Making a case for collaboration

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Making a case for collaboration

[Blog post] Tap into your company’s people power.

Most organisations are already on a journey to looking at what digital means for their customers, distribution channels and major partners.

And yet it’s surprising that so few are bringing the same focus, energy and discipline to their collaboration strategy as they do to their digital customer strategies.

Having worked in a few progressive organisations that have had a focus on internal collaboration, I am convinced that improving the communication between your own staff is just as important as better interactions with your customers, partners and shareholders.

I am concerned that too many large organisations have been sluggish in terms of building out this capability.

The time is right

Collaboration projects have until very recently been rolled out in a slow and haphazard manner. Organisations like the big banks and insurance companies have the right intent, but have invested in a hodgepodge of various unified communication systems, applications and infrastructure that’s difficult to integrate.

Wherever there is no standard approach to collaboration, staff tend to seek to solve the issue by introducing their favourite apps from home into the workplace. In doing so, the complexity is confounded further, not to mention the headaches caused to security teams.

The cost of providing staff the collaborative experience they expect in the workplace – an experience they enjoy daily in their personal lives – works out to be far more affordable if framed against the cost of not providing that experience – support headaches, security issues, poor morale and staff churn.

Emerging entrants to your market aren’t likely to be encumbered with legacy approaches to communication systems. They will have collaboration embedded into their DNA through both a tendency to hire Gen Y employees and a genuine belief that seamless collaboration gives them an edge.

In my view, it has never been a better time to accelerate your efforts in this space. We’re finally starting to see the technology come close to catching up to the vision.

How should you be collaborating?

In the past, when you referred to someone’s “workplace” it usually meant their physical office location, but today it can refer to anywhere staff are able to connect to their organisation and peers and get their work done.

Staff should be able to effortlessly communicate with each other via voice, instant messaging and video from their device of choosing. That might soon include their smart watch or their eyeglasses.

They should be able to collaborate with each other and their communities via an internal social network that enables sharing and the co-creation of content. And it shouldn’t especially matter where they are connecting from, if we get the access and identity management piece right.

Meetings should bridge the gap between those who work side-by-side with those that can’t be in the same physical space.

For many of you, this isn’t new. You’ve experienced it. But did you experience it at work?

My point is: soon collaboration will be so pervasive that staff won’t think it is a big deal anymore.

What’s been missing from an enterprise IT perspective is seamless integration of communication devices and platforms, irrespective of the vendor. Most of the major vendors are acutely aware of this interoperability challenge, and the situation is improving every day.

Collaboration pays dividends

There have been many studies that have tried to quantify the benefits of collaboration. As far back as 2010, Salire Partners found that nearly 80 percent of companies who focus on collaboration see a positive ROI of 100 percent with payback periods between 21 to 40 months. 

In my experience, increased collaboration in the workplace leads to a happier environment where staff feel empowered, tasks are accomplished faster and there is a genuine sense of community.

A 2011 Harvard study concluded that happiness leads to success in nearly every life domain, including work performance. Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, argues convincingly that the greatest advantage in today's economy is a happy and engaged workforce.

His evidence suggests happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome; increasing sales by 37 percent, productivity by 31 percent and accuracy on tasks by 19 percent.

Outside of the major tech vendors, collaboration hasn’t taken as big a hold in Australia as it could or should have – certainly not inside the largest banks and insurers. There are other industries that seem to be making progress.

Woolworths has gone down the Google path and has now become one of the search giant’s biggest installed bases of collaboration tools, following in the steps of media companies Fairfax and News Corp.

Thousands of Woolies staff across the country collaborate using Google Apps and the Google+ platform. The project has enabled staff who previously didn't have access to adjacent brands and divisions to communicate and share ideas.

Woolworths talk about three key measures of success for their collaboration project - improved staff productivity, improved staff engagement and an increase in pride in the company. It’s a commendable way of thinking about success when it comes to collaboration.

Telstra is another company that pioneered in this space. In a speech in June 2013, CEO David Thodey noted that Yammer (a private social network from Microsoft that helps employees collaborate across departments, locations and business apps) had completely transformed the organisation and created a far more open culture.

The telco has more than 20,000 employees using the platform day-to-day and is now one of the top ten users of Yammer in the world.

How to accelerate your collaboration strategy

So what should you do to provide a connected workplace?

The first step is to get your executives to prioritise collaboration. It’s tempting for them to put collaboration on the back burner because it isn’t a revenue generating activity. Arm yourself with the data to show that its value to the business can be measured.

In its simplest form, your strategy should clearly articulate how people within the organisation will be able to connect to foster collaboration. You need to establish a vision, purpose, principles and expected outcomes for your future workplace.

At minimum, your strategy should include:

  • unified communications – covering integrated voice, video, instant messaging and presence technology;
  • co-creation of content – the ability for multiple people to edit any document in real time;
  • social networking and the capability to share ideas - both within and between organisations in your ecosystem;
  • connected workspaces – the integration of legacy and new virtual and physical workspaces across your organisation including support for activity-based work environments;
  • collaboration management – the policies and tools for managing the environment and support for BYOD, security and integration of various participation assets. 

Next, you need to choose the right technology solutions and articulate a roadmap. Your choices will affect the entire organisation so it is important to get this right.

Right now, there is a battle going on between vendors like Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Cisco as to who will “own” this domain.

While it may be tempting to go for a best of breed approach, my advice is to try not to integrate too many vendor products. Try to avoid a hybrid of vendor technologies that don’t come pre-integrated – it’s typically difficult to manage and puts off the users.

Conversely, you need to pick the most ‘open solution’ that doesn’t lock you in, as I suspect you’ll need to adapt to rapid improvements in this technology over the coming years.

Next, engage with your people and involve them on the journey. The key point to remember is that technology does not collaborate, people do. Investing in change management is essential. 

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Jeff Jacobs
Jeff Jacobs, a 25-year veteran of enterprise IT in Australia, has held senior IT positions for AMP, CommBank, Westpac and Zurich. In '20/20 Strategy', Jacobs argues that Australian business and government needs to focus on building an IT capability, and not be blinkered by short-term delivery of 'solutions' and 'projects'.
Read more from this blog: 20/20 Strategy

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