Collaborative Tools

Pablo Brenner talks reverse psychology in IT collaboration

“Ask people to use a special tool [to collaborate] and they won’t use it,” says Pablo Brenner, CEO and co-founder of Collokia over Skype from Uruguayan capital Montevideo. “There should be more natural opportunities for collaboration.”

Brenner has a strong pedigree in tech – he co-founded wi-fi networking company, Alvarion, in Israel back in early 90s and was “part of the working group who started the wi-fi protocol”. Since then he has moved back to his home country and into the field of collaboration for large software companies. “We don’t see ourselves as a Uruguayan company but as a global company,” says Brenner who has teams in the US and Hungary.

“The thing that makes us different,” he explains, “is we integrate collaboration and knowledge management inside the tools professionals use all the time.” The system then uses machine learning to analyse user behaviour (“this was more weird two years ago when we started”) and automatically identifies use cases for collaboration.

In practice, this means the Collokia plugin runs in standard tools – mainly the browser – and observes and then collates user behaviour. Brenner is keen to stress that the system doesn’t keep logs on the sites visited, however, but simply catalogues relevant information.

The benefit of all this is that if a developer is searching round a topic, like machine learning, the system can notify them that someone else in their company is already proficient in this topic so they can pick their brains. “It is very hard to implement guidelines,” says Brenner “they are typically put in a document that nobody uses.”

The idea came about back in 2008 where Brenner entered an ideas competition run by Cisco. He reached the top 10 finalists but the company only reached fruition, albeit in in modified form, in 2014. Collokia secured $1.3M in seed funding in June 2016 from Argentinean Globant – where Brenner was formerly VP of innovation – and has plans to seek series A shortly. The system was initially trialled with Globant’s 6,000-strong worldwide developer pool and now, Brenner says he is working with 10 or so big software companies in India and Latin America, which are focused on IT outsourcing, although he can’t name names. 

What struck me as interesting in all this though is that it takes a reverse approach to typical collaboration tools. “We started on the assumption that people are lazy and don’t want to collaborate,” says Brenner who describes a new feature called ‘plea for help’ which works the opposite way round from most tools, because it starts with the question rather than the knowledge.

This means if someone needs help on a particular topic the system can recommend experts within the company and send the question straight to them. “People do answer,” says Brenner because people generally do try to help if directly asked, they just aren’t proactive.

The aim is to use automation to help create an environment similar to Stack Overflow inside a company. This could be as simple as offering pop ups on a library telling individuals to avoid this particular site (“programmers spend a lot of time using the wrong library”) and also help to attach skills to a developer. “We’re building life CVs on people,” says Brenner.

This may seem a little worryingly intrusive, but Brenner doesn’t think so. He stresses that the system is only looking at technology skills not what people are generally reading online at work. “Like any tool, it could be used in a bad way,” he concedes, but he does not feel there should be any concern that employees will be categorised within an organisation based on the number of skills they have because this is too hard to define. Some people have broader knowledge some people have deeper knowledge.

Brenner believes the real benefit in all this is you can place staff according to their interest and expertise. “Often people have a very deep knowledge on something and are underutilised,” he says. “This makes it easier for them to find things to work on things they really love.”


Also read:
Argentina’s Globant is galloping ahead


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