look at Business Attributes from the SABSA Business Attributes Taxonomy, looking at each one from new perspectives. At this time of the year, when we celebrate the passing of the Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Year, it is traditional to feast on rich meats and exotic fruits and to share these with our family and friends in the spirit of peace and goodwill. So, in this article we shall look at something very ‘meaty’, ‘fruity’ and essential to peace, harmony and good business – the attribute ‘collaborative’.

Let’s dwell for a moment on what drives life – human life, any life form, life itself. The answer is, not surprisingly, risk. Without the uncertainty of risk there would be no such thing as life. Life is all about survival, not just in one generation, but also in all future generations – passing on the DNA against the competition from other life forms, both intra-species and inter-species. Competition means winners and losers – the game of life is full of risks. That means opportunities for winning and threats of loss. Being in business is just another thread of life driven by risk-taking – a competitive sport in everyone’s experience.

How did human life succeed in dominating life on earth? Answer – collaboration. We see rudimentary forms of collaboration in other species – for example, wolves that hunt in packs and ants that create organized colonies, but it is humans who have made collaboration their specialization. So, at one and the same time we compete fiercely, but we do it best by forming ourselves into collaborative groups that represent common DNA and common goals. At the primeval level there are families, tribes and nations. Translated into modern human culture we see the same, but now with more sophisticated group structures such as teams, companies, international alliances, joint ventures, and many more. The secret of success is collaboration with the right people on the right activities.

One might even create a Business Attributes Taxonomy that has at its root this one single attribute of ‘collaborative’, and from that single root one could argue that all other more granular attributes can be seen to flow. Let’s look at some that are obviously sub-atomic components of a complex molecular root called ‘collaborative’. Trusted, trusting and trustworthy come to mind immediately, and from these flow all of the operational-risk-related attributes with which we are familiar – the entire taxonomy.

What are the enablers of collaboration? They include many things but here are a few that are essential: intellectual property that can be shared but at the same time protected and leveraged for its value; shared processes that can be used to create end-to-end value chains; shared culture and socio-economic values; semantics of a common language for describing business scenarios and architectural responses; organizational structures and governance models; and above all, relationship management, since collaboration is all about relationships.

One of the fundamentals of SABSA Business Attribute Profiling is the ability to set performance targets and measure actual performance against target. So how shall we approach performance measurement for this attribute ‘collaborative’? When you look at Google’s search results on the phrase ‘measuring collaboration’ you get a lot of research papers popping up. One in particular [Zutshi 2010] has interesting insights, paraphrased here but available in full at http://run.unl.pt/bitstream/10362/2646/1/Zutshi_2010.pdf .

The key driver for collaboration is not idealism, but economic or value reciprocity, the willingness for sharing value when expecting or hoping to get something in return. Apes share bananas with the threat of hunger, but with the opportunity to get more bananas in return. So the key is the exchange of value. There are three aspects: the willingness for sharing value; the value itself and the capability to do so.

From a SABSA point of view the willingness can be expressed as drivers; value can be expressed in terms of performance targets, and the capabilities are the logical services. The eight parameters and sub-parameters discussed in [Zutshi 2010], which address collaboration performance, can be regarded as control and enablement areas.

According to the laws of nature, willingness to share appears to be the greatest when there is an optimal match between ‘genes’ of collaborating organisms or between Business Attributes Profiles (BAPs) of two corporate entities (This analogy between DNA and a Business Attributes Taxonomy is a good one, both from a conceptual point of view and a practical one, as we can see here). This influences the overall performance. The better the match, the better the performance. So, collaboration comes ‘naturally’ and is a matter of comparing BAPs. This willingness also depends on the amount of bananas expected to be hidden in the trees (expressed as business drivers and returns of value).

Collaboration performance is also determined by capabilities. These capabilities are not only technical but also rather socio-technical (people, process and technology). Depending on the number of bananas and the willingness for creating a match, there is some operational risk in the exchange of value, both opportunities and threats. The relationship itself becomes the asset, but is still driven by the same value drivers – the desire for more bananas. We wish you a Happy Solstice, Christmas and New Year, with nice rich meat and plenty of bananas too.

The Attributer