Getting to a Collaborative “Run” in Your Organization

Hint: When your Real-Time Collaborative Tools are Part of the Fabric of Your Day-to-Day Communications – You have Arrived!

450981265Better collaboration leads to better organizational performance. If your organization can collaborate better it will perform 3 to 6 times better than it’s competitors.

This is Part III of a series of blogs about moving your department or organization through the different stages of collaboration.  I drew the analogy that going through this process was like learning to crawl, then to walk and finally to run.  Taking small steps, developing confidence through increased strength and balance and then, with that confidence and organizational muscle in place, moving to a collaborative run.

Let’s do a quick review of the Crawl-Walk of collaboration that most organizations or departments go through.

Step 1: The “Most Important Meeting”  – The Crawl

Identifying your “Most Important Meeting” and taking small steps to improve the richness of that meeting experience for all participants to accelerate collaboration.

Step 2: Team Activities In Between the “Most Important Meetings” – The Walk

Increase collaboration much more significantly by injecting a higher level of collaboration into the team activities that happen in between the “Most Important Meetings”.

Step 3 and 4 take you to a collaborative run:

Step 3: Extend Collaboration to Partners

Step 4: Extend Collaboration to Customers

You can take steps 3 and 4 using the same sets of tools, so although I categorize them as different steps they are only different in that you are reaching outside of your organization to a different group of collaborators; business partners or customers.

Which tools are best to use to collaborate with Partners and Customers?

The options are really endless and there is no one right answer.  But the richer the experience, the better the collaboration.  And even more important is finding tools that can easily get you going.

Getting going is probably one of the bigger frustrations I see in large and small organizations, but for different reasons.  In large organizations the frustration seems to stem from having to wait for tools that must be vetted and approved by the part of the organization that is responsible for the corporate strategy and management of the tools.  However, the process and time taken to figure out the answers to the strategy questions, the security questions and the ongoing management questions, can frustrate many departments who want a richer collaborative experience now.

In smaller organizations the issue seems to be more around cost.  Spending money on the technology to help them collaborate better is not often high up on the priority list.  It takes an understanding of the incredible benefits your organization can realize from better collaboration to see past any upfront cost you have to incur.

And then there is a common frustration that both large and small organizations face: a lack of standards across organizations so collaborating with partners or customers becomes doubly difficult.  If all you need to do is talk to someone, then there is no problem, because you can call anyone, anywhere if you know their phone number. But if you want to go beyond voice and collaborate through video and content sharing, there is no common platform equivalent to the telephone system.

There are ways to get started collaborating outside your organization, beyond a phone call, with customers or partners and rather than identify individual tools, I am going to create 4 categories of tools:

  1. Free tools
  2. Meeting tools
  3. Unified Communications and Collaboration tools (UC&C)
  4. Managed Services tools (Outsourced tools)

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Free Tools – Like Skype

One of the great things about Skype is that there are millions of Skype users and just about anyone you want to collaborate with has a Skype account.  So connecting with someone in another organization is easy if you both have a Skype account.  And there are millions of people every day who do just that.  Even in large organizations there are millions of minutes of Skype calls every year because that is the easiest way to connect with just about anyone.

But Skype also has its challenges.  And when you are working with customers it is especially important that your meeting doesn’t get hijacked by the technology.   If the technology interrupts your meeting you could be losing a lot more than just your time.

Meeting Tools – Like WebEx

Tools like WebEx are one of the easiest most reliable ways to connect with anyone outside your organization.  WebEx works on just about any device. It can provide a very rich experience and you can connect using a good old telephone call if you don’t have an Internet connection.

WebEx also offers many different meeting types (Meeting, Event Center, Training Center, Support Center) and it is as easy as sending an email to invite your customer or partner to a meeting.

Recently WebEx has made their great product free.  The free version doesn’t give you all the premier features and has a limit on the number of people you can invite to a meeting, but it does get you started with probably the best and most reliable collaborative meeting software available for customer or partner meetings.

Finally, WebEx can integrate into Cisco’s Telepresence room systems which more and more customers are doing.  See this blog.

UC&C Tools

In Part II of the blog series I talked about how UC&C tools really accelerated collaboration between individuals within an organization.  Anytime you can use collaboration tools to either increase productivity or more importantly cut down process time, you are realizing a big ROI on your collaborative investment.

But UC&C tools tend to be used primarily within an organization and not between organizations.

Why?

These tools are vendor specific and require organizations to ‘federate’ to be able to use full suite of collaboration tools together. Federate here means the separate UC&C systems at two or more organizations are linked to allow cross organizational collaboration.  So organizations need to:

  • Have UC&C tools that will talk to other UC&C tools
  • Allow other companies to connect to their UC&C platform.  Even if two organizations both have Lync, they still have to federate before they can take advantage of the full UC&C suite of capabilities.

These factors become big impediments for organizations to work collaboratively with customers or partners.  Can you imagine if the reliable ‘plain old telephone system’ (POTS) had these issues?  Making phone calls would have been much more complicated and difficult.

Collaborative Managed Service Offerings

Managed service offerings outsource the collaboration platform and the day-to-day management of the technology.

This offers some distinct advantages when it comes to collaborating with customers and partners:

  1.  It is Easy to Get Started: Any organization can get started immediately, without investing in any infrastructure or room system.
  2. It doesn’t matter what system the customer is using.  A good collaborative managed service will allow different vendor platforms to connect to each other.
  3. It eliminates the need for federation, because the managed service itself becomes the enabler of connecting technologies between organizations
  4. Organizations that already have room systems can use the managed service to connect their room systems to either;
    • Other room systems (of any type) or;
    • To users on their PCs, tablets or mobiles.
  5. A good managed service offering allows users to connect via their browsers using WebRTC

Managed Service offerings are becoming more and more popular as not only the way to get started but also as a viable long term option to develop your corporate collaboration capabilities.  By using a managed service you are moving many of the impediments of collaboration to the cloud.

It works for large organizations or small.  If you are part of a bigger organization, you don’t have to wait for the ‘Master plan’, and if the master plan does arrive you can simply discontinue the cloud service.

In an upcoming blog I will review Collaborative Cloud Services in more detail.

This closes the series of blogs on increasing collaboration in your organization.  The large number and different types of collaboration tools can make things confusing.  If you take the approach of crawl, walk and then running within your organization based on:

        1.  Enriching your “Most Important Meeting” – Part I
        2. Accelerating collaboration between colleagues in the time in between the “Most Important Meetings” – Part II
        3. Collaborating with Customers or Partners – Part III (this blog)

Then the way forward should become clearer.

Remember there is a big payoff if you can accelerate the velocity of collaboration in your organization.

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