Collaborating in the Cloud

Software as a service has been around for many years, but it’s only recently that enterprise IT managers have been implementing a new series of collaborative applications that can bring together distributed work teams and build up a corporate knowledge base. Tools such as build-your-own wikis, hosted customer relationship management (CRM) tools, and numerous Web-based discussion forums and messaging products are enabling better cross-pollination of ideas and boosting sales with improved customer support.

Before you start with any of these applications, you need to take your first step: finding your collaboration champion or someone who is going to lead by example. Take Brian Volken, the global support director for dental solutions provider Nobel Biocare in Yorba Linda, Calif. Volken became the champion for using PBWorks wiki software among the firm’s two dozen support staff in their American offices for the past 18 months, and he will expand its use worldwide in the coming months.

The staff provides information on implants and other dental products to dental labs and dentists. The company uses IBM’s Notes for its main e-mail system, but searching for attachments and particular documents was cumbersome without extensive programming. “Every employee had to maintain his or her own e-mail archive, and there were a lot of duplicates and misplaced information,” says Volken, who realized that a wiki would be tremendously useful in his company.

“People have this perception that they are more valuable if they keep their knowledge to themselves,” he says. But, actually, “the more they share, the more valuable they are as employees because they’re helping others. Sometimes, this knowledge is nothing more than sharing the right contact name or phone number.”

After finding a collaboration champion, your second step is to stimulate use of these tools by building in collaboration as part of the overall compensation package. “I made contributing at least two monthly entries to the wiki part of my staff’s compensation package,” says Volken. “Before that, there was a lot of resistance to creating any content because we were asking people to change their behavior and the way they did business.”

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