Increasing ProfitBy Bob Violino Print
Online collaboration tools offer improved employee productivity and greater efficiency.
Another company, Ellegro Learning Solutions, a provider of customized corporate training and development programs in Schaumburg, Ill., uses collaboration tools to increase efficiency, streamline operations and increase profitability, says Rob Stevens, vice president.
One tool from LiquidPlanner helps project team members work more efficiently. Since 2007, Ellegro has used the LiquidPlanner product for efforts such as developing new e-learning programs, says Lisa Statland, project manager, whose department typically balances 20 to 30 projects simultaneously.
"The company needed a portfolio-level approach to project tracking,” Statland says. “We needed to see priorities, resources and timelines across multiple projects and clients. We also needed to dynamically adjust the plans and see the forecasted results, such as timelines, resource constraints and delivery dates."
By having access to real-time updates on project development, Statland and other managers can quickly shift priorities as needed, ensuring that the most important or urgent projects get the attention they need.
LiquidPlanner allows the company to consolidate project-related information in one place, so developers and programmers, consultants, managers, senior executives and customers can easily access information and collaborate on developments during the course of a project.
The tool has sliding schedule and packaging features that allow Statland to prioritize tasks across multiple projects. It also provides a project portal that staffers use to share documents, such as audio scripts and other content for classes. From this portal, team members can have ongoing conversations, and review feedback, status reports and documents in real time.
Ellegro is also using the WebEx online conferencing platform for real-time collaboration and meetings, as well as to demonstrate learning programs to customers. The company, which needs to regularly share and demonstrate courseware and technology tools, and perform troubleshooting, leverages WebEx for those purposes, Stevens says.
Online conferencing enables the company to reduce the need for travel. "It used to be that if you wanted to demo something, you had to go to the client," Statland says. "Now we don't have to do that. WebEx doesn't [entirely] replace face-to-face meetings, but if you need to explain something or talk through something with a client, WebEx definitely facilitates doing that without having to travel."
The company estimates that WebEx saves it about $8,000 per project through reduced travel and other expenses. Furthermore, employees save time by not having to plan and take trips, which adds to their productivity.
Since 2001, Ellegro has also leveraged an internally built development suite that gives project teams a development platform to create e-learning courses and assessments. It also enables internal and external collaboration, and It's working on a proprietary collaboration tool for the Apple iPad.
Using online collaboration tools can present some challenges, Forrester 's Schadler says. Among the issues companies need to address are confidentiality, privacy and data protection. "You're empowering your employees to use collaboration tools, but do you also trust that they're going to do the right thing?" he says.
" A few years ago, the starting point for IT was that we didn't trust them," Schadler says. "But there is enough inevitability around social collaboration that IT professionals have realized the best way to deal with the issue is to have an information-sharing policy that human resources, marketing, corporate communications, IT and legal work together to create." For example, the policy would state what types of information should never be shared.
Another challenge is getting employees to use new collaboration tools, which, in most cases, they're not eager to do, Schadler says. "You might have a few enthusiasts, but you won't have mainstream adoption," he says. "The majority of employees are going to use email."
Consequently, managers need to identify and overcome the technological, motivational and cultural barriers to collaboration, Schadler says.
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