Full Collaboration- One Step at a Time

Collaboration is a term used with increasing frequency. While Unified Communications (UC) is a suite of capabilities, collaboration is a behavior. UC provides the tool set. Successful collaboration requires modifications in user behavior and attitude as well as business process changes for the enterprise. 

Collaboration is a working relationship among individuals attempting to achieve a goal or goals. Collaboration uses a range of media such as voice, video, text, smart boards, chat, Instant Messaging (IM), graphics, and conferencing- including both voice and video conference platforms. Real time collaboration has become the dominant form.

Behavior Can Limit Success

A problem may occur when a user uses one media of collaboration and refuses to use other media. For example, a user may focus on Instant Messaging (IM) and use it exclusively. One organization discovered a user (an IT staff member no less) that sent about 4000 IMs a month compared to the average user in that organization who sent 300 IMs a month. The heavy IM user rarely used his desk phone.  His calls seemed to always go to voice mail and he seldom wanted to be part of conferencing sessions. His co-workers were forced to use IM exclusively when they communicated with this user and could not avail themselves of other collaboration tools. 

This user's behavior placed the collaboration control on only one end of the connection. Collaboration requires two or more participants selecting the best tool for collaboration, not exclusively one tool. Consequently, his IM behavior severely limited the value and benefits of collaboration tools. 

Monitoring collaboration tool use is necessary to study the use of collaboration tools and their adoption. Poor adoption may mean changing the tool interface, reducing complexity, more training as well as changing the habits of the users.

Initial Adoption

C-level executives are usually early collaboration adopters, as are those individuals that work away from the office or who travel frequently. In many cases, these users have specific cases in mind, not a general application of collaboration tools. 

Audio conferencing is the easiest collaboration tool to deploy and does not require convincing potential users of its value to business operations. Executive sponsorship is beneficial since the budget for the audio conferencing tools is usually directed from above in the business hierarchy. The control of audio conferencing can be a centralized implementation. As the users become accustomed to audio conferencing and with the advent of more media tools, the users should be able to establish and manage an audio conference without any IT support.

Early versions of video conferencing required dedicated video endpoints; however, software-only approaches to video conferencing are becoming common. Central IT control over video collaboration platforms is common, especially for  HD video sessions that use specially designed conference rooms. Free tools like Skype have made video conferencing under user control easy. 

Collaboration Expands

The enterprise starts to focus on the collaboration technologies once an enterprise has passed through the early adoption phase. The implementation choices are wide ranging including:

  • Owning the entire solution
  • Using cloud services
  • Implementing a private cloud version
  • Combining cloud and premise base solutions (hybrid)
  • Using subscription services (these preceded cloud services in the collaboration market)

Whatever technology is chosen, the methods for creating and administering the collaboration connection must be simple, straight forward and logical if the enterprise wants to expand participation. For example, if the connection is one-to-one or a for a few using their desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone, then the conference should not need IT support so central control is not necessary. 

BYOD endpoints have increasingly become collaboration participants. The continued growth of conferencing will depend more on the planning, scheduling, and execution of the actual conference. 

For larger conference groups it may be advisable for IT to be part of the process because most users will not be competent enough to create the conference room and manage it. This type of conferencing facility (called a telepresence room) should be centrally controlled and scheduled by IT. Other information begins to appear with this stage of adoption, such as documents, white boards, data sharing, and graphics.

Managing the business process is also important to making collaboration successful.  For example, a conference that does not start on time with an agenda that is not followed discourages participants from joining future conferences. Poorly managed conferences mean poor productivity. Documenting the follow up to the conference, what was said, actions to taken, and decisions made, further enhances the value of the conference.

Changing Business Processes

Because collaboration and conferencing add to the budget, it must be considered during the planning. The CXOs need to approve the expense. This is an operational expense that will continue every month. 

The user population will likely increase, so the ROI and cost control become important. Reducing or eliminating the expensive IT staff involvements by offering self-service conferencing and collaboration is the best way to contain the costs. 

The addition of collaboration in the business processes becomes evident, enabling less travel, faster decision making, and shorter time to market. The participants will include nearly every employee and may also include customers and business partners. Collaboration tool justification requires the addition of analytics and reporting so the tools in use can be improved, modified, or even eliminated if they do not produce the ROI goal.

Collaboration should not place an unreasonable burden on the users. Collaboration tools need to be easy and intuitive, they should not require a long set up time, require few decisions to be made, and be deployed with modest training. Reducing this burden is necessary if the tools are to become part of the normal business behavior pattern. Collaboration should become a habit.

The Business Changes

Wide spread use demands that collaboration tools produce measurable and sustainable business performance improvement. The internal business processes improvement should demand fewer resources and be performed more rapidly. The tool usage at this evolutionary stage changes the way business is conducted. 

This can produce lower costs, faster delivery of products and services, more efficient business processes, and greater customer satisfaction. To get to this point, C-level executives have to have bought into the collaboration implementation early on and become role models in the use of collaboration.

No Guarantee of Collaboration Success

Collaboration planning and  implementation needs to happen at the business process level. Consider case level implementations. Don't think of collaboration as just another way to make contact with others. Focus on specific departments and types of end users. 

Look for the pain points and investigate how collaboration tools can reduce or eliminate them. This helps define the instructional requirements and improved adoption by the end users. 

Do not assume that collaboration will be used. You need to change the user's behavior to really gain value from collaboration. Merely offering the tools, no matter how good, cannot make it successful. 

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