Unified communications (UC) and business collaboration tools are supposed to improve workflow, unify dispersed groups and breathe life into teamwork. But for some users, a Web conference is still just a meeting and a wiki is just one more thing to monitor and update. Perhaps UC pros can't change the human psyche, but developing a collaboration strategy ahead of deployment can help avoid application overload and ensure that UC tools match business needs.
Despite growing interest among enterprises around UC and business collaboration tools, a recent survey found that 25% of employees "dread" collaboration because of "the amount of time it wastes." The same survey, however, reported that more than 80% of employees believe "enterprise-wide collaboration is the key to success."
Avanade, a systems integrator jointly owned by Microsoft and Accenture, commissioned market research firm Kelton Research to survey 538 enterprise IT decision-makers, C-level executives and business unit leaders from around the world. Avanade clients or potential clients were not surveyed; respondents were instead drawn from Kelton's user databases, according to a spokesperson for the firm.
"[This dichotomy] is not really technology-related at all. If you see the amount of information that everybody needs to process … it has significantly increased in all industries," said Markus Sprenger, global solutions director of Information Management at Avanade. "I think there is a bit of anxiety [among end users] that you can't stay on top of and manage all of this [information]. That's where the drawback is."
Should IT be worrying about improving adoption of business collaboration tools?
Enterprises wrongly assume that glitzier UC and business collaboration tools correlate to more dramatic increases in productivity, according to Stephen Prentice, a vice president and fellow at Gartner Inc., who addressed the subject in his keynote at Gartner's Wireless, Networking & Communications Summit 2010 in San Diego earlier this year.
Uninterested meeting attendees playing on their smartphones in the conference room are no different from the remote users guilty of "minimize-and-email syndrome" during Web conferences, Prentice said. "Death by PowerPoint" is often the leading cause of user apathy, he added.
"You go to an endless series of meetings and no one gets much of anything done. Why? Because we're too busy going to meetings," Prentice said. "The question [of] what are they good for could equally be placed on meetings and virtual immersive environments."
Although dull meetings sound like a problem for business managers, IT pros need to help develop a sound collaboration strategy to ensure that the technology is matched to the business objective, according to Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.
"IT has to develop a stronger focus on people in order to deliver technology services aligned with their needs," Schadler said. "It starts by walking a mile in the shoes of employees to understand their needs and culminates with a clear description of different employee groups and the services they require, as well as the change management needs they face."
Working with business groups to outline a collaboration strategy and roadmap can help enterprises ensure that their investments in UC and business collaboration tools don't go to waste, according to Sprenger.
"This has to be driven together by IT and business," he said. "I don't think IT can really deploy these solutions without very clear business perspectives, very clear business objectives and very clear business support. Just providing technology without guidance and without a purpose is of limited value."
What IT can do to enhance usage of business collaboration tools
IT's role in developing a collaboration strategy isn't limited to flow charts and outlines. UC and collaboration pros should take an active role in application training and shouldn't assume that most users understand how best to use business collaboration tools, according to Melanie Turek, principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan.
"When companies deploy a new technology, they need to treat it like any other application. If you deployed an ERP or CRM application, you would train people on it. You need to do the same things with your collaboration tools, and a lot of times that doesn't happen," Turek said. "End users either overcompensate and then they feel overwhelmed [by the technology], or they do the opposite and don't use the tools at all and conveniently forget about them."
"Maybe everybody's familiar with instant messaging, but [often not with] Web conferencing or video conferencing, and even a comfort level for instant messaging might not be there," she said. "Even if [users] are familiar with Google Apps, Skype, MSN or whatever, the features or functions in what they're being given by their company are going to be significantly different and probably work differently [from consumer applications]."
UC and collaboration pros can also help enterprises better understand adoption rates and usage behavior with features within products such as Citrix Online's GoToWebinar and GoToTraining, which can monitor "attentiveness," or when attendees move away from the session and switch to another application during a Web conference, Turek said.
Communications-enabled business processes (CEBPs), such as embedding a messaging client within a customer relationship management (CRM) application, may boost adoption of UC and business collaboration tools, she said. But they don't quite foster collaboration, she added, and CEBP remains a distant goal for enterprises.
"We think CEBP is really where unified communications is going to pay off the most significantly, but right now there aren't very many organizations that have done anything with that – the main reason being that, frankly, there aren't a lot of organizations out there that have truly deployed UC," Turek said. "It's a really important part of this discussion, but it's hard to do, and [these are] really still the early days."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer