Rajesh Shetty, VP, Cisco India and SAARC
Businesses have long acknowledged the Internet as tool for connectivity and efficiency. Internet is fast enabling an interactive and collaborative work sphere with the best applications and programs, such as private social networks, audio and web conferences, video, and chat. These platforms have also assisted in bridging geographical distances, time zones and other collaborative limitations for multi-presence organizations. They are not just applications that address the need to stay connected, but also business tools that enable a collaborative working environment.
All these collaboration tools, however, do not comprise a solution unless they play a role in helping a business grow. Increasing productivity and saving costs are of foremost priority for businesses, and while collaboration technologies can seem like a panacea for business growth, but the key to successful collaboration lies in developing a strategy that involves people and technology processes, workflows, and capabilities.
Companies that successfully adopt collaborative processes are able to:
- Operate more effectively across time and distance barriers, reducing operational costs, lowering travel costs and by incorporating sustainable solutions
- Unlock employee potential by helping retain top employees, enabling virtual workforce, scale resources and helping them draw from a deeper well of knowledge
- Strengthen customer relationships by improving customer experience, lowering customer service costs and engaging customers in innovation process
- Outpace competition by reducing time to market, accelerating innovation and by advancing decision-making process.
Video is transcending organizational boundaries and allowing business to collaborate with their stakeholders, be it employees, partners, vendors or customers, thus reducing corporate spending on travel. A recent report by Bernstein Research states that technical advances in video conferencing have moved the capability to an entirely new level over the last 18 months. The firm reported that early adopters of video conferencing can replace 70 percent of internal travel and 10 percent of external travel over the next 10 to 15 years. This in turn will enable them to cut down their corporate travel spending by as much as 21 percent.
Employees today are so accustomed to using Web 2.0 tools such as video, instant messaging, wikis, and discussion forums in their personal lives that they now expect their employers to provide them with similar applications in the workplace, with the same levels of performance, and that allows ease of accessibility. There are instances when absence of these facilities has resulted in employees taking matters into their own hands and using external sources to manage communication and knowledge-sharing within their teams. As a result several forums were amassing knowledge that could have been beneficial to various departments of the organization, but were not designed to communicate with each other.
Moreover, these actions of maverick employees can not only put an organization's network at risk, compromise intellectual property and the security of sensitive corporate information, but also negate the benefits that open communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing can bring in a Web 2.0 environment. In order to avoid this self-help behavior, organizations need to strike a balance between maintaining control of intellectual property, running a high-availability network, and implementing technology that is relevant and productive to the business without the chaos and security breaches that can come from employees using applications ad hoc.
A global study by InsightExpress states that productivity and efficiency were identified by both end users and IT decision makers as the primary benefits of increased collaboration, with 69 percent of end users regularly using advanced collaboration tools such as video and Web conferencing to help them complete tasks at work more efficiently. The research also found that IT decision makers recognize the importance of collaboration tools to the future success of their business, with India and China being the most progressive in adopting these technologies. The future of collaboration in business is all the more evident with the advent of tablet PCs and the recent launch of Cius by Cisco, business collaboration tablet.
By connecting team members across organizations and time zones, through tools such as video conferencing, enterprise social networking, and unified communications, collaboration technology is helping companies to reduce costs accelerate time to market, and transform themselves globally. Organizations today, regardless of their size, understand the compelling need for installing processes that increase business efficiency, save cost in the longer run and adhere to environmental standards.
Businesses are willing to invest in technologies that help improve productivity. A modest level of collaboration results in moderate performance gains; however, progressively better collaboration will yield progressively better performance and returns.
Employing the right collaboration tools will not only allow companies to solve business issues but also gain a competitive advantage by connecting people and information, establishing potential new routes to market, and enhancing customer intimacy and brand awareness. Pioneers in financial services, healthcare, education, and other industries already are defining new enterprise standards in their industries. Moreover, besides the IT industry itself, sectors such as retail, government, sports and entertainment are all beginning to experience the benefits of collaborative technologies, and many more are at various stages of experimenting with what applications, services, and tools would work best for their needs. Now is the time for companies to plan their collaboration strategy and lay the groundwork by investing in good network infrastructure.