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8 High-Impact Collaboration Opportunities

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Collaboration technology has maximum impact when it addresses your top business priorities. Below are eight of the most common areas where collaboration solutions -- like video and web conferencing, customer care, social software, unified communications, messaging and mobile applications -- are delivering results.

1. Enable Virtual Teams

Today's virtual teams are often ad hoc and fluid in nature, with groups coming together to complete a project and then disbanding as quickly as they formed. Before the advent of collaborative technologies, these individuals could not have found each other easily and might not even have known the others existed. But with new tools, they can tap pockets of knowledge instantly. Teams may meet every day for two weeks and then never again. Or they may meet once a month for six months, collaborating in communities and forums between those sessions.

Ask yourself:

  • Do our employees work in different offices or time zones?
  • How do we share information across the workforce?
  • Is easy is it to find expertise within the company?
  • How do we manage interactions with customers, partners, suppliers and distributors?

2. Increase Mobile Workforce Productivity

Work has become what you do, not where you go. Over the next five years, most industries will move away from a location-centric work environment to a dispersed mobile world where employees are situated in the locations where they work best. How do you maximize the productivity of mobile workers while controlling costs and ensuring security? It's a tall order that requires new ways of thinking about how you provide corporate IT services.

Ask yourself:

  • Which communication applications need to be enabled on mobile devices?
  • Do our employees have the necessary tools to work from multiple locations or from home?
  • How do we provide employees with flexible work hours, flexible locations and remote access to business applications?

3. Improve Organizational Communication and Alignment

Remember when a memo was all you needed to reach the people in your organization? This one-size-fits-all approach is long gone. Leaders and managers must use all available channels to reach their increasingly dispersed workforce. Information spreads fast through online communities and social networks. This instantaneous messaging can work for or against you. You need to communicate core business objectives and rapidly changing information, yet avoid the costly mistakes of overlooking channels of communication or using the wrong method at the wrong time.

Ask yourself:

  • Do we offer flexibility and choice for workers to consume information the way they choose?
  • Does our culture allow employees to contribute ideas, express opinions or join group discussions?
  • How are we capturing employee feedback and opinions?

4. Expand Into New Markets

Collaboration presents the opportunity to find and engage new customers around the world. Virtual, video, mobile and social technologies open up entirely new market segments previously out of reach. Businesses that once depended on physical distribution can reach new or broader audiences.

Ask yourself:

  • Which new customer segments or new markets do we want to reach?
  • How do we currently serve remote customers?
  • How might we re-imagine our current offering and deliver it in a virtual format?

5. Enhance Customer Interactions

Every customer interaction is a chance to enhance or hurt your brand. With loyalty a fickle commodity, businesses must keep the conversation fresh while analyzing what's being said in the most influential communities. The way you handle customer interactions is more critical than ever to the future of your organization. Collaboration allows customer-service representatives to work from anywhere. And social media monitoring helps companies listen to what customers are saying and respond quickly to their feedback.

Ask yourself:

  • What is our strategy for increasing first-call resolution and improving customer satisfaction?
  • How can we scale subject matter experts without inflating headcount?
  • How can video increase intimacy and build trust with customers?
  • Are we monitoring what the market is saying about us, and do we have a way to quickly address customer complaints?

6. Enhance Green Operations

Large enterprises face extreme pressure to operate in more sustainable ways. With energy costs on the rise, regulatory requirements increasing and concern for the planet ranking high among consumers' priorities, a green strategy is essential. Companies are judged every day on their commitment to protect the environment, and collaboration solutions offer a path to achieve the goal. Plus, it's the right thing to do.

Ask yourself:

  • What are our carbon reduction goals?
  • What is the occupancy utilization in our real estate today?
  • What percentage of our workforce telecommutes?
  • What is the value to our company of being perceived as a sustainability leader?

7. Increase Intercompany Collaboration

In a highly connected marketplace, businesses need to collaborate externally with partners, suppliers, vendors, investors and customers. A manufacturer may source materials from a partner in one country, assemble products in another country and sell to buyers in yet another. Each part of the supply chain requires communication between companies. The key is to enable them with the same tools that you have inside your own company.

Ask yourself:

  • How often do our employees interact with other organizations in our supply chain?
  • What tools do we use to facilitate intercompany meetings?
  • How secure are these collaboration tools?
  • What benefits would we realize if we enabled more complex interactions outside the firewall?

8. Transform Your Industry

Collaboration pioneers already have made radical improvements across all kinds of industries by reinventing how business gets done. Highly personalized banking, telemedicine, distance learning and distributed research and development are just a few examples of what's possible today. Like the Internet before it, collaboration has the potential to transform every industry. It's a question of who gets there first.

Ask yourself:

  • What constrains the pace of innovation in our industry?
  • What new business models can we enable with virtual teams, mobile productivity and stronger customer interactions?
  • How are competitors reinventing our industry? Where are the opportunities to leap ahead?

Adapted from The Collaboration Imperative by Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese. Published by Cisco Systems.