Forbes: Collaboration is growing, but it's being held back by app proliferation

Updated: Oct 8

In his latest Forbes piece, Cinchy CEO Dan DeMers predicts that once data has been set free to work the way it’s supposed to, collaboration will become its default state.

The data fragmentation caused by apps is the enemy of collaboration

Technology is changing the way we work. It wasn’t all that long ago when “working from home” was a pipe dream. Now, many office workers have the option to work remotely when needed, and a growing population spends more time at home than in the office — and they're actually more productive.


While tech has made it easier for people to work together, it’s still incredibly difficult to get different pieces of technology to work together. That’s why data integration projects can have timelines that span months, if not years, and eat up huge portions of a company’s IT budget.


And most of the time, that’s just to get applications to cooperate and share data. Making them actually collaborate on data is another matter entirely.


Collaboration is not the same as cooperation


A lot of people confuse collaboration with cooperation, and while both are important, there are key differences to understand:


Cooperation means people working together and sharing resources. Collaboration means people working together and sharing resources to achieve a shared goal.

That shared goal makes all the difference.


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Let’s say you and your neighbor are both working on projects in the garage. Cooperation would mean you’re sharing your tools while you build a boat and your neighbor restores an old car. Collaboration would mean you’re sharing tools while working together to make an airplane.

It’s all too rare to find examples of true collaboration in business, especially when it comes to enterprise technology. Companies spend vast amounts of time and resources in the hopes of getting multiple pieces of technology to cooperate and share data, let alone collaborate on turning that data into new and more useful insights.


So what happens instead? You end up needing a third app to get your other two apps to work together, leading to the all-too-familiar “buy or build” conundrum of third-party applications and in-house solutions.


And no matter what you choose, you’re feeding into application proliferation. Instead of cutting down on the number of apps your business needs, you’re adding to it.


Crowdsourcing Makes The Impossible Happen


While examples of collaboration at the enterprise level are relatively rare, when they do happen, they come pretty close to creating miracles.


A great example of this is the technology-driven crowdsourcing phenomenon — with everyone leaving a constant trail of data everywhere they go, applications that can harness all of that information are able to make a big impact.


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Think of how Waze changed the average commute by crowdsourcing traffic data. As social media has proven, people love sharing information with the world. Waze turned that desire (and some GPS data) into a billion-dollar business bought up by Google.


And they’re just a forerunner of the coming trend.


As the internet of things gathers steam and “smart homes” turn into “smart cities,” crowdsourced data will become the new normal. Your smart thermostat already talks to your cellphone to know when you’re out, so it can turn itself off to save energy. What’s going to happen when the entire city is networked like that?


Data doesn’t want to live in isolation; it wants to connect with other data to create a more complete picture. And that’s exactly what will happen, provided technology innovations come up with a platform for integrating such huge amounts of data.


Data Is The Only Infrastructure That Matters


There’s just one thing standing in the way: application overload. Getting that many points of data to work together would potentially require thousands of new apps, each designed to help separate sources of data collaborate to create new information. Each individual app feeds into the problem, creating its own proprietary data that will require new integration systems to be developed. It’s a never-ending feedback loop — and that’s not the way data should work.


It needs to change. As the world creates more data than ever before, the existing systems of data lakes and databases aren't going to cut it. No matter how big a database or how many programs tie into your data lake, you’re faced with a fundamental problem: The data is tied to the applications that create it.


Data is the infrastructure that makes information technology work. And, just like the physical infrastructure in much of the world, it’s time for a much-needed overhaul. Imagine a world where data isn’t tied to any particular application, but is an application unto itself. A world where all data speaks the same language so it can work together effortlessly to make true collaboration easier than ever before. That’s the way data is supposed to work.


ABC: Always Be Collaborating


That may sound like science fiction, but the truth is that it’s not far off. And once data has been set free to work the way it’s supposed to, collaboration will become a default state.


If you think of every point of data as a single pixel, data collaboration is the image those pixels create — full, detailed and vibrant. You’ll be able to see a clearer picture of your business, your audience and your competition than ever before, as a unified system of collaborative data makes new discoveries come to light.


Separate points of data will work together in harmony, and the complicated web of integrative applications and systems will cease to be necessary. Application proliferation can end, as you won’t need new apps to access this unified network of data or to make two systems communicate with one another.


And when data is easy to work with, collaboration won’t be a consideration. It will be a constant — the way it should be.


Join us every Thursday for our Data Fabric learning series as we discuss Data Fabric concepts, roadmaps, best practices, and demos, alongside special guests.

Dan DeMers is the CEO and co-founder of Cinchy, the 2019 Canadian Fintech Company of the Year. He is also an active member of the Canadian Council of Innovators. This article originally appeared in Forbes.

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