Collaboration - Why Now?

Rethinking Communications

Collaboration - Why Now?

By Jon Arnold, Principal  |  November 12, 2012

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

The theme of my Rethinking Communications column is just that – a forum to rethink and broaden your perspective of what it means to communicate. For the most part, communication is a one-to-one exercise; whether using the phone, e-mail, text, IM, etc., we’re generally just talking to each other.

Sure, we all spend lots of time on conference calls, in live meetings and even videoconferencing sessions, but many of us are really just passive participants. So what’s the big deal about collaboration?

Well, this largely depends on your point of view, and one could argue that most of your work gets done just fine under the status quo, and frankly you’d rather have as little to do as possible with your co-workers. Fair enough, but businesses today rely on agility and teamwork to be competitive, and collaboration has a lot to do with serving that agenda.

Businesses have generally viewed collaboration in light of the tools at their disposal. Prior to immersive telepresence, there were limited alternatives to in-person meetings, so a lot of time and expense was expended on travel, and this had a major impact on things like product development or time to market.

As such, intensive collaboration was a costly process, reserved primarily for the producers – top-level sales personnel, marketers and executives.

This has served businesses well for decades, but if collaboration is viewed as a core competency that drives innovation and creates competitive advantage, it stands to reason that businesses should try to tap the potential across the entire organization. The genesis of the Post-it Note from 3M (News - Alert) is a classic example of how a collaborative process coming from outside the elite ranks produced a winning product. Innovation can – and does – come from all corners of a business, and if that’s part of your mission statement, then you need to up your game with collaboration.

INTERNET TELEPHONY readers should be well aware of where I’m going – IP-based technology. The way forward really begins with VoIP, which sets the stage for having voice, text and video all supported over a common network infrastructure. In this environment, collaboration ceases to be a high-end perk, and now becomes accessible to all employees. Not only does today’s technology make the tools available to everyone, but the cost has come down considerably. This means it’s just as easy for employees to collaborate one-on-one as it is easy to work in groups, which greatly enhances the upside for working in teams.

The significance of these advances actually goes well beyond the technology and cost savings. There’s a bigger story in terms of how organizations and the nature of work itself are both evolving.  For better or worse, globalization is a fact of life for business, and SMBs must follow suit to keep pace with their larger multinational competitors.

The good news is that today’s collaboration solutions make this quite easy to do, and for that reason alone, SMBs should be running – not walking – to get there.

Competition today dictates that businesses serve a global customer base, and to do that they need some degree of a global footprint. Harkening back to TDM, when connectivity was defined by the footprint of a physical network, the high cost of international communication meant that only large enterprises could compete on a global scale. That has changed radically with VoIP, and by extension other modes that enable collaboration, is now all within the reach of all businesses.

This means SMBs have the tools today to collaborate in real time on any scale – cost effectively – regardless of geography.

The implications are quite profound, as the natural barriers of time and space give way to borderless technologies. The real winners will be companies that embrace this and build their organizations around these capabilities. This opens the door for business models based on virtualization, teleworking and remote working, all of which can drive down costs and make for a more agile operation. When your competitors can come from anywhere in the world, you simply must stay close to your customers and be able to respond faster than ever before, not just for providing support but for bringing new products to market.

In this light, collaboration takes on far greater strategic value for the business.

This should make a strong case for collaboration on an operational level, but there is an equally strong rationale at the employee level, especially around the changing nature of work. Once considered together, you may see why a rethink about collaboration is in order – unless you’ve reached that conclusion already. If not, you’ll want to read my next column, which will address why collaboration is becoming an integral aspect of what employees value in the workplace.

Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan (News - Alert).

Jon Arnold is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.

Edited by Braden Becker