Collaboration: At the Center of Effective BusinessBy Samuel Greengard Print
Collaboration tools help business achieve better communication internally, tighter integration with other enterprises and closer relationships with customers.
It's no secret that digital technology has revolutionized the enterprise. Yet behind today's mind-bending array of technologies—from servers and massive databases in the data center to mobile devices and apps on the front lines of business—there's a basic truth: All these sophisticated systems are worthless without the human ability to connect the dots and transform bits and bytes of data into information and knowledge.
Collaboration is at the center of this digital universe. As devices and software have evolved, and mobility has gone mainstream, the ability to communicate point-to-point in real time has become critical.
"Collaboration has always been part of the picture, but on a much less formal basis," observes Seth Kahn, author of Getting Innovation Right: How to Turn Ideas into Outcomes. "It's only since the rise of the knowledge worker that it has emerged as a critical component for the enterprise."
Thanks to increasingly sophisticated networks and more sophisticated unified communications and collaboration software—including emerging cloud capabilities and social tools—collaboration is emerging at the center of effective business.
"The technology has finally caught up with the vision," says Frank Redey, managing director at Accenture's Unified Communications and Collaboration Global Practice. "It's now possible to use collaboration tools anywhere, anytime and achieve a seamless experience inside and outside an organization."
Although unified communications and collaboration tools extend back more than a decade, they've now becoming mission-critical capabilities. IP telephony, mobility, messaging, video conferencing, telepresence, social collaboration and real-time document sharing are creating new models for connecting people and work anywhere, anytime, and with any type of device in hand. As a result, it's critical to design a strategy—and implement technology—that interconnects collaboration tools and enterprise software in broader and deeper ways.
Collaboration Takes Flight
One organization that has fully embraced collaboration is the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the United Kingdom. The agency, which regulates and oversees aviation—including airports, aircraft, pilots and travel operators—began looking for more efficient ways to share information internally and to improve interaction with outside organizations.
Although the agency has about 1,000 workers, it routinely deals with upward of 100,000 individuals, says Matt Taylor, head of business solutions. "There are two sets of challenges," he explains. "We're a regulator, but we must also share a great deal of information internally."
The ability to share documents seamlessly is critical for CAA. In the past, the organization typically relied on email to shuttle files back and forth. Not surprisingly, files were sometimes lost, there were delays in processing documents, and questions frequently popped up about file ownership and administration.
The agency, which operates on a tight budget, usually set up collaboration sites with SharePoint, but the process was time-consuming and costly. In addition, only about half the sites wound up being used in any substantial way. "It wasn't the most efficient way to interact," Taylor says.
About 18 months ago, CAA migrated to Huddle, which provided real-time file sharing, social collaboration and task management capabilities. Previously, when CAA sent out a document with a proposed policy change or when someone required feedback on a proposal, recipients commented but there was no way for others to view everyone else's comments.
"We had a lot of separate point-to-point conversations going on, and it was a long and highly inefficient process to sort through all the emails and attachments," Taylor says.
Today, CAA is better equipped to handle numerous versions of complex documents. With a central data repository, executives have a clear audit trail of who has accessed specific content at what time. As a result, the organization is able to ensure that the right version is in use.
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