It might be something of an understatement to say that companies sometimes deploy new apps across the organisation – only to work out later that almost no one is using them.
However, the name of the game very often is to improve performance, by enhancing and streamlining business processes and their management.
This frequently becomes about getting all the different parts of the business and all the human elements collaborating more often, and more efficiently, in ways that mean they actually help each other and become more productive instead of taking the proverbial two steps forward and one back all the time. It's collaboration, but not as we usually know it.
Thus spake Gartner in December last year. According to the research giant, "a culture of extreme collaboration" is needed. This doesn't, we think, mean that we should all go out and buy a motorbike, subsequently doing business through the helmet intercom while performing breathtaking leaps and spins at high speed. Although that doesn't necessarily sound like a bad thing, we're sure.
No, what we think Gartner is driving at (sorry) is that in order for the much-touted business benefits of collaborative technology to bear fruit, organisations and individuals all need to work together – and think about how best to work together – in a much more intense and involved way.
Businesses need to go to the next level, as the tired old saying goes, and of course the channel must help them get going.
Is the research firm on the right track? We asked several channel players.
The trickier part of the equation
Adam Lacey, social practice leader at social business, collaboration, and web consultancy Portal, confirms that the idea of extreme collaboration, or improved collaboration that really does what it says on the tin, is essentially about getting users to work in a certain way, certainly. However, in order for it to work, it has to be tailored to individual company needs and this might be the trickier part of the equation.
The technology and the ideas about how to use collaborative technology are not new – much of it has been around for a few years now. However, it remains the case that few organisations seem to be making the best use of it, with many remaining stuck in old ways and habits around communication and collaboration.
Lacey says reference to specific industry and individual needs is key. "I would talk about what the business outcome is when I talk to customers. It's all very well as an IT person or a business person saying ‘I'd like to collaborate more'; it's almost like saying ‘I'd like to spend more time at the pub', it doesn't mean all that much," he explains. "Do you want to make customers happier, or do you want to save money? If so, sit down, take a number."
Decide what the business wants to achieve first, then figure out how to use collaborative technology to get staff and processes working the way you need to be working to reach the goal or goals. Think in a whole-of-business way as well – don't rely on simply getting people who already work on the same team using more collaborative tech, but look at new conjunctions and synergies across the organisation that could be of benefit, even in the longer term.
"Then identify a tool set around that," Lacey says. "And step away from having a team manager or a business manager defining how you collaborate and why."
Customers are currently asking for collaborative technologies or saying they would like to collaborate more, but do need more help moving beyond those ideas to actually reap the rewards, he reiterates. And that is just as true for many that have already started using the technologies – many may be hoping to achieve much more than they have been able to so far.
"What Gartner says is interesting," Lacey says. "But perhaps it sounds quite generic."
Tony Smith, head of channel sales at Siemens Enterprise Communications, says a small survey it did recently suggests that many, if not most, organisations already have staff collaborating from different places at different times. However, less than half of the firms that Siemens asked said they were getting the most out of their collaborative technology.
Often the implementations are not joined up or easy to use, Smith notes.
"I agree with what Gartner says in its announcement, but I think that fundamentally it has to be easier for people to join these technologies together, to make them useful – we're talking about videoconferencing, web sharing – it needs to be easy to use the interfaces and portals that people are used to using," he says.
"People don't want six different ways of doing things; they want one. So for me, what will really create the ability to bring virtual teams together to drive productive working is about ease of use and how easy it all is to interface."
Siemens has been working to develop and extend the idea of a single, easy-to-use interface through its portfolio, he adds.
The ability to collaborate on the web has definitely changed the way we work, he agrees, and this just needs to be taken further and pushed to get things really happening – there is a lot of old PBX hardware lying around as well as session initiation protocol (SIP)-dependent implementations. Vendors and their channel partners need to be able to seed those further changes and then nurture them, Smith says.
"We are seeing a lot of partners deploying UC to end customers, and once it is there, they can see for themselves a lot of the benefits of UC – through things such as virtualisation it's easy to deploy the apps; you don't need the physical server hardware to do it," he explains.
"And then you get groups of users actually using the technology so long as they get the training and enablement. And we're seeing partners enabling that difference."
The market shift has begun
Uptake of UC has been lower and slower than expected, he agrees, but the market shift has begun – partly because some of the critical functionality for app support, that used to be only bolted on after a sale, now comes standard in the box, as it were. And anything that comes as standard and can help drive down costs and improve efficiency is today going to be a winner.
Claire Macland, vice president of EMEA channels and go-to-market at Avaya, agrees that the market may now be steering a straighter course and surmounting previous obstacles.
"There were some big changes that we saw over the past year or so. If you looked at EMEA, and in the UK, one of the biggest drivers we see that affects UC has been the economic picture," she says. "The customers started to have conversations with us that were really more about economics, about doing more with less. We have all been talking about it but now it seems to be coming through very strongly."
Coupled with BYOD, the ongoing economic tough times for both businesses and end-user consumers alike have meant a bigger focus on collaboration. The astonishing success of media tablets and even smartphones has only given this phenomenon extra impetus.
"When we think about the impact of the iPad and tablets in general, the first iPad was only launched in 2010, which is just amazing," says Macland. "And increasingly – perhaps just in the past year or so – you see people actively collaborating on the go."
People in many cases are already carrying suitable hardware for seamless, any time, any place collaboration around with them everywhere – the gadgets just need to be put to better use.
This can be about something as simple as making better use of downtime, such as when waiting in an airport, or about sharing documents, or bringing people together at the right time and the right place who would otherwise be unavailable or relatively inaccessible, using remote videoconferencing technology. Verticals from healthcare to transport to hospitality stand to really gain, Macland notes.
Making this leap is where the channel plays a critical role, and it means, more than ever, developing effective and entrepreneurial consultancy skills and practices. "Yes, absolutely! Absolutely," says Macland.
Barriers can be leaped over
In its Six Best Practices for Moving to a Culture of Extreme Collaboration report, Gartner argues that major barriers to cross-functional communication and collaboration really can be overcome.
Janelle Hill, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, notes that effective collaboration is critical to many business operation processes. The vision may even be rather exciting.
"An extreme collaboration (XC) environment is essentially a virtual war room or crisis centre, where people can come together to work collaboratively on a shared purpose," Hill writes.
"This environment is available 24/7, thus enabling people to work when, where and how they need to in order to meet shared goals and outcomes. What makes it extreme is people's willingness to cross geographic, organisational, political and management boundaries, to pool their collective skills and resources to solve problems and move towards the attainment of a shared, ambitious goal."
Gartner said there are six best practices that will help take collaboration up a gear, delivering breakthrough process performance by changing the way people behave, communicate, work together and maintain relationships, across different locations and geographies.
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