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Business collaboration benefits: Assessing the technology

In the first part of our four-part guide on facilitating business collaboration, we assess the technology issues that drive the need for effective

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unified communications collaboration and present a business case for using collaboration in your enterprise.

A new virtual workplace gives rise to business collaboration services

The workplace is undergoing a drastic transformation due to converging technological and economic developments. Employees are less frequently tied to a single office and increasingly work from a variety of locations, including home, hotels, temporary offices and from the road.

Table of contents

Part 1 – Assessing business collaboration benefits

Part 2 - Business collaboration architecture types and vendors

Part 3 - Questions to ask your collaboration vendors

Part 4 - Collaboration services: Decisions and final factors

Workgroups extend around the world and even across company boundaries. The rapid adoption of cloud applications and mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, are changing the way individuals interact with each other. In addition, consumer collaborative services such as Skype and Facebook are drawing business users who are frustrated with the lack of equivalent, corporate-approved collaboration applications.

Key drivers shaping these trends vary. Many companies allow teleworking to reduce facilities' costs and provide more flexible work models. The global nature of business means that tasks like product development, manufacturing and marketing often involve partnerships among multiple organizations. Plus, ever-increasing mobile device use is transforming the workspace. As a result, work is no longer a place; rather it's what you do from a variety of locations in coordination with individuals from around the world.

Finally, IT is faced with growing competition from consumer services. Failing to provide adequate business collaboration tools means that your users will often go out on their own and use applications outside of IT's control. Not only does this mean a lack of company-wide collaboration standards, but you are also less able to enforce security, risk and compliance standards.

IT and business leaders must accept that the virtual workforce demands more robust and interactive business collaboration capabilities. For those working from home with limited in-person contact with coworkers, legacy tools like phones and audio conferences are likely to be usurped by video and social collaboration applications.

Failing to provide adequate business collaboration tools means that your users will often go out on their own and use applications outside of IT's control.

Irwin Lazar, VP and service director, Nemertes Research

The trick for managers is to balance the flexibility of the virtual workplace with risk. Strategies must take into account the competitive need to stay ahead of the curve, to embrace rapidly emerging and changing technologies that add value to the organization, and enable faster decision-making, customer responsiveness and agility.

At the same time, IT leaders must understand that keeping up with the changing pace of consumer technology is often impossible or risky. They need to develop UC strategies that provide a migration and/or integration path for legacy systems while addressing governance, compliance and security requirements.

Making a collaboration business case

Perhaps the biggest constraint to creating an effective business collaboration strategy is the challenge of crafting a business case. It's difficult to quantify the value of "better collaboration" in pure dollars and cents. As a result, only about 40% of companies require a business case for investing in collaboration tools, and only 4% use "cost savings" as their primary metric for evaluating success.

Instead, IT and business leaders rely on "softer" metrics such as collaboration application usage and user satisfaction. That's not to say that quantifiable business cases for collaboration investments don't exist; they often do.

Examples of business collaboration business case arguments include:

  • reducing travel by leveraging tools like video and document sharing to improve the effectiveness of remote meetings;
  • improving field-force effectiveness via mobile platforms and video to speed tasks and increase workloads;
  • using "find the expert" tools like instant messaging and social computing to quickly answer customer inquiries, which leads to:
    • measurable reductions in hold times,
    • increases in first-call resolution,
    • shorter project times, and
    • reduced error rates.

Often many of the tangible business benefits from investments in collaboration technologies are vertical, not horizontal. For example, medical organizations may find quantifiable value in leveraging video for telemedicine, while engineering firms may find their biggest bang for the buck is investing in social platforms to enable group collaboration and knowledge transfer.

So what tools make sense for particular organizations? Before going down that road, it's helpful to define exactly what we mean by business collaboration technologies. Nemertes Research Group Inc. breaks the collaboration market into five distinct areas:

  1. Voice: Incorporating phones (desktop, softphone and mobile) as well as audio conferencing/bridging services.
  2. Video: Incorporating mobile, desktop, room-based and immersive video conferencing, user-generated video and video streaming/sharing.
  3. Messaging: Incorporating email, instant messaging, unified messaging and short message service (SMS).
  4. Social computing: Incorporating blogs, wikis, activity streams, content sharing and shared workspaces.
  5. Documents: Incorporating repositories, file shares, search and Web conferencing.

To build a collaboration-based enterprise, integrate all of these technologies into a common set of applications on both the front and back ends.

Business collaboration benefits

  • Reduce risk: Give your employees an effective collaboration environment, and they are less likely to go around IT and bring in consumer products.
  • Reduce costs: Support initiatives like telework and travel minimization while harmonizing back-end applications and leveraging new models like cloud-based collaboration to reduce capital costs.
  • Scalable network architecture: An updated network infrastructure can ensure that what you deploy tomorrow integrates with what you have today.
  • Up-to-date collaboration technologies: Taking advantage of new capabilities such as social computing and video to improve collaboration both internally and externally can give your organization innovative new services for competitive gain.
  • Productive, happy end users: An established collaboration architecture prevents employees from having to use their own smartphones and tablets, which could result in mixing more work with play.

Continue reading this series: Business collaboration architecture types and vendors

This was first published in July 2012

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