Collaborative Justice Technology: a compounding investment in the pandemic era (and beyond)

By Ketan Kulkarni Linkedin

In 2021, technology is not only fundamentally changing how industries function, but also the ecosystems they are a part of, in no small part due to the global pandemic. An organization can choose the degree to which they will embrace the purposeful evolution of their ecosystem in uncertain times. The organizations with the strongest embrace will see the other side while also leading the innovation of their industry. Such innovation is the domain of teams of highly collaborative teams versus the great insight of an individual innovator.

Transforming a Traditional Ecosystem

The Justice system is a traditional ecosystem with hardened processes (laws are about as hardened a process as you can get) and well-established training initiatives. Is it possible to apply new technology tools to realize drastic benefits?

The opportunity to improve communication lies in the application of technology, precisely because the processes are hardened and the training is well-ingrained into the traditional culture of Justice systems, wherever you look.

With this backdrop let’s see how the four categories below can be applied to the Justice ecosystem, transform it with collaborative technology and compound the ROI of the initial business case.

©️ ET Group

Operational Savings

The lowest hanging fruits in any ecosystem are operational savings. Operational savings are when you either stop doing something you used to do, or do it differently in a way that allows you get the same result but with less cost. Let’s take the remand process as an example.

Remanded inmates are individuals who do not qualify for bail and who instead are being held in pre-detention facilities, waiting to have their trial. When they are required to appear in front of a judge it is referred to as a remand appearance. Remand appearances require a lot of people and activity to conduct. Accused individuals typically need to spend an entire day being moved from the detention facility to the courtroom and then back. This requires accompanying guards (at least 2, sometimes up to 4), specialized vehicles for transport, all the costs of being away from the facility for the day – food, gas, etc., facilities at the courthouse to hold the prisoners until it is time for their hearing, and the risk of moving prisoners around is inherent in the undertaking.

Applying video conferencing technology to facilitate remand appearances is a perfect example of how substantial cost can be taken out of the ecosystem, maintaining the same end result.

The Operational Savings = Cost avoided / Cost of video conferencing technology

While it is difficult to obtain costs for all the components involved, here is a high level estimate of the costs that could be avoided:

Costs Avoided
1)    Guards (avg. of 3) for a day = 3 x 8 hours x burdened hourly rate of Guards = 3 x 8 x $50 = $1,200 day
2)    Cost of transportation: specialized vehicle + expenses = $750/day
3)    Facilities requirements to handle prisoners in courthouse = $300/day

So, one remand appearance is probably costing taxpayers at best about $2,000. Multiplied by the number of appearances in a year that could be delivered via technology ~ 14,000 x $2,000 = $28,000,000 / year. Over a 10-year period, that is $280,000,000. Even if the estimate for the cost of one remand appearance is 50% above actual costs, there is still significant opportunity to realize operational savings.

Investing in the infrastructure required to facilitate these hearings would be significantly less than the 10-year cost of doing it without technology. One of the key investments in this process is the technology in the courtroom that allows the remand appearances to be conducted remotely.

In any organizational ecosystem there are always rooms where people from different parts of the ecosystem come together to meet. In the judicial system, these are the courtrooms in the various courthouses across the country.

A courtroom is where the 4 different constituents (Judicial, Legal, Law Enforcement and Corrections) come together to conduct their trials and is the focal point for moving the judicial process forward. To enable new communications tools to change the processes, the courtrooms must be equipped with the technology required to conduct electronic communication, which are rich experiences – just like being there.

Productivity Improvements

Courtrooms that have been enabled in this way can now be much more productive in processing the courtroom workflow (the proceedings) – a must given the backlog created by the shutdown of physical locations as a result of the pandemic. A judge in court can hold remand appearances sequentially, connecting with prisoners who appear, via video, from various correctional facilities – one after another. The physical scheduling and logistics that used to be a key component of the “old method” suddenly becomes vastly simpler and less costly. The simplified scheduling and logistics of remand appearances through the use of video conferencing technology also increases the number of appearances processed. The beneficial results of doing this:

©️ Unsplash

The opportunity for greater productivity in the Justice ecosystem can be found in many other processes. Many jurisdictions have learned that leveraging video can reduce — or eliminate — many of the hidden delays and costs of the Justice system associated with logistics such as travel time for a variety of participants including witnesses, interpreters, attorneys and inmates. In an ecosystem where everyone wants to talk to the inmate (prosecutors, probation officers, public defenders, judges, etc.) easier access via video can accelerate workflow.

Clearly these productivity improvements, which were not planned for as part of the initial business case, would likely add even more financial benefits. Often, the productivity benefits that are realized in an ecosystem will quickly outweigh the operational savings provided.

Strategic Transformation

As new communications infrastructure and endpoints have been put in place over recent years – a process accelerated by the pandemic – the Justice ecosystem is being unintentionally transformed with far greater capability than was initially envisioned. The people who are using the new communications tools will start to apply the same tools to situations that were never envisioned at the start of the ecosystem’s transformation.

Let’s look at three real life examples of strategic transformation in the Justice ecosystem:

1) International Trials

With the globalization of business, there are now occasions where the globalization of court communications could greatly help the operation and productivity of trials that happen where multiple countries are involved. Our company, ET Group, facilitated a trial like this where two courtrooms in two different countries were in a single combined session at exactly the same time. The benefits were substantial:

One court session brought together two different jurisdictions simultaneously.

©️ Pexels

2) Virtual Meeting Rooms (VMRs)

The use of VMRs in a collaborative ecosystem typically happens at a later stage in the development of the ecosystem. VMRs are very powerful because they can:

In the Justice ecosystem a perfect example of using VMRs would be to allow the general public to pay their traffic tickets with a hearing in a VMR. When you use a VMR you don’t need a courtroom (massive cost savings), and you allow a person who received the traffic ticket to call into the VMR for their trial. The judge, the officer, the lawyer (if required) and the defendant would all be participants in the VMR. The result is significant savings in travel costs for all involved.

Using VMRs as described in the traffic ticket scenario above would also require software which would would mimic the workflow of the traffic court. People would need to check in online, be held in a queue waiting to see the judge in the VMR with the other participants. But over time this additional expense stands to be minimal compared to what could be saved through the strategic use of VMRs within the Justice collaborative ecosystem.

3) Collaborative Portals

With technology infrastructure in place, new functionalities can be implemented that were not possible before. With software, recordings of the courtroom proceedings can now be captured in a way that was not previously possible. Video and audio streams can be recorded simultaneously from the different cameras and microphones in the courtroom and can be captured as the record of the court.   These court records can be:

Extending capabilities leverages the initial investment in technology already in place and further accelerates the velocity of collaboration in the Justice ecosystem, thus compounding the initial investment.

There are more than just these three strategic transformation examples which stand to further influence the business case for investment in a new collaborative technology platform. Being able to continue to conduct business and enable access to justice for citizens using VMRs in the face of a global pandemic – in some cases more than ever before – is a prime example.


The natural evolution of a collaborative ecosystem is to capture operational savings first, then to realize productivity gains as a by-product through the extension of the technology to new processes, and finally, hit the home runs through the strategic transformation of the ecosystem.

It takes considerable fortitude by those steering the ecosystem to make the investment without truly understanding how the ecosystem will function when the collaborative technology is fully implemented and enabled. They must resist the temptation to cut corners and compromise on the building of the platform that will become the foundation for transformation for years (if not decades) to come.

All its woes aside, COVID-19 helped accelerate a fundamental systemic change that was already occurring – one that has now proven itself here to stay. The technology stakeholders in Justice systems around the globe would do well to take notice.

Embracing technology for accelerated growth

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a MacKay CEO Forums breakfast panel discussing embracing technology for accelerated growth. The speech was well received and a number of participants suggested I share some of the insights with a broader audience. This my attempt at doing so. I hope you will enjoy it and find some of the suggestions useful!

Some context. At ET Group, we help our clients weave people, space, and technology in a way that facilitates collaboration and fuels innovation, which I believe are two of the most critical creators of value and growth for any business. As such, we live and breathe different types of social and digital technology innovations and have had lots of learnings along the way.

Music adoption example

To get started, I invite you to answer the following questions:

I bet most of you had or still have some of these devices and most of you do not use them anymore. Why is that?

Next question; Do you have a Spotify, Apple Music, or Google Music account?

Most of you probably answered yes.

Final question; Do you listen to music?

Assuming of course that most of you listen to music, we can deduce the following: most, if not all of us, listen to music, and listening to music is the “job we are trying to get done”. Listening to music stays constant, while the technology we use to “do the job” changes and evolves, and that change and evolution will continue.

I’m sure you would also agree that as good as they are, Spotify, Apple, and Google Music are not the end of the evolution of technology to help us listen to music.

This brings me to my key message: Using technology to accelerate growth for your business is not about focusing on the technology itself. It’s about having clarity on the “job to be done”.

Once you understand the highest ­value work that you need to complete, you can choose the right technology to help you get that job done ­­faster, better, with greater collaboration, and with better engagement. By doing this, you will truly be using technology to enable accelerated growth for your companies.

As discussed with the music example, technology changes constantly. This constant change comes with a desire to embrace the “new”, to jump in with both feet now, so that we don’t feel left behind. But there can be a cost to being too quick to adopt technology simply based on a bigger, better feature set. We run the risk of being seduced by the allure of something new before we truly understand how it will support us to do the work we need to do.

I’ve experienced this first hand at ET Group, and it’s been a transformational learning experience for me and for my team.

A story about ET Group

I believe very strongly in the power of real ­time communication to strengthen team dynamics and collaboration. And so, inspired by this belief, we set out to improve real ­time communication and collaboration at ET Group.

We are a small enough company that has the luxury of experimenting with different technologies to see what works best for us. And “experiment” is exactly what we did.

In trying to improve our communication and collaboration; we installed Polycom hardware in one room and felt like we were off to a great start. Then we paid for a managed service to give us the functionality and quality we needed. This was expensive yet worthwhile. Once those were in place we wanted video at the desktop ­­ so we tried a number of platforms (Vidyo, Polycom, Cisco Jabber, Videxio, Microsoft Lync). Everyone now had video at the desktop. But not all platforms could connect with each other and we started to see “islands of technology”.

We had to make a choice, so we mandated Videxio as the single desktop video platform. As with most mandated decisions, it did not satisfy everyone. Instead of increasing collaboration, it was disrupting key business processes and people were getting restless.

After buying additional infrastructure to integrate some of the technologies we continued adopting new tools. Now it was time to try out Slack. Slack ­­was a great platform for asynchronous communication and real ­time collaboration, but I didn’t get the right buy in or communicated its purpose clearly. Instead, I simply started using it and asking people who worked closely with me to use it as well, believing they’d see the value and embrace it. I thought that I had the perfect solution but the result was not what I wanted. 100% of the company was on the platform but only 20% were using it.

Things didn’t seem to be getting any better until we discovered Cisco Spark. At first, Spark looked like Slack with a smaller feature set. But soon we realized that this platform could potentially replace our phone system and video infrastructure, connect to our rooms, provide asynchronous communication and messaging. In short, it could lots of different “jobs to be done” that we really needed on a daily basis.

We went all in with Cisco Spark, and today we live and breathe with it. It has transformed how we work and how we get things done to fulfill our purpose and bring value to our clients. Through Spark, we can work in a more elegant and effective way.

Although we did eventually find a solution, we got there by taking the long path. ­­A much longer path than we needed to. The most important lesson of the story: If we had started by clearly defining “the job or jobs to be done”, we would have been able to avoid spending so much time, energy, and money on iterative and redundant solutions along the way.

We learned a lot from our journey. And I want to share with you the five biggest things I learned ­­and that I believe are critical for the search and adoption of any new technology:

5 key findings:

Approach with humility

First, approach the process with humility. Listen to different people and perspectives. We all know that listening well is one of the key attributes of great leaders ­­ and it’s absolutely critical where technology is concerned. Listening allows us to truly understand “the job to be done” in all areas of the business. As CEOs, we know how value is created, but we may not know exactly how the job is being done.

Choose the right leader

Second, choose the right decision ­maker. Identify a person who will gather input from all those who will be affected by the change, and have expertise around the matter. This requires humility and the ability to balance priorities from a range of inputs.

Bring in outside expertise

Third, bring in outside expertise when you need it to help surface the jobs that needs to be done. Some organizations are already great at this ­­ and if yours is, you’re ahead of the game already ­­ but many are not. There are fantastic advisors out there who can help uncover the information you need. Invest in using those advisors.

Clearly share the thinking

Fourth, clearly share the thinking behind technological change ­­ and allow people to own their part of the solution. This fosters engagement and buy­-in from inception through implementation.

Invest the time

Fifth, and most important: invest the time up front to fully understand the “jobs to be done” before jumping to a solution. I can’t emphasize this enough. By slowing down, you’re able to hone in and identify the high ­potential technologies that will truly transform your business.

If you take this approach, you’ll be amazed at how smooth the adoption of technology will be. You won’t need to worry about buy-­in, because the people using the technology had a voice in the decision making process. And this means that the solution you provide them is one they helped choose ­­ and one that will help each of them do the “job they need to do” better. The effect is extraordinary. I’ve experienced it myself, and it now informs every technology advice we provide to our clients.

To restate my key message, embracing technology for accelerated change is not actually about the technology. It’s about understanding the highest­ value work your internal teams and your customers need to do. Once you have that clear, your path to a solution is easy to chart.

Transforming the healthcare collaborative ecosystem

The “Catch 22” of focusing on cost reduction

We see thousands of ads everyday, the sheer number can be overwhelming. But this ad immediately grabbed my attention because it was so different.

At first I had to stop and take in what was happening.

I was initially reeled in by the play on words, “Lose Wait” – very clever. Was this a new way to lose weight? It wasn’t – but it was!!! Just a different kind.

Then the statistic hit me … 82% is pretty compelling, and what was even more compelling was what people were saving – time. Time spent waiting in a line, one of the most universally disliked time wasters.

But what really struck me was what LiveHealth Online had done. They had transformed a key part of the healthcare system as we know it. They did not just tweak it by automating a few things or adding new functionality, they changed the entire game.

Roy Schoenberg, President and CEO of American Well Systems stated, “In-home telehealth services and urgent care consultations are growing at a rapid pace and American Well is prepared to meet rising provider and patient needs for live, on-demand care.”

When I put what American Well did through my test of “The Five Guiding Principles for Accelerated Collaboration”, they hit a home run:

  1. Real time communication tools – ✔
  2. Built rich communication between people – ✔
  3. Targeted high ROI collaboration benefits – ✔
  4. Compressed timeframes – ✔
  5. Enabled small teams (of Healthcare workers) – ✔

The requirement for high quality, cost effective healthcare for all has been driving health care organizations to explore how technology can enable telehealth possibilities for many years.

Video conferencing has always been a key technology enabler for telehealth, which is currently undergoing a shift to software based video/collaboration solutions that run on people’s personal technology – PCs, Macs, tablets and mobile devices. This shift is enabling new possibilities and changing the landscape of how things are done with video.

American Well is not alone; I see the healthcare industry collaborative ecosystem being transformed in groundbreaking ways by many integrated healthcare delivery networks.

Other industries should take note of what can be done.

Cost cutting approach

The type of transformation that is happening in the healthcare industry cannot be achieved with a “cost saving” approach. The biggest mistake organizations make while enabling their ecosystem with better collaboration tools is to focus on cost avoidance.

Making changes with cost avoidance as the primary focus, e.g. the costs of the technology, is like focusing on the trees (costs) and not realizing that you are in the middle of a forest (the long term benefits).  The trees (costs) are in the way and are preventing you from seeing the bigger picture.

It’s not that the wise use of dollars isn’t important. It is, but if the five guiding principles mentioned above are used to affect transformational change, you will save a lot more money than can be realized by focusing largely on change driven by cost savings.

A cost savings approach often starts with a mandate from higher up in the organization for immediate cost reductions to improve the bottom line. This is an operational ROI approach – the low hanging fruit. Operational savings are when you either stop doing something you used to do, or do it differently, in a way that allows you to get a similar result with less cost.

Sometimes achieving an operational savings, can actually have compounded benefits with productivity gains, e.g. using video conferencing to avoid travel costs has an added and significant benefit in that it provides productivity benefits and can speed execution of business. But these are usually what I call “side effect” benefits or unplanned benefits.

Is cost cutting going to have a negative impact on the collaborative ecosystem?

Saving money in implementation often simply transfers the costs to the ongoing operation of the ecosystem. The dollars spent on the operation of the ecosystem which is sub-optimized, will far outweigh any saved implementation dollars. I don’t have an exact formula but it would be something like $1 cut in implementation will cost you $3-$6 in ongoing operation. And an ongoing operation like a collaborative ecosystem is meant to be in place for a very long time.

There are savings to be had with an operational approach, but by focusing on productivity and strategic ROI, an organization can perform 3-6 times better than it would otherwise.

If I look at what American Well is doing the operational, productivity and strategic benefits all compound to give you 3-6 times the performance compared to the old way of doing things. Here are some of the benefits:

Trying to save money by cutting costs when there is an opportunity to transform an ecosystem through greater collaboration is going to work against what is possible in transforming a business or industry. That is the “Catch 22″ of focusing on cost reduction. Using the 5 guiding principles of greater collaboration will help increase the velocity of collaboration and supercharge the performance of the ecosystem.

Transform the ecosystem in a way that works well and will get adopted; hearing better, seeing clearly, usability of the system, recording interactions, managing the real time interactions and recordings, enabling new ways of working.

Use the five principles to transform your collaborative ecosystem.

Invest in transforming your Collaborative ecosystem = Technology + Process enhancements + Training

The benefits of a truly transformative collaborative change will continue to ripple through your ecosystem in ways you cannot even imagine. Contact us at ET Group if you like to learn more about our strategies to implement technology to increase collaboration.

People, place and technology are coming together like never before

The workplace of the future

Technological advances are catalysts for change in any business, and those changes are happening at a faster pace than ever before. Technology is transforming who we are able to work with and how we work with them, so it can no longer be considered an afterthought when thinking about your strategy to designing the workplace.

Historically, the workplace is where people come together to work.  Relating the importance of the “Place” to design so that people could work more effectively was a natural progression of thoughtful study and experimentation.  Design, furniture and furnishing organizations have steadily advanced over the years to better understand the relationship between People & Place and to bring those findings to bear in their products and services.

Technology, until the late 70s or early 80s, really had no place as part of the workplace other than the telephone.  There really was no option for remote workers being part of the day-to-day team.  If you did need to meet with colleagues, you had to travel.  And airline travel for business boomed in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

And then the conference call became a way to allow remote participants to connect by phone call to a meeting – telecom technology.  This small advance was a big thing!  People didn’t have to travel just to participate, but it still wasn’t as good as being there.  There were cost savings, productivity gains and new models of working together that were enabled by this advance.  People who were conferenced into the meeting were soon asking for better sound quality. This requirement introduced the need for good Audio-Visual (AV) in meeting rooms.

Computer terminals and networks were part of the workplace in the 60s to 80s but it wasn’t until the PC came along in the early 80s that a PC was a commonplace personal technology for the workplace.  Even then it was more a personal technology that was connected to the corporate network/Internet and sat on desktops with limited design or thought required to integrate it into the workplace.

Another thing that was important in the workplace was sharing information in a meeting.  The early tools used to do this were blackboards, which later became flip charts and whiteboards.  Foil projectors and slides were technological advances for content sharing, when it became important to have prepared content to share in a meeting.   Then PowerPoint arrived and the AV technology’s importance as part of a meeting room grew so the PowerPoint could be shared with everyone in the room.

Then people wanted to share those PowerPoint slides with the remote participants and WebEx and other tools filled that market need.  The introduction of WebEx also required the meeting rooms to be connected to the corporate network – now IT was increasing its role as part of the workplace technology equation. IT and AV were now working together.

In the technology world, Telecom, IT and AV had all grown up independently and were considered separate areas of technology discipline.  They were all silos of technology in the workplace.  Today there is a need to create the right balance of 4 different conferencing technologies for meeting rooms.

The simplified story of technology evolution into the workplace (above) highlights the requirement for the separate technology disciplines to come together and be managed as one.  This trend is accelerating today fueled by an ever-increasing requirement to connect in real-time and the ability to connect everything to the network.

 Specifics of “people & place” with “technology” are

These technology changes are having a huge affect on the workplace.  In fact the biggest effect they are having is on the requirement for how much workspace is required.  In some cases companies are seeing real estate space reductions of up to 70%.  With real estate being one of the largest expense items for any organization, a large reduction can have a huge effect on the bottom line, but reducing real estate without consideration for a number of other factors can be perilous.  The key is to ensure that the technologies do not collide in the workplace but that they are integrated into the workplace to allow people to connect to the workspace and the workspace to connect to the building.

To learn more about how technology is driving change in the workplace and how to manage that change, please join me for the webinar, “Integrating Technology as Part of the Office Re-design”, on June 24th.

Go here to Register.

The Benefits of Collaboration Between Companies and Communities

ThinkstockPhotos-139970757Mayor Van Bynen, the Mayor of Newmarket, received a call one day from a business owner in his community. The business was in a break out stage having developed an innovative service for the global Gaming community and needed to grow their company – fast! Their challenge was they couldn’t find any space in Newmarket that could provide adequate bandwidth for their service. It just wasn’t available and they were looking to relocate to Toronto to access the bandwidth required. Their call for help to the Mayor was a last minute attempt to find a way to stay in Newmarket. Collaborative workspaces are key to business growth.

Community Collaboration’s Rapid Mobilization Response

The Mayor immediately put a call into his trusted team of community collaborators to see what could be done. Led by the Chamber, the team of senior leaders were able to mobilize a response that not only arranged for a 1Gb internet connection where none was previously available but also provided new space for the company which was quickly expanding to 50 people. Other advisors and assistance was offered to help this company capture their opportunity and move it forward. They became the first tenant in a new Business Accelerator for the Town and are now building out a global analytics service that will provide jobs in Newmarket.

This rapid mobilization response was only possible because there was a close, trusted relationship between multiple partners. Each brought different pieces of the puzzle together quickly and in a coordinated fashion to benefit the whole community.

As per my last blog, this type of response would not have been possible 10 years ago. At that time, the partners all operated as separate institutions with very little collaboration together.

Institutions Establish the Rules of Engagement and Membership

Institutions have traditionally served as the organizing framework for bringing people together towards a common goal or cause. Currently, we are all working within an organization of some sort: a school, an army, a company, a government, or perhaps a religion. These institutions establish the rules of engagement and membership that prescribes how its members will engage with each other and how they will add value to each other.

By definition however, these institutions are exclusionary in their makeup. If you are a member, you can share in the process, tools, resources and community. If you are not a member, a citizen, an employee – you will not have access to the resources and information available thereby limiting your ability to interact effectively with that community. As a member of an institution, should we wish to work more closely with people in other institutions, we quickly run into barriers because:

These institutional models are rapidly becoming limited models for the kinds of work and innovative solutions that are being demanded today.

There are ways of interacting between these large institutional organizations but these arrangements are fairly limited in the numbers of participants that can be included. Usually these take the form of partnership agreements or memorandums of understanding (MOUs), which limit the types and numbers of potential participants to a few at a time.

What happens when we want to include input from all potential stakeholders, even the ones we don’t know exist? What rules of engagement apply? What technology tools do we need to implement in order to find each other, communicate & collaborate together? Is it possible to build a Collaborative Ecosystem that provides for extensive inclusivity? Are there ways to capture the value offered by a diverse group of stakeholders no matter if they are institutional partners or individuals, if they are a small group of participants or virtually unlimited numbers?

Increasingly the answer is ‘yes’.

We require new models and new tools to manage collaboration between institutions.

Examples of Community Collaborative Ecosystems

Two examples of this type of Community Collaborative Ecosystem (CCE) that are developing can be found in Canada:

Saint John, NB

There are 5 municipalities who have come together over the past few years to establish a group of 130 partners, and growing. They include Municipalities, Chambers of Commerce, schools, businesses, other government entities, libraries, hospitals and more. All of these partners understand that they need to work together to achieve sustainable models for their economic, environmental and social environment. They have established a ‘True Growth’ model that is designed to allow all partners to add and realize value from the community in new ways, to their mutual benefit.

Newmarket, ON

As 1 of 9 municipalities in the Region of York, a small group of partners including the Town, Southlake Regional Hospital, the Chamber of Commerce and the library came together a few years ago to discuss how to better collaborate. This modest beginning has already yielded millions of dollars of benefit to the partners. More importantly however, it has established a group of community leaders that know and trust each other. They know how to collaborate in ways that were not happening previously. Where there is synergy now, there used to be distrust and suspicion. The group is now able to identify projects that will benefit the community and execute on those quickly and efficiently in ways that none of the individual partners can do on their own.

Looking at these two CCE examples as well as other similar examples, some principal requirements begin to emerge.

Building Collaborative Community Ecosystems (CCE)

Consider the CCE pyramid, at the base level, there is a requirement for a new governance model that provides for innovative flexibility between partners but also helps set the rules of engagement. We need to understand the vision and goals of the community so that it is understood what the community is working towards.

Secondly, there needs to be a technology platform that helps manage many of the organizational functions that are previously the domain of institutions and not available to individuals. Technology tools now open these capabilities to the world, crossing institutional, geographical and cultural barriers. That provides a platform for inclusivity rather than exclusivity.

Once these pieces are in place, the collaborative community can begin to execute projects that will accelerate them towards their vision and goals in ways that could not have been previously imagined. For more information on Collaborative CommunitiesContact us and stay tuned for my next blog about Technology Platforms for Collaborative Communities.

Building an Inclusive, Flexible and Innovative Community Collaboration Ecosystem

ThinkstockPhotos-167169717Ten years ago, when I first joined the Board of Directors for the local Chamber of Commerce, I was amazed at the lack of synergy between the Town and the Chamber. You would think it is natural for these two organizations to build efficiencies & work closely together for the community’s mutual benefit. But there was more talk about how to avoid working together than there was in finding ways to add value to each other.

Collaborative Relationships Pay Dividends.

We shifted the attitude of the Chamber to one of co-operation and collaboration. Fast forward ten years and this community now enjoys an extremely close working relationship between the Chamber and the Town, which has resulted in:

This group of trusted collaborators is now attracting the interest of other municipalities, schools and companies.  They all want to find ways to work together because you can accomplish more.

Our world is changing faster than ever, forcing people to figure out new ways to work more productively. As our existing organizational models are not as effective as they used to be, there is often a lack of innovation, siloing and generally slow progress on requirements that demand ever faster solutions.

While searching for new ways to be more productive, two basic principles arise, as we have discussed in previous blogs:

  1. We want to expand our network of partners to include new ideas and expertise
  2. We need better tools to make our collaborations seamless, flexible, quick and effective

Don Tapscott, a world leader on innovation and the economic and social impact of technology describes the need for collaborative networks of stakeholders to address global issues in Solving the World’s Problems Differently. This same approach can be applied to local and regional levels. In fact, it is at these levels that new Collaboration Ecosystems get started in communities, cities and provinces.

Building a Community Collaborative Ecosystem

A Community Collaborative Ecosystem (CCE) is an ecosystem of partners coming together to work toward a common vision and a set of common goals. Think of a city or town with many partner stakeholders including citizens, businesses, non-profit organizations and government entities.

It is inclusive to the point of being able to recognize and integrate the value of all stakeholders whether they are part of the institutions or from outside. It is flexible, agile and innovative. It is able to recognize value brought by partners in more ways than simply monetary, and it is able to facilitate the redistribution of that value back to the ecosystem partners in sustainable ways.

The ecosystem may be organized around geographies, areas of interest or common visions. They are loosely governed by general shared principles rather than rigid institutional structures. They rely heavily on technology to provide the organizational aspects required rather than institutional frameworks.

They are born out of the need to find new, innovative ways to answering the question, “How can we get this done now?”

Mapping Out a Community Collaborative Ecosystem

Think about what you are trying to accomplish and how you will measure success:

  1. Who will be your collaborative partners?
  2. How will your new partnerships be managed?
  3. How do you accommodate a growing number of new partners?
  4. How will you fund your efforts and how will the benefits of your work together be distributed?
  5. How will you manage these disparate efforts to realize maximum synergy without adding managerial roadblocks?
  6. How will you communicate to the community, between partners and with the rest of the world?
  7. What common tools will be used in order to make your collaborations easy, regardless of who or where the partners are located and their personal preference for technology?

Realizing your Ecosystem’s Vision

Once you have a good understanding of how everyone will work together, you can put in place a technology platform to facilitate collaboration. This allows you to identify projects that will realize your CCE goals. These projects will involve various ecosystem partners coming together in new and multiple combinations. As there can literally be an unlimited number of partners, the number of projects can be very large as well.

It is up to the collaboration ecosystem to manage the overall view of how to connect, maximize the value of projects so the vision of the ecosystem is realized.

In our upcoming blogs you’ll find Part II, Collaboration Between Institutions and Part III, Building Technology Platforms for a Collaborative Ecosystem where I will explore how to establish the various platforms on which to build your CCE as well as looking at some examples of communities working toward this new way of working. Please Contact Us if you would like to explore this concept in more detail.

Is Being in the Same Physical Space Critical to Improving Collaboration?

Part One of this blog talked about the need for a balanced office design to provide workspace for focus time and collaboration time. Collaboration remains an imperative for organizational evolution and the need to create environments, where people can share experiences and ideas, is critical to spawn innovation.

Principles that Increase Collaboration

I referenced a Steelcase white paper, “How the workplace can improve collaboration”, June 2010, which talks about a shift in the nature of work from more individual focused to more collaboration focused.

“Among the key findings was validation that a fundamental shift has occurred: most work today is done in collaboration with others versus individually. Moreover, rather than it being a segmented activity done in designated destinations such as a conference room, collaboration is now almost constant and it threads throughout the entire workday. It occurs at desks, in hallways, in team spaces, on smart phones and via the Internet, and it’s often spontaneous and informal versus planned in advance. When the workspace is designed to fully support the new realities of collaboration, better learning, more innovation and faster decision-making can result.”

I also referred to a Malcolm Gladwell article which stated, “The catch is that getting people in an office to bump into people from another department is not so easy as it looks.”

Is It Easier to Make an Outside Call than to Walk Across the Room?

Gladwell then insightfully bridges to the research of Thomas Allen, MIT on how engineers communicated in R&D labs. Two significant conclusions:

  1. “Allen found that the likelihood that any two people will communicate drops off dramatically as the distance between their desks increases: we are four times as likely to communicate with someone who sits six feet away from us as we are with someone who sits sixty feet away. And people seated more than seventy-five feet apart hardly talk at all.”
  2. “Allen’s second finding was even more disturbing. When the engineers weren’t talking to those in their immediate vicinity, many of them spent their time talking to people outside their company—to their old computer-science professor or the guy they used to work with at Apple. He concluded that it was actually easier to make the outside call than to walk across the room.”

Four Different Modes of Working, Collaborative Ecosystems

This suggests that being in the same physical space only holds so much merit as a means of increasing the velocity of collaboration within an organization. Space can be redesigned to increase the likelihood that people will connect. But, as detailed in part 1 of this blog, not at the expense of the other work modes that people need to be effective.

What About all the Remote Workers?

It has become more and more common for people to work a significant part of their time on the road or from home.

My wife is a perfect example. She works for a large Pharma company as a Field Representative. She is in the field all day and works from home to connect with colleagues and get administration work completed. She works both on the road and from home. In fact, there is no office for her to go into on a daily basis. Regular meetings with management happen on the road at the local Starbucks or their favourite restaurants

Does that mean she can’t really collaborate well and be part of innovative new ideas in a company? Hardly. Her company regularly solicits input from the field and has field representatives participate as collaborators in key cultural and strategic initiatives.

Yahoo! Called Their Remote Workers Back Into the Office

Earlier this year, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, recalled all of her remote workers and told them they needed to be in the office – is this the end for remote working?

There will always be unique situations which seem to go against the grain of using a workforce that is distributed beyond the office building. But the barn door is open and the benefits of a dispersed workforce are clear. 

94% of Home Workers Produce Better Quality Work & Put in 24 Days a Year More Work

Surveys are telling us that remote workers “put in 24 days a year more than they would if they were coming into the office every day.” It found 94% of workers say they produce better quality work from home than the office.

So workers are getting better quality focus time – to produce more and better work, but they can still collaborate well from a distance, especially when they have a mix of collaboration technologies which provide a rich experience.

This sounds like a WIN-WIN scenario!

The term ‘collaboration‘ is bandied about in many different ways. And it can be confusing. I have started to compile some principles around collaboration and am up to seven so far and wanted to share them.

7 Collaborative Principles

  1. Collaboration is not just people talking together.
  2. Collaboration happens in both real time and iterative ways (future blog topic).
  3. Collaboration happens in small spaces and open spaces. A proper balance of ‘I’ space and ‘We’ space is required which also takes into consideration for the type of workers in the business (user classes).
  4. True collaboration has 4 phases.  Only one of the phases involves a group of people coming together.
  5. The way you collaborate will depend on the type of work you do – lawyer vs sales person vs Insurance claim processor
  6. Collaboration can be just as effective whether people are in the same room or are connected by technology.
  7. The kinds of technology used will affect how rich the collaborative experience will be.

Change is constant. We are moving into a new economy based on connection and how you collaborate in the Connection Economy is very important for your organization to thrive.

Seth Godin, in his book, “The Icarus Deception”, describes it this way …

“The question, as we move from an industrial economy that cherishes compliance [a Solid Network], to a connected economy that prizes achievement [a Liquid Network], is this: Are we supporting this shift with a culture that encourages us to dream important dreams? What do we challenge our achievers to do? When do we encourage or demand that they move from standardized tests and Dummies guides to work that actually matters?”

If you would like more information on the 7 Collaborative Principles and how they apply to your business, contact us.

3 Steps to Building a Collaborative Business

Investing in technology tools that drive innovation and connect key stakeholders will help accelerate collaboration only if people know how to use these tools. Otherwise, instead of accelerating collaboration, you’ve just purchased some expensive dust collectors.

This is why adopting technology is just as important as the technology itself to advance collaboration within your organization.

Initiating User Adoption

What is involved in effective user adoption? Typically a training team is assembled and directed as to what should be covered in a training session. A more effective approach is to initiate user adoption by taking a “top-down” approach in communicating the vision. All collaboration sponsors should take the opportunity and put collaboration into practice. How can you capitalize on the opportunity?

The 3 Step Approach to Effective Technology Adoption

Using this approach will lead to successful technology adoption.

  1. Assessment
  2. Implementation
  3. Evaluation

It is important to note that in order to have real change in behaviour, it also takes time, a strategy and resources to make it happen.

1. Assessment

During the assessment phase, it is important to determine the strategy gaps that prevent an organization from achieving their collaboration goals. To successfully conduct an assessment, everyone must keep an open mind and avoid coming into the process with a predetermined solution in hand. Assessments must be extensive and include examining the organization’s needs in the three areas of collaboration: culture, process, and technology. Begin to collaborate by bringing in other resources such as HR, finance, and IT to help determine the organization’s current state. Describe the desired state and map the gap between the two. The assessment should aim to identify what the best solutions are to help achieve the organization’s desired goal. Many organizations believe that training will close the gap but it may not necessarily be the case. What if the assessment indicates that there are gaps in processes? The gaps can be filled.  For example, adjusting the way a purchase order is completed. Or, a culture gap may require extensive strategic changes that effect how the organization functions as a whole. It is key that executives tap into the knowledge of their training departments by completing a needs assessment prior to conducting training. Executives should also encourage other departments to collaborate in the assessment phase in order to ensure that information sharing lays the ground work for the next phase, the implementation strategy.

2. Implementation

Teamwork is vital during the implementation step. For example, introducing video conferencing, as a corporate-wide strategic initiative should include multiple stakeholders. The planning and implementation process should include a partnership between IT, Finance, Project Management, Training, and an executive sponsor. All the partners should participate in sharing their knowledge and insight to develop and execute the plan. The result of collaborating and openly sharing ideas is two-fold: an innovative plan and better buy-in leads to a higher adoption rate. When implementing a business improvement measure, a learning and development professional will recommend many short training sessions. This allows people to have the opportunity to absorb what they have learned and trainers can reinforce concepts. Real change occurs when what has been taught becomes the norm. Learners must be encouraged to adopt behaviours that support the business improvement strategy; this is where tangible organizational change will occur. Make the implementation process an evolution not a revolution.

3. Evaluation

There is a great saying: “What gets focused on gets done.” This is what the evaluation phase is all about. This is a time when organizations should review what is actually happening after training and this should be done shortly after training – say 4 to 6 months afterwards. A successful evaluation should include:

Teamwork should play a role in this phase as well. For an in-depth evaluation, consider using focus groups as a tool. Two focus groups should be conducted with:

  1. Stakeholders that were involved in planning and implementing the strategy
  2. Employees who are impacted to allow them to share their knowledge and experiences

Share feedback widely. Celebrate the accomplishments.

The knowledge collected from your evaluation stage will help you get a better understanding of how well collaborative approaches work in your organization and will help the organization to develop more informed plans for future implementations.

“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

– Confucius

Confucius (Chinese philosopher & reformer, 551 BCE – 479 BCE) said, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” This holds true when using collaboration in assessing, implementing and evaluating changes to how your organization does business.

Collaboration technology that has been embraced by employees allows the organization to realize the true benefits the technology was meant to enable and encourages a culture of knowledge sharing, appreciation of challenges and successes, and becoming more flexible and competitive.

If you would like more information on the 3 Steps to Building a Collaborative Business, contact us.

Five Common Mistakes in Technology User Adoption

Some organizations readily adopt new technologies and others deploy technology only to have it collect dust. What is the difference between these deployments?

There are five common mistakes that organizations make when they introduce new technology into their workforce and being aware of them will help you avoid making these mistakes yourself.

1. Organizations Fail to Take the End User Needs into Account

Organizations invest in the latest and greatest technology in hopes that it will fulfill an identified gap or create a competitive advantage. What organizations do not take into consideration is who their Users are. They have to ask themselves:

“Do my people and my processes support this new technology?”

Often the answer is no. Why? Because a technology decision was made without assessing their Users requirements.

Today’s IT & AV technologies are a key component of a collaborative ecosystem but do the people who are supposed to be using the technology really know why or how they support the collaborative ecosystem?

If the answer is no, this is where the mismatch occurs. The needs that the technology fulfills have not been matched to the user’s needs and I have seen this happen time and time again.

An easy solution is a User based “Needs Analysis”. This approach helps organizations focus on the needs of employees which will provide valuable information to determine a purpose-based solution. When implementing new technology your strategy and design must take into account the end users.

2. Leaders Do Not Have a Clear Understanding of the Technology’s Capability

Organizational leaders must have first hand knowledge of what the technology is capable of doing and most importantly, be comfortable in using the technology. By attending training sessions, leaders demonstrate that they have a clear understanding of how to use the technology.

I have conducted some training sessions where not one manager or executive attended. Not only do they miss out on learning the benefits of the technology, but they also continue to do what they always have and often fail to adopt new practices. This sends the wrong message to their team.

Change is driven top down so management must be the role models for change. If employees see management using the technology, user adoption of the technology will increase.

3. The Myth: “Once the Technology Has Been Installed, Everyone Will Want to Use It.”

“If we build it, they will come.”  Unfortunately, it’s not the case. After installation early adopters tend to be the only ones that will give it a try and the rest will stay anchored to the status quo.

Ignoring the technology all together is a symptom of what I call the “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) Syndrome”. If there is no perceived value to the employee, why should they learn or adopt using it? Companies spend a lot of time and money marketing their products to their customers. Likewise, organizations should take the time and effort to market, sell and promote to their employees the new technology they’ve invested in to address the WIIFM syndrome.

4. Organizations do not Provide Adequate Support

Executives believe that once employees are trained they will automatically start using the technology. Most executives fail to consider their employees’ learning curve. One training session does not mean people are experts; they need to be supported and guided until they are comfortable and confident using the technology.

I see this time and time again when training employees on SMART Boards. After completing the training, employees are energized to use the boards but that tends to be short lived. Some will try to use the board and forget how to use it. This is common because the average person only retains 30% from one training session. Some will try to perform a certain function and the board doesn’t perform the way it did in training so they get discouraged. Employees may become frustrated and refuse to use the board. Others will become too busy and next thing you know, the initial enthusiasm will be lost and forgotten.

This is how SMART Boards become under utilized and it’s such a shame because SMART boards are one of the most powerful collaborative tools available today.

It takes focused usage and support to transfer knowledge into a skill set and this can be done in numerous ways.

Some Examples of Internal Training Support:

  1. A company website where employees can go to ask questions or review material that was covered in training
  2. Follow up training that reviews what was learned and helps take their skill set to the mastery level
  3. On site experts to support and encourage users as they start to use the technology

Whatever form this support takes, it is important to have a plan and to communicate it with your employees. It also sends a signal that adoption is important to the organization and should be important to them as well.

5. Organizations Are Not Creating User-friendly Policies or Procedures

It’s a shame when I see organizations investing in new technology, only to find out that their current system can’t fully support it. With the continual emergence of new user technology, there is an assumption that the organization’s IT infrastructure has also evolved.  Quite often this is not the case. When new technology and organization’s IT infrastructure are not compatible, “work arounds” are developed to tape the solution together.  These work arounds can become cumbersome which leads to:

  1. Procedures that make it difficult to use the new equipment.
  2. Policies that make employees less inclined to use the technology.

This can all be avoided if IT is part of creating the technology roadmap when new technologies are adopted by an organization. Their knowledge can be a valuable resource.

Processes must be put in place to support the users of the new technologies.  Without them users will quickly abandon the new technologies and go back to the way things were before.

Build a Technology Roadmap.  support Your Employees Learning and New Technology Adoption Rates Will Follow.

User adoption is a key component in fully attaining the ROI of collaboration technology.

These are only a few suggestions on avoiding the five most common mistakes in technology user adoption. Contact us for more info on how to increase your odds for a successful technology rollout.

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

  1. The physical aspect of collaboration, meaning the surroundings in which we find ourselves to collaborate.
  2. The Virtual aspect of collaboration, meaning the tools we use to communicate.

These two components are a way for us to talk, share and interact with each other, which makes use of a variety of technologies that need to be tailored to fit your needs.

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.

child heads with symbolsA 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.

Project Sharing

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.