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Is online collaboration the future of how companies do business?

Technological Barriers to Online Collaboration

Perhaps the biggest concern a company has when dealing with online collaboration is security. For most companies, data is a valuable commodity. In fact, the correct term for it is intellectual property. The data might include sensitive financial information, proprietary formulas and algorithms or secret research. It's the sort of information that can give a company an edge in the marketplace. It's definitely not the kind of information executives want to share with everyone.

Many people feel the online world is too vulnerable to spies. They cite famous cases in which hackers infiltrated some of the most secure data systems in the world. If hackers can find a way to access information held in the Pentagon's databases, what's to stop them from snooping around corporate files?

While it might be impossible to design a truly hack-proof system, security developers can make it so difficult for hackers to access information that very few people would attempt it. In addition, if the security developers continually update protective measures, it can be difficult for a hacker to exploit the system. The key is to avoid boasting that a security system is perfect. Plenty of hackers view those claims as personal challenges.

Another technical barrier is software-related. Some companies rely on customized software to conduct business. Their software might collect or analyze data in a specific way that isn't supported by commercial products. That could limit the company's choices when it comes to online collaboration. A third-party hosting service wouldn't have the right software installed on its servers. The company would either need to find ways to accomplish the same tasks using available software, allow a third party to have access to proprietary applications or host the collaboration service on its own Web servers.

If two companies want to work together, proprietary software can be an even bigger headache. Should a company share its customized applications with another organization? If not, the two companies will have to find a way to work around the compatibility issue.

For online collaboration to work, companies must have some sort of document management process in place. Otherwise, it's impossible to tell if and when someone has accessed and changed a file. In many cases, it's important to limit the number of active copies of a file to a single version. Otherwise, employees may make changes that are reflected in one copy of a file, but not in any others. There would be no way to ensure that any single copy was accurate. That's why many online collaboration systems only allow one active version of a file at any particular time, though most also archive past versions.

Not all online collaboration challenges are technical. Some of them depend on how humans interact with one another in an online setting. How could that impact online collaboration? Read on to find out.