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Moving from Conferencing to Collaboration

April 30, 2009
Learn about how technology is solving collaboration challenges

There have been many buzzwords over the years that have promised to reduce costs and increase productivity: convergence, VoIP, computer telephony integration, unified messaging, etc. While vendors have been strongly pushing these concepts over the last 10 years, analysts and consultants have been tasked with the difficult job of sifting through the benefits while recognizing false information. As organizations jumped, drifted, or went kicking and screaming in this direction, they often found that expenses weren’t significantly reduced, and the productivity promises were nothing more than marketing fluff. So, it’s easy to see how many professionals can be skeptical of a dramatic shift in communications, even as it’s actually happening.

Communications today are pretty much limited to three primary avenues, and all have major constraints:

  1. E-mail. It’s not real time, and conversations can take several days, back and forth.
  2. Phone calls. It can be difficult to track people down on the phone, and it’s cumbersome to review documents together via phone.
  3. Face to face. You lose time when you travel, and it’s expensive.

5 Elements of Collaborative Applications

  1. Presence. Knowing who’s available, and by what means, can increase the speed of communication in dramatic ways.
  2. Mobility. As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, collaborative tools must support users when they’re out of the office.
  3. Content sharing. Most business collaborations eventually center around a document, a spreadsheet, or a presentation that must be developed and reviewed, so sharing content visually is an essential component.
  4. Video. Increased productivity, more personal interaction, and reduced travel expenses. As costs go down, video will finally rise to a prominent place in communications.
  5. On demand, for everyone. Everyone collaborates, so everyone should have access to the tools, whether scheduled or on the fly.

So, as we look to do more with less, we naturally turn to technology. For many professionals, this would mean scheduling a plethora of conference calls, eating up valuable time and making it difficult for everyone to be on the same page (literally and figuratively). And, while technology can be a part of the answer, the bigger question is, “How do we use technology not just to communicate, conference, or share ideas, but to truly collaborate?” That’s where the power of converged communications can be unleashed to change the way we work together. We can now collaborate more effectively, and go beyond e-mail and conference calls.

While everyone says they already collaborate, analysts have found that most users have no clue as to the effectiveness of their collaboration. This tells us that everyone shares an awareness of the importance of good collaboration, but it also reveals a disconnect in terms of how effective their collaborative interactions actually are.

To bridge this gap, and to address the limitations of current telecommunications tools, technology is reaching a point of maturity that’s helping to solve the collaboration challenges. Traditional methods, such as conference calling and e-mail, can no longer be seen as the standalone answer to collaborative communication, but are simply small pieces of overarching strategic initiatives designed to help people work together smarter and faster, resulting in a higher-quality product.

Riding this wave of collaboration, presence, and virtual connections is an entire generation of users that have grown up with social networking, videoconferencing, and chat as primary (and even preferred) methods of communication.

Even though we’ve heard all of this before, we’re reaching the tipping point where, with these collaboration tools in place, the promise of convergence can finally transition from hype to reality: A truly collaborative organization, no longer limited by geographical separations, more seamlessly integrated to increase productivity and reduce costs.

Thomas B. Brannen is president at Marietta, GA-based Wassaw Consulting.

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