Collaboration has become quite the buzzword within business recently as leaders start to realise one of the future success factors of surviving in the digital age is dependent on enabling a collaborative environment. And this is for many reasons, improvements in communication, an empowered workforce and importantly, the ability to continuously innovate at a time where innovation can mean the difference between business success and failure.

There are many examples of collaboration within business. Google for instance introduced the concept of Google Garage. A space where “Googlers can come together from across the company and learn, create, and make.” Apple has always been known as a collaborative company, as referenced in this interview with the late Steve Jobs where he talks about how the company is organized like a start-up. AMP Bank in Sydney spend time with their employees side-by-side to understand how they work and how new technologies and strategies can enhance their personal and professional lives. Cisco leverages a collaborative environment to crowd source issues and requests, enabling them to find the best and fastest solutions for improved customer experiences.

So we can all agree that collaboration is a necessity. As businesses move to become digital businesses, adapting internally so that functional areas do not operate in silo is a real imperative.

So where does integration come into it? There are many definitions of integration. Here we are referring to integration as systems, as technology that enables collaboration. Interestingly, there are very few examples of businesses that are successfully combining collaboration with integration, which is somewhat odd given the amount of tools and systems that are now available for businesses to utilize. There is very little point investing in a collaboration tool that is never used and in this day and age, there is very little point having a meeting to collaborate on something without the tools to enable further collaboration and effective progress. Time and time again, systems and tools are introduced into the organization to promote and encourage collaboration yet they fall by the whey side because there isn’t an explanation of why it has been introduced, the reasons for using it and how to use it – therefore you end up with just another platform or tool that becomes a burden for the employee rather than an aid.

Collaboration & Integration are key parts of a continuous journey, and also key elements of successful digital business. What they require however, is combined focus and a committed driving force to keep both moving forward to generate value for the customer. What is important is understanding the parameters of both as part of a wider digital business strategy, how far it should be pushed across audiences (and by audience, I mean not just employees but customers, supply chain/partners and wider stakeholders). In addition, they require ownership. Who owns collaboration and integration in the organization? Motley Fool has a Chief Collaboration Officer (CCO) who is charged with making collaboration part of the daily doings of the company. Of course, this responsibility could also fall to another member of the C-suite. So who owns Integration? You could argue this is the future role of the CIO, who historically has been kept at arms length from the senior leadership team. This would make sense given the growing importance of the CIOs role and responsibility in driving the organization from being a traditional business to a digital business and all that entails. And then of course there is the challenge of bringing these two roles together so that they are not working in isolation. Moving forward, both of these roles will be integral to building a digital culture internally across the wider workforce.

As our working environments change due to the combined forces of technology advancement and customer demand, the need for collaboration and integration to work together will be key. Workers will be spread across many time zones, employee demands will be greater, and technology will continue to advance. In the end, the future workplace will be a digital and analytical environment and businesses should be starting the journey now to put a workplace infrastructure in place that accommodates this – one that smartly enables innovation to increase competitiveness and the bottom line.