Collaboration Tools Spur Performance

 
 
By Corinne Bernstein  |  Posted 2010-04-08
 
 
 

Sophisticated collaboration tools enable organizations to perform better in business-critical activities and realize higher returns, according to “Meetings Around the World II: Charting a Course of Advanced Collaboration,” a Frost & Sullivan study sponsored by Cisco and Verizon.

The research, based on the results of an online survey of nearly 3,700 IT and line-of-business decision makers at companies in 10 countries, shows growing use of unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools. These include an increasing number of IP-based applications using presence information, team spaces, document sharing, unified communications and immersive video conferencing.

Nearly half of all organizations polled have deployed UC&C tools, but the study suggests that this is a relatively new trend. Of these organizations, 43 percent adopted these technologies in the past 12 months, and 28 percent deployed them between 12 and 24 months ago. Only about a fourth of the deployments were done more than two years ago.

“Given the timing of the research—in May—the results are telling,” says David Brown, channel manager, Cisco WebEx. He points to the large percentage of respondents who do not expect the economic downturn to deter spending.

According to the study, 40 percent of UC&C adopters said they plan to increase spending in that area despite current economic conditions, compared with 31 percent who said spending would decrease and 29 percent who said it would stay the same. Of the organizations that have not yet adopted UC&C tools, more than 80 percent plan to deploy some form of them in the next two or three years.

Nearly three-fourths of the companies that deployed collaboration tools said they experienced better performance, compared with less than half of the companies that did not.

The study shows a clear link between better performance and the degree and sophistication of an organization’s deployment of UC&C tools, but even a low level of deployment resulted in modest performance improvement. The most advanced collaborators achieved more than twice the return on collaboration (ROC) that their least collaborative peers attained. (ROC refers to the improvements—not the dollars—gained from the investment in UC&C.

Impact on Business-Critical Processes

The study finds the greatest impact of collaboration is in business-critical processes in which large numbers of people interact to produce value, such as in sales, R&D and marketing. Also, larger organizations tend to derive more value from deploying and using collaboration tools than smaller organizations do.

In addition, collaboration tools have a significant effect on workers’ lives, according to the study. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said they lead busy lives, and 54 percent believe that these tools allow for a better work/life balance. Additionally, 52 percent said newer communications devices allow them to gain more control of their busy lives.

Respondents said that UC&C tools can help employees overcome some of their job challenges: Fifty-six percent stated that business travel was one of the first things their companies cut to save money. In a similar study conducted by the same group in 2006, 39 percent of the participants said this was the case. In the latest research, 55 percent of respondents said using audio, video or Web conferencing technology is a good alternative to visiting business contacts in person.

“To work well, UC&C needs to become part of a company’s culture,” explains Bill Versen, director of global UC&C at Verizon. “It needs to be deployed in an organization that’s open to it—and implemented from the top down.”

Collaborative cultures vary by region. U.S. respondents said they readily substitute communications technologies for business travel, while European respondents said they prefer in-person meetings and business travel.

Respondents from Asia-Pacific said conferences can be a good alternative to face-to-face meetings, and that communication technologies help them stay in the loop and keep business moving forward. “India and China are providing a lot of human resources to the global economy,” Cisco’s Brown says. “Using collaboration technology allows them to talk to their customers in real time.”

Environment is also key. More than half of all respondents said reducing their organization’s carbon footprint and other environmental concerns are important considerations in determining UC&C technology requirements.