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.

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.

Is Your Communications Technology Framework a Patchwork or Tapestry? Why It Matters.

A research study conducted by Filigree Consulting in July 2012 found that only 3% of organizations have developed an optimized corporate collaborative environment. Equally surprising is that 72% of organizations have either “Non-Integrated” or “Unsupported” environments. Putting thought into your environment’s design and strategy is key to maximizing efficiency.

The benefits of an optimized Corporate Collaborative Ecosystem (CCE) for the 3% are significant. These organizations are seeing:

All CEOs would find these statistics mouth watering.  So why are 3 out of 4 organizations living with unsupported or non-integrated CCEs?

How Did We Get Here? Connectivity – the Great Unifier

If you look at the historical development of technology in an organization there were three different classes of technology:

  1. Information Technology
  2. Telecommunications
  3. Audio Visual

These technologies enjoyed rapid expansion and have become the standard in organizational functions. These historical roots are important because each of these technologies was once an island of technology within the organization. As the capability of each of these technologies increased, one of the obvious and universal requirements was to allow more people to connect to them. Greater connectivity!

User Expectations

Connectivity enablers such as the network, the Internet, Wi-Fi, wireless carriers, Bluetooth and so many more, have changed the world. Connectivity has provided us with capabilities we could only have found in a Sci-fi movie. This has become a disruption of our personal lives.

Connectivity has also been a major, if not the major catalyst for disruption in industries and in politics.

Patchwork to Tapestry

As connectivity has increased over the past decade, the three technology “islands” are forced to unite into one framework. [Stay tuned for Part 3 of this blog for more info on a framework]  The degree to which an organization has been able to move to a single unified framework where all the technologies harmoniously exist will determine where they are on the journey to an “Optimized” CCE. Filigree’s study indicates that most organizations have not even started this journey.

Every organization has an existing state of these technologies – their current state CCE. This current state is often in disarray because of the historical development of the three different islands of technology described above. The problems can be further compounded by the following factors:

  1. Distributed corporate model:  Technology decisions are made independently throughout the organization at the divisional level.
  2. History of acquisition:  An organization that has grown through acquisition tends to have many different technology platforms even within the historical islands of technology.

The bottom line is that more often than not, an organization is starting from a patchwork of technologies.

The carrot that hangs out alluringly for CEOs is to capture the numerous benefits (ROI) from an “Opitimized Collaborative Environment” with a comprehensive and cohesive Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) strategy.

To do that, the patchwork needs to be transformed into a tapestry.

This task is similar to efforts that many organizations have gone through for other large scale technology standards.  If you think about the journey to a single Enterprise Resource Platform, like SAP, there is a lot of effort required but the payoff can be big.  Moving to an optimized collaborative environment requires some of the same factors for success, as the implementation of a corporate ERP system.

  1. Executive sponsorship
  2. Key functional executive buy-in (or the silos will persist)
  3. A roadmap for the transformation
  4. End User adoption (this includes employee buy-in as well)
  5. Investment to facilitate the transformation

The interesting thing about moving to an optimized CCE is that your organization can capture the significant ROI that is available, but the overall technology spend after the implementation should stay about the same or go down.

Questions We Are Often Asked Include:

  1. How does my organization’s collaborative environment rate?
  2. How do I move my organization down the path to an optimized CCE?

If your organization would like to answer these questions and would like to start the journey from the 72% to the 3%, we can help. Contact us.

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.

Does Too Much Collaboration at Work Hurt Productivity?

Most Workers Struggle to Work Effectively.

According to the global architecture and design company, Gensler, who recently released their 2013 US Workplace Survey, most workers struggle to work effectively. A Toronto paper picked up the story with a headline stating, “Too much collaboration at work hurts productivity.” Does this mean that your organization should not strive for more collaboration?

No. It means that if you don’t strike the right balance, it can lead to unwanted and potentially negative results. Finding the right design for a collaboration workspace the right way is key to finding this equilibrium.

Getting it Wrong. Then Getting it Right.

Malcolm Gladwell illustrates an example of the advertising agency TBWAChiatDay in his New Yorker article Designs for Working. He cites, “The firm had been engaged in a radical, and in some ways disastrous, experiment with a “nonterritorial” office: no one had a desk or any office equipment of his own. It was a scheme that courted failure by neglecting all the ways in which an office is a sort of neighbourhood.

By contrast, their new office is an almost perfect embodiment of Jacobsian principles of community. The agency is in a huge old warehouse, three stories high and the size of three football fields. It is informally known as Advertising City, and that’s what it is: a kind of artfully constructed urban neighbourhood. … Sprinkled throughout the building are meeting rooms and project areas and plenty of nooks where employees can closet themselves when they need to.”

An Effective Balance Between Order and Chaos is Required.

Steve Johnson, author of “Where Good Ideas Come From”, comments on the TBWAChiatDay first new office.

“By all accounts it was a colossal failure, precisely because it traded excessive order for excessive chaos … To work in an open office is to work exclusively in public, which it turns out to have just as many drawbacks as working entirely in your private lab.”

The Concept of Liquid Networks for Getting the Right Balance.

Johnson’s book introduces the concept of “Liquid Networks” as a metaphor for the right balance.  Liquid, as opposed to gaseous or solid.  A gaseous network is too volatile, the chaos referred to above, and a solid network is too ridged to sustain idea flow.

Johnson cites the work of Kevin Dunbar, McGill University psychologist indicates, “Even with all the advanced technology of a leading molecular biology lab, the most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop.  The lab meeting creates an environment where new combinations can occur, where information can spill over from one project to another.  When you work alone in an office, peering into a microscope, your ideas can get trapped in place, stuck in your own initial biases.  The social flow of the group conversation turns that private solid into a liquid network.”

Dunbar’s generative conference room meetings remind us that the physical architecture of our work environments can have a transformative effect on the quality of our ideas.

“The quickest way to freeze a liquid network is to stuff people into private offices behind closed doors, which is one reason so many Web-era companies have designed their work environments around common spaces where casual mingling and interdepartmental chatter happens without any formal planning.”

Back to the Gladwell article …

“But when employees sit chained to their desks, quietly and industriously going about their business, an office is not functioning as it should. That’s because innovation—the heart of the knowledge economy—is fundamentally social. Ideas arise as much out of casual conversations as they do out of formal meetings. More precisely, as one study after another has demonstrated, the best ideas in any workplace arise out of casual contacts among different groups within the same company.  [Johnson’s Liquid Network] …

Innovation comes from the interactions of people at a comfortable distance from one another, neither too close nor too far.  …

The catch is that getting people in an office to bump into people from another department is not so easy as it looks.”

Johnson says that,

“… if there is a single maxim through [his] book’s arguments, it is that we are better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them. … Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine.  They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders.  They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.”

Or, simply put – to be more innovative you have to be more collaborative.  You need to put yourself in a position where you are bumping into, colliding with and spilling into other people’s perspectives and ideas.  Because doing so will trigger new thoughts and ideas that you wouldn’t explore in isolation.

The Gensler study goes on to say that, “… focus and collaboration are complementary work modes. … We know that both focus and collaboration are crucial to the success of any organization in today’s economy.”  In a balanced workplace, the employees thrive.

4 Different Modes of Working.

A Steelcase white paper, “How the workplace can improve collaboration”, June 2010, 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.”

The white paper goes on to say that its study has revealed that people actually need 4 different modes of working:

  1. Focus Time
  2. Collaboration Time
  3. Learning
  4. Socializing

The mix will depend on who you are and what you do.  The balance of the 4 modes will vary.

How do remote workers fit into this “Collaboration soup”?

Part 2, we explore whether being in the same physical space is critical to increasing collaboration.

If you would like further information on how to obtain the right balance of various working modes for your organization, please contact us.

5 Myths of Telepresence and What They Mean to Your Business

If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you have more than a passing interest in collaboration, video conferencing or telepresence. Confused? You’re not the only one. You can’t use search terms like collaboration, or telepresence without coming up against different definitions, methodologies or applications. You walk away from a search like that inevitably asking: “What’s the right definition?”

That is the problem with terms like collaboration and telepresence. They are broad and sweeping and you will be hard pressed to find many people who have the same definition. But that isn’t a bad thing.  Creating authentic communication and collaboration isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” industry.

5 Myths of Telepresence

Recently, Cisco published an article on their blog debunking five myths around telepresence. These myths are things that we, at ET Group, have come across time and time again when talking to clients. The Myths Cisco talks about are:

Myth #1. “It’s unaffordable and only for the enterprise”

Myth #2. “Web-based consumer services are good enough”

Myth #3. “Software vs. hardware”

Myth #4. “Telepresence is too complex to set up and use”

Myth #5. “The payback is limited to travel”

Debunking The Myths

Debunking the myths is important for three reasons:

  1. It gives existing telepresence users a way to gauge their investment.
  2. By putting the myths under the microscope readers can take stock of any preconceptions they might have.
  3. It helps people to make good decisions when developing a technology roadmap for the next five years.

Myth #1. “It’s Unaffordable and Only for the Enterprise”

I’m going to leave the telepresence ROI discussion to my peers. I’m going to focus on Myths 2-4 because they’re centered more on the technology involved behind the scenes and the user experience.

Myth #2. “Web-Based Consumer Services Are Good Enough”

In previous blog articles We’ve discussed the pros and cons of consumer grade services for your business Video Conference needs. Recently, Microsoft began folding its MSN messenger application and pushing those users towards their Skype platform. The only announcement which improves Skype’s business readiness as a result of this move is an improved mobile application. Mobility without security isn’t going to offer businesses a new experience with Skype. In fact, it would be my guess that the fanfare of the new Skype user base may impact performance with the sheer number of subscribers. Why do I say this? Skype and MSN have had high profile outages in the past due to congestion. It’s worth thinking about what would happen with their combined user bases.

Myth #3. “Software Vs. Hardware”

This question is at the heart of every video conferencing roadmap, and it feeds into three key questions:

  1. How do you want to collaborate? For an example read 3 Real-Life Solutions to Ensure Video Conferencing Adoption.
  2. Where do you want your teams to work? See a previous blog Do you Lack Meeting Room Space? Without Exception, Every Company or Agency I Speak with has This Problem.
  3. What can I leverage today, for tomorrow? Further discussed in the blog Conference Room Audio Visual Solutions are an Integral Part of a Well Executed UC&C Platform.

People often ask, how do I ‘future proof’ my investment? Do I go with a desktop client like Jabber, Lync, or Vidyo; or invest in an integrated boardroom solution? After we start discussing the three questions above, we often find that clients want to do both.

The reasons clients may wish to do both vary, but it boils down to one thing: In many telepresence deployments there is tremendous investment overlap in the requirements for mobile versus office deployments. Understanding this allows clients to prevent the conversation from starting as a “this or that” discussion and making it about workflows and where collaborative technologies can enhance productivity.

Myth #4. “Telepresence is too Complex to Set Up and Use”

I think that it is important to recognize the difference between complex, and flexible. Yes, there are many different ways that you can deploy telepresence. But, that’s true of your Phone System or PBX, and it’s just as true of your computing environment whether its Windows, Mac or Linux based. Options don’t inherently mean complexity, and anyone that tells you differently is avoiding the question.

Options mean that you have to take a very sober look at where your company’s deployment is starting from, and where you want to develop your collaborative ecosystem too in the next five years. But building the ecosystem is only half of the battle.

The other half of this myth is using telepresence; the user adoption of the technology. User adoption is a microcosm of how companies adopt new technologies. Most, will have a few highly evangelical adopters who will win over the office over a period of time. A few will adopt a technology and have it sit unused while they try to figure out what its business application will be. Rarely will everyone see the need to make a change and jump in with both feet. At its heart, user adoption is a battle of perception. Developing adoption comes down to three things, dispelling fears and doubts, kicking the tires, and users finding what’s in it for them.

What Will Telepresence Mean for Your Business?

A lot of what I’ve talked about, and Cisco’s blog post can be summed up into one question: What will Telepresence mean for your business?

If anything, this blog has shown you that there isn’t one-way to answer this question to satisfy everyone. The next time you go to search for collaboration or telepresence, instead of asking “What’s the right definition?”, ask yourself “How will my business define it?”

Cisco has done an excellent job of trying to dispel fears and doubts.  If you’re still stuck on the definition we at ET Group can help you with the rest.

Securekey’s Collaborative Entrepreneur

Collaboration Changes Everything Including Entrepreneurial Business Models

Model for Success

Have you noticed that when you are contemplating buying a new car and you have a particular brand and model in mind, you start seeing that specific car more frequently on the road?

This is really an awareness change.  Your mind has a sharpened awareness for something and that something manifests itself more visibly to your consciousness.

My awareness for collaboration and the importance that the collaborative model is having on business today has increased.  Because I focus on Collaborative Solutions, I see more evidence every day that to thrive in today’s world, there is an ever-greater need to work with others in a collaborative ecosystem like a hybrid workplace.

The Evolution of a Serial Entrepreneur

Recently, I attended a luncheon where the main speaker was Greg Wolfond.  Greg may not be a household name, but if you have been in technology as long as I have, you’ll recognize his name in connection with two very successful technology start-ups; Footprint Software and 724 Solutions.

Footprint was Greg’s first venture during the period of 1983 to 1995.  Footprint developed software to fill a need for a retail-banking branch and their market success ultimately resulted in a sale of the company to IBM.

Greg’s second company was 724 Solutions from 1997 to 2002, during the dot com boom and bust period.  724 Solutions was at the forefront of mobile banking solutions and was a darling stock during the heady days from 1997 to 2000.

In 2007, Greg founded his third start-up, SecureKey Technologies which enables plastic cards to be virtualized into mobile phones and PCs without sacrificing security.

Secrets of a Collaborative Entrepreneur

First and foremost, Greg stated that each time he starts a new company, considerable time was spent determining what problem they are trying to solve.  If they don’t get this right then the chances for success go way down.

Another important key ingredient is the core team and having the right people in the right roles.  Greg used himself as one of the prime examples.  He is good at getting things going from nothing but as the organization starts to spread its wings in the market, Greg does not think his strength is being the CEO and he hires the right people and elects the right board members to enable the organization to take the product to market.

Greg had described some of the common factors between his three entrepreneurial ventures.  But one of the questions from the floor during the luncheon was, “This is your third technology start-up, what is different this time?”

What is Different with SecureKey?


Greg was building more than a product.  He was building a market offering that was enhanced and enabled by the partners that became integral pieces of the solution.

He was solving problems in collaboration with other parties for the overall good of the customer, his partners and SecureKey. He was creating an “everybody wins” outcome by building a solution that involved stakeholders as collaborators in achieving common goals.

This is different and will likely play a large part in how successful SecureKey will be.

Partners in the SecureKey Collaborative Ecosystem

Greg started SecureKey with the goal of simplifying passwords for users and making sure that people’s use of the internet was really secure.  So he started to build some software.  Even though SecureKey’s software was going to be new and different, internet security, and most importantly, transaction security, was part of an ecosystem that involved users, vendors, financial organizations and governments to name some of the more obvious parties.

Greg started to work with these other parties as partners.  He met with them to understand what their goals were, and what they offered as part of the overall solution.  Although this made the work more complex, in the end it really simplified the solution. Most importantly, the results of collaborating have greatly increased SecureKey’s chances for success.

How does SecureKey collaborate with their partners?

SecureKey was not going to grow by doing all the components involved in authorizing transactions as the banks were already highly efficient and cost effective.  Not only did SecureKey leverage the banks for this, but they have also extended the authorization model to include government transactions.  This is good for the banks as they make a cut on each transaction. By using the bank’s systems, it is good for the government because they do not need to build or operate a separate system.  It is good for users because it simplifies things by having less accounts and using an authorization process they are familiar with.  And SecureKey is the glue that makes all the systems work together.

Complexity is increasing.  Change is accelerating.  Increased collaboration is essential and technology is an important component to increase collaboration.

Our organization can help yours to understand and orchestrate an effective technology platform for Unified Communications & Collaboration and for a Digital Media Communication architecture.

For assistance in using technology collaborative solutions to make you more effective, contact us.

Do you Lack Meeting Room Space? Without Exception, Every Company or Agency I Speak with has This Problem

The Inevitable Problem of Not Having Enough Meeting Room Space

The nature of work has been changing from less individual focus-time work, to more group collaboration work.  The result: Time spent in meetings has increased significantly.

This doesn’t mean that all meetings are effective or that individual time is unimportant.  But, there is a trend towards an increasing amount of time working with others to solve problems, and to collaborate and innovate in the workplace. If you don’t have the right design for your workspace your collaborative efficiency can be hindered.

“…Research has shown that while individual work might sometimes result in a faster answer, collaboration consistently delivers deeper and richer ideas because of the broad perspectives and cross-pollination of ideas that teams can offer…” 360 Research

“A Steelcase joint research study with Corenet Global found that two-thirds of organizations collaborate between 60% to 80% of the time. There’s good reason for it — collaboration works. Research has shown that while individual work might sometimes result in a faster answer, collaboration consistently delivers deeper and richer ideas because of the broad perspectives and cross-pollination of ideas that teams can offer. But whether alone or in a group, the drive for innovation requires greater creativity.” 360 Research

The reality is building collaborative solutions means more meeting space is required.

Two Trends Working Against the Availability of Meeting Space

1. Companies Are Reducing Their Real Estate Footprint (Less Space = Less Rooms)

Often the biggest fixed cost a company has is their real estate.  Some are reducing their space to save money but most just don’t need as much real estate as they used to.

Why Not? 

More flexible work policies allow people to work away from the office such as at home, on customer premises or even on the road. Secondly, companies are redesigning their workspace to accommodate more people in less space while making the workspace much better to work in. Finally, personal computing devices are allowing workers to take their work with them anywhere they go.

I have heard clients say that they can “shoot a cannon off” on a floor and no one would get hurt.  People are just not in the office as much.  Some will even argue it is easier to get individual work done when you are out of the office.

I have a friend in the Commercial Real Estate market, who visits clients and often tells them they have too much real estate because they just aren’t utilizing the space the way they used to.

2. Organizations Do Not Effectively Use the Rooms They Have

As it can be really tough to get a room or space to meet in, you’d think it makes sense to utilize the space that you already have right? Unfortunately rooms often sit idle more than they should because the systems are not in place to manage these spaces properly.

What Happens?

People book a meeting room and then plans change but they forget to free up the meeting room. This is how meeting space is wasted.  Offices are left empty when their owner is away – another wasted opportunity for meeting space. Meetings take longer than they should for a number of reasons none of which are related to how the actual meeting is conducted. These are examples of wasted time and valuable meeting spaces.

Another example of wasting time is “finding a place to meet”.  As per Steelcase Workplace Surveys:

This is costly for organizations and has a real impact on productivity.

On the Bright Side, There Are Ways to Combat Both Trends That Work Against the Availability of Meeting Space

This table provides you with multiple solutions for solving the inevitable problem of not having enough meeting room space.

Getting More Space From Less Space How to More Effectively Use Meeting Rooms
Move from less “I” space to more “We” space – more flexible space Scheduling systems
Virtual meetings Enabling faster start time
Automate meeting wrap up
Make technology easier to use

I will discuss the details around the solutions, which offset having less real estate in our next blog.

Identifying your lack of meeting space is half the battle. The next step is about finding the right solution for your organization. Contact us to discuss the situation in your office and stay tuned for our next blog Part 2: How to Get More Space From Less Space – Factors Offsetting Less Real Estate, where I will delve deeper into the solutions in the table above which help to make meeting collaboratively easier, by making more ‘meeting space’ available.

Rule #1 for Video and Firewalls: Say NO to Helper Services

Video Conferencing and Firewalls

Firewalls are probably one of the biggest peace-of-mind purchases that an enterprise will make to ensure it’s secure from the outside world. More comprehensive firewalls offer a vast suite of tools and features to make the life of the administrator easier by automating as much of the process of security management as possible. When it comes to video conferencing technology, the lion’s share of firewall solutions are not as video friendly as the feature set suggests.

Today, many firewalls are equipped with things like SIP ALG or H.323 helper services, which the vendor suggests will allow clients to easily traverse the firewall and make a more seamless, more secure connection. The problem is that it’s rarely –if ever- the case. These services while helpful in theory, are often part of what is called Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI). SPI’s role in your protection is to open each bit of data passing in and out of your network to look for any threats and neutralize them before they cause any damage. This can cause significant performance problems for video conferencing.  Some firewalls can be “aware” or sensitive to the particulars of video conferencing protocol, although they also have some inherent risks, which need to be mitigated by your IT security policies.

What Does This All Mean? If it’s Not Fool Proof, Why Do it at All?

Every firewall is different and every enterprise uses their firewall differently. Hence, no two installations will be exactly the same. Because no two installations will be the same, firewall vendors have done quite a bit in recent years to provide the ability to turn off, or change the role of SPI and helper services on your firewall. Unfortunately in most cases, it isn’t enough. Video traffic passing through a firewall using helper services or SPI can severely lower performance because of the processing power required to monitor the traffic.

The other serious limitation of firewalls when it comes to video traffic and SPI is dynamic port allocation. All modern firewalls work very well against the model of fixed port allocation. In this model, the security admin defines what traffic on what port is allowed into and out of the network. As video and other business applications gain ground in network bandwidth usage this model becomes harder to maintain.

Video specifically requires very few fixed ports for connecting participants. It relies more heavily on dynamic port allocation, where a port or group of ports is chosen by the client to make a connection. Without a specific rule, most firewalls do not respond well to passing traffic through to allow this video connection. Ports used for video calls will fall within a set range as large as 10,000-20,000 possible port combinations and it’s a cumbersome undertaking to maintain. The firewall by design has to strike a balance between being porous and secure. Because that balance is required, video conferencing infrastructure has evolved to come up with ways of securely adapting to the needs of the network.

Two Ways to Handle the Firewall Question

There are two popular approaches to handling video traffic without compromising your network security. Video vendors understand that businesses want collaboration without compromising security, or network performance. With this in mind, two approaches have emerged to mitigate the risk to security and performance, and to provide the enterprise with peace-of-mind.

1. Larger Market Players take a Traversal Approach

They literally hop over the firewall, bypassing it with secured edge servers, or pass through it on a very limited range of open ports. This is a tried and true option utilized by large enterprises. It offers the greatest scalability and flexibility. IT Administrators prefer these solutions because they are designed with security policy in mind, resulting in an easy solution for the security minded to get behind.

2. Up and Coming Vendors Leverage Existing Infrastructure

Vendors can still offer rich experiences for their end users by leveraging existing infrastructure from the DMZ or the cloud. Depending on the deployment scenario, these solutions can require anywhere from 100 to as few as 0 ports.  In fact, they can even be offered as cloud services almost removing your corporate firewall from the equation. They are mobile focused, sleek, stylish and their flexibility makes them a sexy option for the “Bring Your Own Device” crowd.

Firewalls are not the only ‘helpers’ that can come into contact with your video conferencing traffic. At their core, WAN optimization technologies try to apply some kind of order to your public traffic. Their greatest advantage is that IT staff will already be familiar with the idea of Quality of Service (QoS). They will also be familiar with traffic shaping, which is fundamentally what these tools accomplish albeit on the open Internet instead of your corporate network.

These are relevant to a firewall discussion because unlike firewall helpers, WAN optimizers are generally very media sensitive tools. They are geared to improve your experience with video conferencing, but can also work to your advantage on other lines of business applications as well. Regardless of the vendor and the way it’s deployed, all video conferencing solutions eventually come back to the firewall.

Things to Consider Before Deploying Video Conferencing

1. Make Sure You Know What Your Firewall Vendor Supports and Their Limitations

2. Most Importantly, Discuss the Implications of Video Conferencing with an Integrator Before Deploying Video Conferencing to Your Users.

Having these two on your strategy checklist will be the difference between a rich pervasive collaborative experience and a pixelated game of charades.

If you have any questions concerning what your firewall vendor supports and the possible implications of your video conferencing system, please contact us.