By Neal Fiske, Collaboration Consultant MindLink

Technology is driving huge organisational changes within businesses, not least at board level. Alongside CFO, CIO, CEO, CMO, and now Chief Collaboration Officer (CCO) is a term that was coined a few years ago but only now is being clearly defined. The CCO has been labelled the “executive responsible for integrating the enterprise” during periods of growth, but how many CCOs do you know? I’d bet the number is in single figures, if you know one at all.

This is about to change. The imminent rise of the CCO is being spurred on by the proliferation of communication technology in the workplace, including the vast array of social, mobile and professional communication tools being used by employees. According to research conducted by Avande in 2013, companies plan to shift from consumer services to enterprise-class collaboration technologies over the next 12 months. Furthermore, of those businesses currently using collaboration tools, 82 percent want to use more of them in the future, which will require careful management to ensure productive working practices. The Chief Collaboration Officer is neither fad, nor fiction -- but who are they, what do they do, and what does it mean for your business?

Back to basics
Before going into this in any more detail, let’s take a step back and examine exactly what we mean by the term ‘collaboration’? Collaboration is defined as the action of working with others to achieve a shared goal. In a traditional work environment, collaboration is about face to face interaction, in situations such as brainstorms or workshops. But in reality, in the modern workplace, professional collaboration takes place across multiple time zones and offices via real-time channels like phone and conference calls, instant messaging or enterprise chat, as well as document sharing portals like email.

Collaboration underpins daily operations at every business around the world, from managing process faults in manufacturing or customer support, through to adding value and improving outcomes in more knowledge-centric industries such as finance and legal. It leads to greater revenue, improved customer satisfaction, lower operational costs, and increased employee morale and retention. Despite this, most businesses don’t yet regard collaboration as business critical, hence the scarcity of dedicated CCOs. So how can collaboration manifest itself?

Purposeful collaboration
Employees are under increasing pressure to perform in a business environment with more challenges and distractions than ever before. Successful collaboration cannot be achieved through using email for everything, or encouraging greater social media use.

Since 2011 we’ve championed the concept of ‘purposeful collaboration’ in the global, digital business environment. The term refers to a collective attitude towards digital communication, focussing around an ‘always on’ platform that helps colleagues coordinate and exchange business critical information in real time within an organisation. Having a dedicated professional collaboration platform ensures that business departments don’t work within silos. Instead they are able to efficiently share data, feedback and objectives across the business – in a monitored, secure and constantly connected environment. At the helm of the investment and implementation of any collaboration tool should sit the CCO, driving change and driving adoption.

Who is the CCO?
The CCO sits across all departments, from HR and finance to marketing and sales, ensuring that all employees are empowered to make smart business decisions, and are equipped with the tools and data to do so. A business’ CCO needs to have the vital social, management and organisational skills that motivate staff and align goals, driving measurable business results. They also need to have the bravery to take charge of professional communication in its entirety, championing investment in smart technology at board level and ensuring that purposeful collaboration tools are implemented properly.

If collaboration tools are to be successful, they will be a natural extension of the workforce’s united mentality and commitment toward being open and sharing knowledge. Consequently, the CCO must train and educate all employees about the principles and benefits of collaboration when implementing new communication tools.

Right now, the role of the CCO is being cemented by the simultaneous need to streamline internal communications, and the availability of smarter digital collaboration tools for the professional environment. It’s time to reassess the role and success of collaboration within your organisation and consider the impact a CCO could have. Even if you aren’t able to appoint someone in this dedicated role, taking the time to evaluate your business should encourage you to embrace a more productive collaborative ethos at every level.