I found that staff directories were merely lists of names, titles and phone numbers - without listing people's expertise, qualifications, experience, current projects and interests.
The only way to get to know and understand the skills of staff in most other areas was to discover them by word of mouth or meet them at work functions.
Collaboration was limited to face-to-face working groups, flying people around the country to attend meetings, or sending draft documents to others by email or on paper and asking for feedback. Sometime comments were returned written on document print-outs, in long-hand reminiscent of a doctor's prescriptions.
Even when document edits were tracked changes, compiling and reconciling the edits from different people in such a process could take days, if not weeks, before the document was ready to be recirculated for re-review.
While these collaboration systems were slow and clumsy, people - public servants - made them work. I worry about whether it also made best use of peoples' skills, departmental time and public money.
Recently Frost and Sullivan released a report which defined the productivity gains both public and commercial sector organisations can gain from more advanced collaboration techniques.
Reported in NextGov and titled Meetings Around the World II: Charting the Course of Advanced Collaboration (PDF), the report
surveyed 3,662 professionals in businesses and government agencies about their use of advanced collaboration tools such as voice-over-Internet Protocol, instant messaging or meeting via high-definition video to get their work done.The report found that these collaborative tools delivered a return of 4.2x the organisation's investment and that 60% of workers felt that the tools increased their performance.
Is a 4x ROI sufficient to encourage government departments to invest in better collaboration tools? I hope so - and look forward to more productive collaboration with my colleagues in the years to come.