Collaboration Boosts Productivity, EfficiencyBy Bob Violino Print
Online collaboration tools offer improved employee productivity and greater efficiency.
By Bob Violino
Online collaboration tools are transforming the way people work together and keep up to date on projects. Among the biggest benefits for companies: improved employee productivity and greater efficiency.
Some of the biggest measurable productivity gains come in areas such as customer problem resolution, development of sales proposals or marketing campaigns, and product launches, says Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.
"If you get down to that level, you start to see some hard benefits in terms of productivity, time savings and reuse of assets," Schadler says. In general, electronic collaboration products allow people to work together in effective ways when other means of communicating aren't effective. "I would advise people to think about specific situations where tools such as the phone or email are not working very well," he says.
Burr & Forman, a full-service law firm in Atlanta, uses several technologies to improve collaboration. The firm has used Microsoft's SharePoint 2007 as a content and document repository for one of its practice groups for three years and will soon deploy a new electronic content management (ECM) system based on SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010, says CIO David Michel.
"The new SharePoint ECM was designed in a such a way that every matter or 'file' has its own folder structure so that all electronic information can be created, saved and searched in a very easy way through Outlook," Michel says. "This includes email, voicemail, documents, PDFs, electronic transcripts, etc. Our current document management system did not offer any flexibility and was originally designed only for documents and PDFs, so it's usability was much more limited."
The new system will make it easier and faster for users to share and find the documents they need. "We will also be able to very quickly, easily and securely provide clients with access to those documents when the situation calls for it without having to create entirely new systems," Michel says.
SharePoint ECM "will allow us to consolidate nine different document libraries into a single 'Burr' library, which means that all forms of electronic communication related to client matters will be easily available and highly searchable to everyone in the firm," he adds.
Another resource the firm uses is an enterprise collaboration service from YouSendIt. Until recently, Burr & Forman used the service primarily for large file transfers, but now it will also use the new enterprise Workstream offering, which allows the firm to send files and content directly from its SharePoint libraries into a shared folder for clients to see.
"YouSendIt [allows] us to more quickly share large amounts of information with clients and outside resources in a secure and auditable way," Michel says.
Another collaboration tool, AdobeConnect, provides online training so the firm can train multiple people in different offices at one time. "We also use it for continuing education training, where input is required to prove that the student is watching the entire session," Michel says. The product has made training easier and more widely available, he adds, which helps users become more proficient with the software they use to do their job.
Finally, Burr & Forman uses Cisco System's Tandberg video conferencing system for internal meetings, depositions, interviews and other events. Michel says the firm has benefitted from decreased travel costs as a result of using video conferencing.
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