Increasing the Velocity of Collaboration in Your Organization
Using technology to bring people together over distance has become a commonplace activity but the number of options available to do this is mind-boggling. And most importantly, getting clarity on a solution can be difficult.
Collaboration is a powerful force. Organizations recognize this and use collaboration technologies in strategic ways.
There are strategic goals that can help your organization cut costs and drive revenues.
The Four Goals Are
- Enhance communication
- Speed problem solving
- Accelerate innovation
- Transform the way you do business
At a high level, organizations are looking to connect room systems and individuals together over distance with the following possible combinations:
- Room system to Room system(s)
- Room system to Individual(s)
- Individual to Individual(s)
In our last blog, we talked about the 4 different kinds of conferencing technologies:
Creating the Right Balance of Technologies
The idea is to create the right balance of technologies for individuals and for room systems that suit your organization. The capabilities and the costs of these conferencing technologies are different and each of these conferencing technologies brings a different dimension of richness to the collaborative experience. Think about this in terms of creating the right balance of the technologies. I like to use the analogy of a spinning top, which is made up of these four conferencing technologies. Each of the four technologies has a different cost to implementing it and brings an associated benefit or richness of experience.
The Spinning Top Analogy
1) You must have audio to effectively have any kind of real time conference. As audio is table stakes, it is the point of the top. Without audio the top will not spin. Without audio other conferencing technologies are simply ineffective.
2) The portion of the top that each of the 4 modalities makes up relates to the richness of that conferencing modality. How robust does your Top need to be?
3) There is also a related dollar cost to each of the conferencing modalities and those cost figure into the overall cost-benefit equation.
The Velocity of Collaboration Revisited
In my last blog, I adapted the four conferencing modalities described above from the Frost & Sullivan, Velocity of Collaboration model. Your organization’s Velocity of Collaboration will be determined by two factors:
1) The Richness of the conferencing capabilities that are deployed
2) The Access your employees are given to these technologies (Access = Availability + Usability)
The “Richness”, combined with “Usability” and “Availability” of the technology will determine the Velocity of Collaboration that your organization can attain.
The Velocity of Collaboration Formula
An organization must decide which of the conferencing technologies are required for connecting over distance. With these benefits you can determine the level of collaboration that can be achieved.
This graphic below shows the relative richness of the conferencing modalities. Richness, together with how you have deployed the technology, your Access (= Availability + Usability), determines how your collaborative capabilities will increase.
Create an Enabler to Greater Collaboration Within the Organization
Once user based collaboration capability requirements are determined, you can select the technologies for meeting rooms and for individuals connecting into conferences. This process is critical and avoids a lot of wasted effort. It also brings a cohesive approach to the technology roadmap your organization requires and helps turn the patchwork of technology found in most organizations into a tapestry.
Going back to the RFI discussion in Part I of this blog, the customer would like Teleconferencing and to layer in Webinars when an Internet connection is available. Teleconferencing, also known as audio conferencing is the most basic form of conferencing technology hence it provides the least “Rich” collaborative experience. Note the customer’s interest in webinars made possible via web conferencing reflects a desire for a richer collaborative experience.
That is why I asked the questions:
- Will the solution they select really meet their needs?
- Do they truly know what they want?
- Do they know what is possible?
I think the answer to each of these questions is “No”.
The ET Group has helped many organizations through this process. Please contact us if we can be of assistance to your organization.
Conference Room Audio Visual Solutions are an Integral Part of a Well Executed UC&C Platform
Unified Communications (UC) has been around for the last 15 to 20 years, maybe longer.
When I first heard about UC, it was about how IT and Telecom would come together. Fast forward to today and IT & Telecom have come together – in more flavours than most Baskin & Robbins stores carry. There is no single, clear path that every organization can follow to get to a UC platform. In fact, in most organizations there are different paths. It depends on where you are starting from and where you want to go. There will be an upcoming blog article discussing the different paths an organization can follow to implement UC.
More often than not, an organization starts with a patchwork of technologies. To capture the numerous benefits (ROI) from UC, that patchwork has to be transformed into a tapestry.
The benefits of UC are significant and are realized when you focus on solving business problems instead of applying technology.
But you still need the technology. And it is not apparent how rooms systems and conference room design are an integral part of UC and the broader picture UC&C, where the second “C” stands for Collaboration.
The systems that are found in boardrooms, meeting rooms, training rooms and other types of corporate meeting spaces were traditionally the realm of the Audio Visual (AV) world and managed by corporate Real Estate Operations. Those rooms have become connected beyond the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) line, and the responsibility for the technology in those rooms has been/is migrating to IT.
Today those rooms need to be connected for 4 types of conferencing:
- Audio conferencing
- Video conferencing
- Web conferencing
- Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) / Smart Board conferencing
Deciding which of these conferencing technologies should be available in a meeting room will determine the level of collaboration that the meeting room is capable of enabling. I will be doing a blog post shortly on conferencing technologies enabling collaboration.
A best practice for implementing UC&C is to identify your user base and group them into User Classes. You should have between 3 and 12 User Classes. A lower number is better, even for very large organizations. Having the defined User Classes lets you move to the next step – mapping the technology each user class requires to do their job – PC (desktop / laptop), telephone (fixed / mobile / soft), tablets and other (headsets, etc).
So, how does UC&C tie into audio visual communication room systems?
The same best practices to implement UC&C hold true for room systems. Meeting rooms and spaces require a clear definition of what collaborative technology is required in the room to support the four different conferencing technologies listed above. But they need to support those technologies in relation to the UC platform deployed. For example, this means that the video in the room system needs to be compatible/integrated with the video used in the UC platform.
Having the ability to connect remote participants into the room technology conferencing modalities to support the level of collaboration required is critical in a UC&C environment. Being able to easily connect workers seamlessly into the room/meeting spaces is paramount to capturing the benefits and ROI that UC&C can bring.
To facilitate the collaboration and innovation in your organization you need to:
- Allow workers to easily connect with their UC technology platform, into the meeting rooms or spaces – UC to C, with all the different UC media types that are used by the workers; voice, video, desktop sharing, IM.
- Make the remote experience as good as being there
The penalty for poor implementation is not taking full advantage of collaborative technology ROI.
People will continue to travel, resulting in lost savings and productivity reduction. Also, real estate reduction benefits will not be realized because the workers will still come into the office. And those lost benefits can be huge.
If there are many meeting rooms in an organization, it makes sense to create room standards for up to a dozen meeting room types and implement those standards throughout the organization. This will make the technology decision for the rooms simpler, consistent and easier to use and support. An upcoming blog post about the benefits of creating room standards for multiple meeting rooms will be coming soon.
The benefits of tying your UC platform seamlessly into your room systems are significant. Doing it right requires proper planning, standards, integration and training. If you have any questions about connecting your room systems to your UC platform, contact us.
3 Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Collaboration in Your Company
Boosting your collaborative capabilities does not have to be a huge investment. To be clear here, I am talking about real time or interactive collaboration which is a combination of 4 different conferencing technologies – audio, web, video and interactive whiteboards (IWB).
A budding franchise business customer (Bud) recently called me in frustration and told me, although he loved Skype, he could no longer use it in his business. Why? In a one hour conference call, he would spend half his time managing the technology in the call and every second counts. The cost of using this popular conferencing technology was a lot more than nothing. Not only did he spend half his meeting time managing the technology but he lost his focus and his credibility with the other meeting participants – his franchisees.
Bud didn’t have a lot of money to invest in an extravagant room system but he needed a better collaborative experience because he was building his franchise business up and needed to hold regular meetings and more importantly, training sessions with his franchisees who were spread out over a large geographical area. Traveling in to a central location was not a practical solution. The franchisees could not justify the time out of the field, nor the investment in travel.
He thought that he needed to upgrade to a higher end video system which could handle multiple locations all tied into a stable, single video call. Although this type of solution would certainly enrich the collaborative experience for all the participants, a room based video system for all the franchisees was out of his budget and would not deliver as rich an experience as was available at a much lower price tag.
I suggested a three pronged approach.
He needed to enrich the audio experience because audio is “table stakes” for any type of collaboration or conferencing experience. If you don’t have audio, you don’t have a conference, no matter how rich the other conferencing technologies are. I recommended a new Polycom star phone for approximately $500 which is capable of analog or IP telephony. This investment will serve him today (analog) and tomorrow, when he switches to IP.
“Now when we talk, we don’t have to time when we talk because the Polycom system handles the voices coming from both sides of conversation without cutting off pieces of the conversation. It is a much more natural audio experience.”
He was thrilled with his investment because the richness of the sound quality of his conferences went way up. And it was little things that made a big difference.
I told him that he should invest in an interactive whiteboard from SMART technologies. The SMART board provides the richest collaborative experience available. When people discover what they can do with this tool they are amazed. And a power user looks like a magician on the board when they are conducting a meeting with it.
During a meeting you can use any application that runs on a PC, annotate and capture the image of the annotations on the application as a whiteboard (or flip chart) page. Websites, PowerPoint, Excel, Visio, PDF, etc. At the end of the meeting, everyone gets an email of the PDF of the pages of the meeting notes – instantly! And the board can be cleared up and ready for the next meeting in seconds by simply hitting the reset button.
These features alone can be worth the investment. And take note, this capability can be used in any meeting – even if there are no remote participants. So how did the SMART technology go over with the franchise company? They love it! But not without going through a bit of a learning curve because he had never heard of or seen a SMART board before I recommended it. Bud took the upfront training, but it wasn’t until he actually started using it and became comfortable with it, did he really start to appreciate his new collaborative tool and the richness it added to their meetings.
Web conferencing or sharing of the desktop. There are numerous offerings out there that are available from free to a WebEx or GoToMeeting price point of about $40-$50 dollars a month. In this case I recommended the SMART Bridgit software because it provides the features required and provides the ability to share the SMART board screens with any PC, Mac, iPad or Android tablet. The Bridgit software is particularly good for interactive training sessions, where there are many participants collaborating.
So none of Bud’s franchisees had to go out and buy new technology. They could use their existing personal technology to actively participate in the meetings being held at Bud’s office. The Bridgit software provides a richer platform for many-to-many collaboration vs the one-to-many collaboration which is the strength of the GoToMeeting and WebEx software.
Bud has taken a major step forward in collaborating with his franchisees. His meetings are now focused on doing business and not managing technology. The experience is richer which allows him to more effectively work with his franchisees and grow their businesses together.
The three quick hitters:
- Upgraded audio experience with a new rich and reliable Polycom SoundStation
- A SMART board to bring the collaborative experience new and enriched capabilities.
- Bridgit conferencing software to allow Bud to share the SMART board with the PCs, iPads, Macs and Android tablets of his franchisees
Bud still wants to add video to the mix in the future and he has some great options open to him:
- For $100 he can add a USB camera to the SMART board and turn on the video if he wants to talk live to the franchisees (this is not an HD experience but does provide video if you only need it in small doses)
- He can use a number of video software products that range from free to under $50/mth per port (HD, adaptive bandwidth, no special network quality of service (QoS) required)
- He can go to a high end room system with a dedicated codec, camera and large screens for video (there are a range of options here as well)
Upgrading your collaborative experience does not have to be expensive and the returns can be huge. Putting in the right tools to support and enhance how you work together with people and increase your velocity of collaboration is paramount.
New Collaboration Tools That Fit Your Strategy
Collaboration is a hot word amongst the leading IT companies like CISCO, IBM and SAP. They are all using ‘collaboration’ as a catch all word to describe the new ways that staff and customers can interact with each other. The word means slightly different things to each of these companies, but they all describe two key components.
Two Main Collaboration Components
- The physical aspect of collaboration, meaning the surroundings in which we find ourselves to collaborate.
- The Virtual aspect of collaboration, meaning the tools we use to communicate.
A more traditional interpretation of collaboration includes web conferencing – screen sharing, audio conferencing and video conferencing and not necessarily Unified Communications.
Roughly 25% of small businesses will have a social media presence in upcoming years. As businesses look for new ways to remain competitive online, a social media strategy will become a more attractive option for businesses of all sizes.
A new breed of collaborative tools embraces traditional and new ways to participate in collective thoughts, ideas and project/people development. CISCO and IBM for example both feel that social networking in the business is a significant way to collaborate – think of it as Facebook for your business, a place to share thoughts and ideas, share files (images, videos etc.) to find people in your organization, to save a profile about yourself and others, to message board or chat. CISCO Quad and IBM Connections both offer these sorts of features, as well as others such as SpeechBobble.
The good thing about social media is that it’s possible for businesses of all sizes to do something – even if it’s small. From company blogs to collaboration in online communities, there are lots of ways for businesses to make this leap.
- Another separate yet relevant web collaboration approach is more directly related to projects and sharing the goals and objectives online in a community, Microsoft Team Foundation Server is an example of this type of tool, with deep integration with IT software project development it caters to a slightly different collaborative mode of working, yet has social network features built in
- Basecamp is another example of an ‘online project collaboration tool’, with a very large user community it is focused on the project approach to collaboration.
- It also has many of the social networking tool features that are found in the products from IBM, CISCO and others mentioned above, such as message boards, ideas forums, file sharing and more.
So when we talk of collaboration, it is important to distinguish if the tools and technologies are live (or real time) or passive (non-real time). Most of the tools above would be considered as passive tools, and don’t require all parties to be on a call together, communicating with each other at the same time. ET Group has focused our attention on the active collaboration tools allow conferencing via interactive whiteboards, the web, video and audio. These are all considered real time collaboration technologies and are part of every company’s collaborative ecosystem.
Most companies have an informal collaborative ecosystem. But more and more this needs to be formalized and managed to capture the benefits that collaboration has to offer. Contact us if you want to learn more about collaboration technology.