Set against a backdrop of the Global Economy, Collaboration comes of age
The term ‘The Global Economy’ can mean many things to many people. From an Economic perspective it can mean how we evaluate countries, developing or developed perhaps. From a People perspective it can mean ‘global society’ and the individuals’ impact on how we shape our world. From a Corporate perspective it possibly means doing business across many multicultural boundaries and time-zones.
Whatever the interpretation, as the Global Economy expands, many organisations have a need to participate on the global stage in order to thrive. The old way of managing inside country borders is fading fast. Previously the globalisation of business was often based on the British colonial model. Headquarters, functions, and capital were in one place. Leaders were dispatched to run regional operations like colonies. Later companies decentralized away from the home-country with little cross-collaboration or inter-regional process replication. The pendulum then swung the other way entirely with multi-national organisations re-centralising back to the mother country including its infrastructure, core functions and process.
For small and medium enterprises there is no escaping globalisation either. The ‘right-sourcing’ of, once local, skill-sets and technologies including manufacturing, IT, call centers and much more, means that businesses aren’t truly local enterprises anymore.
Whatever the size of business, the spectre of standardised services together with replicable processes looms large over most organisations as a way of driving technological and support efficiencies.
As an antidote, the need for collaboration as a business process is becoming more urgent and business critical. For most businesses, it is no longer viable to operate outside of the global arena or the democratisation of the technologies that are underpinning it. Additionally, to generate new business opportunities and retain the competitive advantage, it is becoming necessary to rethink business processes to accommodate the new economy and the dispersed workforce. As opportunities grow, collaboration and communication can make those same opportunities more immediate, more manageable, tangible, and definitely more personal.
As McKinsey (and Company) recently said (The 21st Century Organisation) ‘Raising the productivity of employees whose jobs can’t be automated is the next great performance challenge – and the stakes are high’.
Set against a globalised backdrop, Collaboration and Computing technologies are finally coming of age. Collaboration data is already traversing our networks, from byte size chunks in the form of Micro-Blogging and Instant Messaging to full Visual Communication solutions. And everything in-between. A suite of collaboration tools fits the brief perfectly to enable participation in the global arena by seizing opportunities for our own benefit, and for our shareholders.
What is Collaboration Technology?
When we talk, work or learn together we collaborate; When we share ideas with each other, we collaborate. Communication and computing technologies are helping to streamline communication between people and organisations regardless of location, time, platform or device.
Since the internet exploded into our lives and became the norm, people have embraced collaboration technology socially to enhance their lives by the hundreds of millions every single day. The likes of Linked-In, Facebook, Twitter and now Google+ are reaching critical mass in a relatively short space of time to enable us at a personal level. As a consequence, Collaboration technologies are seen as the logical next step by businesses to enable them to create efficiencies in their business processes reducing human latency in the workplace and decreasing speed to market.
Assuming the technology is fit for purpose, it is less about the technology and more about how people are using Collaboration platforms for forging more productive relationships and evolutionary processes. Note that if ‘Content is King’, then Experience and Context are Queen. If your technology is flaky and not easy to use, or your customers don’t see it as relevant to them, they will be very reluctant to use it.
There are multiple ways a single technology or collaboration tool can be used. Someone in Accounts won’t use it in the same way or for the same reasons as someone in Human Resources. For example, observing customers opening a document on a single software package highlights just how many routes to the same result there are.
Given the illustrated complexity, the urge to create a singular workflow / process to aide usage of a new solution should be resisted. A singular approach will prove irrelevant and alienating for most of your customers.
This gives us, as technologists, a paradigm shift when it comes to rolling out a new solution. Especially where Standardisation is being driven.
Technology Challenges – Your People, Organisational Structures, Sponsorship and More
There is no doubt that using Collaboration technology to create organisational efficiencies and productivity gains make perfect economic sense.
Rolling out technology to achieve that seems like an easy business case to make. Especially if the business case assumes 100% adoption rate of the solution.
There’s just one problem. Collaboration is more than just a technology roll out. It’s about People and creating a change in their behaviour. As a consequence, your adoption rate will most likely be considerably lower than 100% at roll out, even if the solution design and problem identification are asynchronous.
There are many reasons for lack of customer engagement with technology. There are as many reasons for this as there are behavioural or psychological papers or practices since Freud burst on the scene.
Change is at the heart of all of this. The human predisposition is for resistance to change, the lack of understanding around why change will enable; The investment in the old way, including the emotional, social, and hierarchical investments made by real live people all create a recipe for evading adoption to technology.
Many Managers, Human Resources, Bereavement Counsellors and Psychology professionals talk to the ‘Change Curve’ or the ‘Stages of Change’. Meanwhile Technologists speak to the ‘Technology Adoption Model’ or the ‘Change Equation’ to identify how we adopt new ways of thinking, acting and feeling at work, in the home or socially.
Upon closer examination it’s clear that change or adoption of an idea, technology or state of being are very similar.
Whatever the lingo’, it’s all really the same model. The way we as people adapt to change, regardless of who, or what our motivations are.
People are (mostly) non-linear. Change takes time and is an iterative journey. Far from being a one off event, it is more a cycle and recycle of communication. Which will change with each business function. Without sounding corny – Change is about Collaborating with the Customer.
The Collaboration Strategist, Michael Sampson, illustrates this very well in his book, cunningly titled, ‘User Adoption Strategies’.
Not only do different adoption rates affect the success of your business model, they also affect your return on investment. It’s probably stating the obvious, however investment models are only realised if your customers actually use the technology and in a way that releases the intended financial return. Therein lies the customer adoption conundrum.
The personal and corporate benefits collide here to best effect. The corporate objective has a financial benefit; meanwhile the personal aspect of making our working hours easier is key to adoption and therefore releasing the business benefit. Whether it’s corporate or ‘personal’ sponsorship driving business benefit the overarching questions from the get-go remain the same:
1. Does the technology fit the business requirements, across all the lines of business? And does it truly improve the business process add to the bottom line?
2. Who is leading this technology and process change? Perhaps it is the IT department, when it really should be business led?
3. Are the Governance and associated polices applicable to all lines of business. Or has a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the technology solution and corresponding policy been applied? Standardised technology solutions are one thing, however, a shared Governance strategy ultimately maps out types of usage and customer expectation.
4. In addition to new business processes, has there been a customer adoption process mapped out? Much consideration needs to be applied to how the customer migrates away from the old and embraces the new. In order for the business benefits, and return on investment to be achieved. A panoramic view of all your business customers and there ‘as is’ processes is the first step in Customer Adoption.
As we have already declared, Collaboration is not just about technology. Pushing out Collaboration technology will not create more efficient business processes by the technology release alone. After all, Collaboration is already happening at the ‘water-cooler’ everyday. Effective collaboration is a business led process evolution enabled by a suite Collaboration tools.
Collaboration is active, emotional and connective. It is not passive. Simply sending a document as an attachment is not collaborating. To realise efficient, productive ‘anytime, anywhere’ collaboration and communication, business application has to be relevant to each business function and therefore each process. In reality a successful implementation is the marriage of both relevant technology application and human interaction.
Understanding the human element, the propensity for opposition to change, and who will use the tools in multiple ways, is perhaps the most troublesome piece of the Customer Adoption Jigsaw.
The Customer Adoption Service Offering
Although there is not a one size fits all approach to encouraging the adoption of technology, there are five central tenets employed.
Usage and Adoption – Requirements Capture
The Discovery phase is where the foundations are laid for successful adoption implementation. It’s the getting to know you piece, where we get up to speed with the key business drivers and unpack the pockets across the organisation where industry takes place.
The needs, behaviours and attitudes of your customer are scrutinsed to uncover what really matters and motivates you and your customer across the various business functions.
Existing service assets and service structures are additionally analysed especially around utilisation and measureable business benefit. Further, the intangible value-add in the value supply change is identified to begin to understand how the invisible ecosystem can influence and shape value back to the business.
Previous service transition history will also be discussed and examined to determine where the natural advocates for change are located, and how and why the business should be segmented to drive adoption. For example, it may be necessary to segment not by line of business, but perhaps by role, status, location, first wave adopters, or second wave adopters, to truly understand the scope.
In partnership with the key project sponsors the design of the metrics for success is undertaken. These in turn influence the governance piece and any policy changes.
Usage and Adoption – Evaluation and Benchmarking
This is a vital first step in base lining where the successes and challenges lie with any technology release.
It provides a snapshot of where we are now, and where we want to get to.
By collecting and collating real time data from existing systems (like Remedy) along with anecdotal evidence, it helps asses the sentiment and where your customers are on the change equation / technology adoption model. From there we can begin to understand the strategic direction of any adoption work required.
Additionally by analysing the data at a very top level, we can also begin to separate the emotion from the reality. This inevitably signposts tangible next steps and perhaps realise some quick-wins.
Evaluation and benchmarking is also about identifying the real business benefit to each line of business with a standard solution. The metrics of success can clearly be defined and designed at this stage. Designing Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) is dependent on the realisation of what is important to a particular organisation at an over-arching level, but also at a functional granular level.
For more searching results it is recommended that the benchmarking process should not be a one off analysis. Best practices now suggest that executing further analysis throughout the following service elements, delivers greater value to the customer. Further, greater resonance for the IT organisation is delivered by IT being more present throughout the business. Thereby delivering more opportunities to be understood and heard.
Usage and Adoption – Strategic Recommendations
The Benchmarking and Evaluation findings are played back to key stakeholders. A recommended directional strategy to enable process change across all functions will be presented as part of this playback.
At the heart of any strategy we recommend there will be an emphasis on understanding the levers and drivers of the second-wavers. Particularly how they begin to understand the business/strategic plan underpinning any release, as well as an understanding of the core benefits to them at a practical level.
These recommendations may be implemented in-house by your own corporate functions, or as a service.
Usage and Adoption – Process Design
Bringing the applicability and relevance of an implementation to life is another vital component of helping the workforce adapt to change and therefore drive business benefit to the bottom line.
The relevance will be explored by each function in a way that is far more than a theoretical exercise in process workflow. The process design must deliver real value at a personal and corporate level to be successful. Real world practical applications for success will be delivered.
This can be done in a variety of ways, from ‘over the shoulder’ observation, capturing ‘as-is’ processes, work-shopping or simply by nominating a representative from each function as a first-wave adopter of the solution (who can later be used as an advocate).
Identifying the natural first-wave adopters (advocates) along with the second-wave adopters is also key to a successful implementation. As a general rule second-wavers are usually in the majority, have no interest in technology, fundamentally don’t respond well to change, and are ultimately responsible for the lack of adoption. It is therefore vital to understand the dynamics of the first and second-wavers, at a departmental level, for any successful technology release.
Usage and Adoption – Policy Design
As we have already touched upon, standardised technologies across functions and regions is a logical way of keeping technology and support costs manageable.
That does not mean, however, that the application of that technology and the business processes should be standardised. Similarly the approach to Governance should not be standardised either. It is essential that policy design reflects and enables all functions. For example, a standard Blackberry policy might be that only a certain level and above only are allowed them. However certain functions, no matter how senior, are not mobile. Meanwhile some functions at all levels are mobile. The sales-force for example. Policy should therefore reflect and shape the business need and not the business want.
If the right policy underpins changes to working practices, it will certainly influence cultural change for the better. The rate of change may vary across region and function due to other influences, including legalities and external governance requirements, however a certain amount of control exerted through relevant policy design can begin to funnel behavioral change.
Usage and Adoption – Awareness Campaign Strategy
Sounds simple, just send an email to let everyone know the new technology solution has launched right? Actually this is the ‘science’ bit. Knowing when to talk, how to talk, and what to say, to make people really hear, is how any Awareness Strategy will excel.
The awareness strategy in essence, is a branding campaign for your IT organisation within its customer base. This is the part where you win the hearts and minds of your customer, so they have a positive and involuntary emotional response to the technology rather than an often inexplicable, peristaltic predisposition, for the adverse. Especially where change is concerned. This is where the truism, ‘it’s not about the technology it’s about the people’ really comes into it’s own.
Any Awareness Campaign Strategy will not be linear in its recommendations. Iterative and repetitious messaging, and the medium for messaging, is best tailored by function, by first-second wavers, and by how much influence a group has. For example; Administration staff and Personal Assistants are often the key influencers within an organisations ecosystem despite the senior management teams’ protestations to the contrary.
A successful Awareness Campaign Strategy will cut through the noise of the usual and will be a trigger for embracing the unusual.
Usage and Adoption - On-Boarding Stage. (The Awareness Strategy Implementation).
The defined Awareness Strategy will clearly influence the execution of the campaign.
Core components can typically include
• Stakeholder Engagement and Communications
• Messaging Sound-bites for key influencers to communicate and advocate
• Collateral for communications in multiple mediums
• Launch events
• Customer feedback mechanics
• Real time monitoring to determine bottle-necks/resistance to adoption
• Training materials and workshops
The implementation of the awareness strategy ensures any solution is relevant to all business functions and enables the business value.
Collaboration Tools – The Financial Returns
A Cisco survey revealed that the overwhelming majority (90 percent) of frequent users (those who use video conferencing technologies once or more per week) say video collaboration technologies save them at least 2 hours of valuable work time a week—yet only 33 percent of nonusers believe they could save any time using the technology. These results demonstrate a significant gap between user and nonuser perceptions.
They also revealed most respondents value benefits of video collaboration, such as increased productivity, reduced confusion, and improved group collaboration. And although both users and nonusers recognize the value of video collaboration technologies (76 vs. 60 percent, respectively), workers who frequently use the technology overwhelmingly value some of the qualitative benefits more than nonusers; for example, improving work-life balance (70 percent of frequent users vs. 37 percent of nonusers), increasing competitive advantage (73 percent of frequent users vs. 42 percent of nonusers), and bringing people closer together (71 percent of frequent users vs. 40 percent of nonusers).
Collaboration can provide us with quantifiable business transformation by improving business efficiency through evolving tighter processes and reducing latency. This in turn improves speed to market, which impacts for the good competitive advantage. Collaboration delivers greater intimacy with paying customer. A by-product of this is improved service provisioning meanwhile increasing positive market sentiment. Both have a significant monetary valuation effect.
Transformation through Customer Adoption is not always quantifiable however. The most significant benefits are often intangible, or ‘soft’. Posing a challenge when a CIO is trying to demonstrate value for Collaboration technologies for which there are no clear metrics of success.
It’s easy to enter saved travel costs into a spreadsheet to influence EBITDA. It’s not that easy to put a value on the entire workforce understanding their place in making sure there is a healthy EBITDA. If only because they have access to more information and people, via visual communication and collaboration tools. Fundamentally because they wouldn’t ordinarily have access to a travel budget.
The flexing of real time data and opinion (Qualitative and Quantitive) gives us further access to the ‘soft’ benefits of Collaboration tools. Whether it’s the senior executives who see their children more, the ecological benefits or the shop-floor worker understanding how much value they contribute to the bottom line. All deliver a positive business outcome, which in turn must have a fiscal and operational business benefit.
Collaboration Tools – In Conclusion
The spark of economic and cultural change is happening around us. Business models and employee expectation are shifting as the consumerisation of technology evolves.
The business benefit outweighs the cost of user adoption strategies, the question really is; ‘What is it going to cost not to do it’…