Collaboration is driving the next wave of business growth, innovation and productivity. By deploying secure, inter-company collaboration solutions—across video, voice, presence, instant messaging and email—employees can access information from any application or device, at any time and from any location.
Examples of specific applications that make up the collaboration suite include: conferencing, enterprise social networking, telepresence, messaging, mobile applications, video and IP communications.
At MCPc, we believe that collaboration needs to become intuitive—an engrained element of business technology and operations—for companies to compete and thrive in the modern business world.
The Driving Need for Change
A new collaboration experience is needed to address today’s business complexities. Consider the following trends:
- Globalization—No matter what size, almost all businesses work with outside suppliers, partners, clients or contractors across the country or globe. This has forced a shift in where, when and how people work.
- Influx of data—Information comes from multiple sources, devices and applications, often in real time. Employees increasingly need help sifting through this information to find what’s relevant to them.
- Worker mobility—With technology advances, distributed workforces and flex schedules, not all workers come into the office any longer, demanding more robust collaboration functionality.
- Consumerization—Employees continue to bring new devices and applications, such as smartphones and Facebook, into the workplace.
As these trends continue to impact organizations, they will make the workplace more:
- Visual—Inherently video based.
- Virtual—Converged with VDI/virtualized endpoints.
- Mobile—Requiring a consistent user experience across devices and locations.
- Social—Leveraging social networking principles in enterprise settings.
The result is that organizations will need to deploy solutions that bridge communications-centric systems, web 2.0 capabilities and today’s text and document-centric systems to make the user experience consistent and transparent across platforms.
Developing a Collaboration Strategy
The key to creating any collaboration strategy is to focus on the user experience. In doing so, some factors to keep in mind include:
- Open architecture—By creating an open, interoperable infrastructure, all devices and applications can utilize the same collaborative services.
- Inter-company collaboration—Organizations need to be able to work with partners, suppliers, customers and others outside the firewall. Collaboration tools should enable this, securely.
- Video communications—Video is becoming a transformative element that will permeate the entire business world.
- Enterprise social networking—Fluid, ad-hoc communities will evolve the way people work and interact within organizations, as they offer ease of use, speed and ubiquity.
- Flexible deployment models—Both the enterprise network and the cloud will play key roles in enabling a comprehensive collaboration platform. Companies should blend the best of both worlds.
Collaboration Business Benefits
With a collaboration strategy, businesses can experience a range of benefits, including:
- Reduced travel, saving time and money.
- Increased speed to market, as partners, suppliers, customers and others can work together in real time to finalize products, business direction, plans and more.
- Reduced energy consumption, supporting green initiatives.
- Improved customer service through faster response times and greater accessibility, using the customers’ preferred communication methods.
- Better productivity and efficiency as people will have access to the information they need when they need it.
- Improved knowledge sharing and training.
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
- Are you using intuitive collaboration solutions within your organization? Why or why not?
- What business benefits have you experienced?
- What challenges have you faced?
Darin Haines is Group President of MCPc's Advanced Technology Group, focusing on solution delivery, and has over 16 years of experience in leading the technology function in mid-sized and enterprise-level organizations. Connect with Darin on LinkedIn.
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In many organizations, both public and private, there has been a greater focus on leveraging IT as a competitive differentiator. With cloud computing, virtualization and other disruptive technologies, IT holds the power to attract customers and employees, and help organizations gain market share. As a result, IT has shifted from a reactive and supporting role to a proactive driver of business decisions.
Technology as a Competitive Differentiator
When all other things are equal between two organizations, technology can be the distinguishing factor and act as a competitive differentiator. Read on for some examples:
Recruitment and Retention
Today’s workers are digital natives, meaning they have grown up using computers and technology in a virtually (no pun intended) unlimited and unrestricted manner, and have come to expect the same experience in the workplace. The younger workforce in particular spends as much time or more computing from their phones and tablets as they do from their more traditional platforms of desktops and netbooks.
Virtualization and cloud computing can provide these individuals with the mobility and flexibility they expect and demand, while giving IT the security and management requirements it needs for compliancy. These seemingly incongruous worlds are suddenly bridged for the benefit of both parties.
This versatility helps businesses attract — and keep — the biggest, best and brightest talent. Especially in IT, medicine and healthcare, where quality job candidates are in high demand, professionals often make career decisions based on the technology and work/life balance opportunities their employers will provide.
If you had hired a developer 10 years ago out of college, handed him the Fortran Bible and said, "go forth and learn," he or she most likely would have said "no, thank you; I prefer to work somewhere else." IT “benefits” are fast becoming a standard conversation and negotiation point when attempting to attract top-shelf talent. In many cases the work/life balance, and the ability to work in a more mobile capacity, are given equal footing to compensation and other traditional benefits.
See Enterprise Mobility and Collaboration: A Better Work/Life Balance by Andrew Borg of TechNewsWorld for details and statistics on how modern technologies can help attract and retain top employees.
Expansions and Acquisitions
Say your CEO wants to open a new office or acquire a competing company. Historically, it would have taken months and a hefty budget to put the IT structure in place to support these types of initiatives. In the cloud model, however, this time and upfront monetary commitment is significantly reduced, making projects like this much easier to execute.
John Shaw’s SYS-CON article, Cloud Computing: David and Goliath Rival Companies, gives more details about companies like Netflix and Amazon that used the scalability of the cloud to grow their businesses.
Customer Service and Sales
Disruptive technologies can help your team improve sales processes, and better serve existing customers. For example, instead of time- and budget-intensive onsite customer meetings, your organization can use telepresence to virtually connect. And, your sales team can respond quicker to prospects through the use of tablets and other mobile devices, as they always have the most updated information, no matter their location.
See our previous blog post for more on the business drivers and benefits of telepresence.
Monitoring and Management
Enhanced management tools let you identify issues before they escalate, allowing you to focus on strategy instead of troubleshooting. In addition, monitoring tools give you insight into who is accessing your technology, and when and how they are using it. This enables IT to continually optimize systems and processes to meet core business objectives, and even make cost-saving operational suggestions based on user data.
The Computing article by Stephen Prentice, Big Opportunity, Big Dilemma, discusses the evolving role of the CIO, largely based on the implications big data can have on an organization.
The Evolving Role of IT
These examples and others driven by disruptive advancements in technology, provide a different type of relationship between IT and business.
Traditionally, IT was the laggard, the one potentially holding back or slowing strategic business plans. This is because it was much easier to dream up an idea then to actually get the technology in place to execute it. Now, IT can often deploy a solution faster than the business can act on it through a variety of private, public and hybrid cloud offerings. As a result, businesses can be more dynamic and agile than ever before.
Because of this, CIOs are assuming a more strategic, innovative position within executive teams, and are often asked for input on mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing, remote workforces and more.
With IT taking a larger role in business strategy, this is an exciting time to be in the industry. What trends are you seeing? How are you taking advantage of this shift?
Andy Jones is Senior Vice President of Sales. He has more than 15 years of IT industry experience, and is an expert on cloud, virtualization and managed services solutions. Connect with Andy on LinkedIn.
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There was a recent story on Cleveland’s local NPR affiliate about the growth of online courses at colleges and universities. It states that Cleveland-based community colleges are experiencing record enrollments due to the down economy. And, to serve more students and lower costs, many are enhancing their online-learning capabilities.
In the report, Rob Evans, spokesperson for the Ohio Board of Regents, says that around the state, enrollment in online courses is up 25 percent since 2008, and community college students make up 60 percent of that enrollment.
As a result, there are growing opportunities for universities to enhance their distance-learning programs with telepresence and videoconferencing technologies.
But, it doesn’t stop there: videoconferencing can also benefit K-12 classrooms. In fact, according to Wainhouse Research, there are already almost 30,000 video conferencing systems in U.S. schools, service centers, district offices and departments of education as of April 2009.
Using these solutions, educators can connect with students via high-definition and fast connections. Live video improves the quality of distance learning through enhanced communication and collaboration, and opens the door to an array of innovative learning experiences that cannot be achieved in the traditional classroom.
Benefits for the Classroom
In its whitepaper, Telepresence in Education, Cisco outlines some of the benefits that telepresence in particular can have on the learning process, including:
Increased access to students and experts, as collaboration can take place among geographically dispersed individuals. This results in the ability for distance learning, e-mentoring, remote access to AP classes for high school students, demonstrations, virtual field trips, guest lecturers and more.
Reduced travel expenses and better use of time— Videoconferencing can be extremely beneficial during PhD-dissertation defenses when panel experts are needed, or for research teams that are globally dispersed but need to keep each other regularly updated.
Maximized social contact — Students and instructors can capture nonverbal communication, such as gestures, tone of voice, posture and eye contact, enhancing the group’s coherence and collaboration.
Genuine dialogue between all participants — With one central virtual location, students and educators can communicate with each other in real time. This includes collaboratively editing documents.
Videoconferencing and Telepresence in Action
So, how are schools implementing videoconferencing into their classrooms to improve education quality? Check out these innovative ideas below:
Improving America’s teachers through video — The Gates Foundation is spending $45 million to videotape teachers across six school districts, then using the footage to identify effective teaching practices which can be passed along to other educators.
Teachers using inverted learning — With the inverted learning teaching model, students become the focus of the class, not the teacher. Students watch a lecture at home and then apply what they learn with the teacher in the classroom. By absorbing the material via video the night before, students are more engaged and involved during class.
Multimedia lecture halls to increase access — Duke University’s telepresence facility enables students to connect with professors, business leaders, other universities and guest lecturers around the world. This helps bridge the educational environment with the business world and offers students more real-world experience.
Virtual field trips and innovative demonstrations — Virtual field trips let students “visit” places that travel and budget constraints usually would not allow. For example, the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus regularly holds live knee replacement surgeries via videoconferencing for students, allowing them to view the surgery and ask medical personnel questions.
How have you implemented videoconferencing and telepresence into your educational environment? What benefits have you seen as a result? How have you improved communication and collaboration among students and educators?
Bill L'Esperance is Regional Vice President of Sales for the Great Lakes and the leader of MCPc's State, Local Government and Education (SLED) vertical market. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn.
Image Credit: Virtual Learning Center
Two weeks ago, we hosted an event with Polycom at our corporate headquarters in Cleveland called Transformation to Visual Collaboration. A lot of great information was shared regarding the business drivers and benefits of telepresence solutions. In this blog post, we’re sharing the Cliff’s Notes version — key details and takeaways from the event.
What is Telepresence?
First and foremost, it may help to answer the question: What exactly are we referring to when talking about telepresence?
Videoconferencing, which is defined by Wikipedia as “a set of interactive telecommunication technologies which allow two or more locations to interact via two-way video and audio transmissions simultaneously,” has been around in business IT for several years. Essentially, videoconferencing is simply the ability to include live video as an element of phone calls.
Telepresence, on the other hand, takes videoconferencing a bit further by integrating new technologies for a higher quality experience. With telepresence solutions, businesses can connect their employees, customers, vendors, prospects and other audiences via high-definition, high-speed connections. At its best, this can cause users to forget that a screen exists between themselves and the people with whom they are communicating. This highest level is sometimes referred to as immersive telepresence or visual collaboration.
Due to advances in technology and IT infrastructure, immersive telepresence is becoming a reality for many businesses. Though enterprise adoption is leading the pack, these solutions are becoming more affordable — and valuable — for smaller organizations as well.
A key support for telepresence is the convergence of voice, video and data networks within the IT environment. As the Converged Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) network has largely eliminated the need for separate audio-video, voice and data infrastructures, organizations have taken advantage of this framework to reduce staff overhead, network management and operating costs. It is this simplified infrastructure, with inherent priorities in place for different data package types, that lends itself well to support immersive-telepresence solutions.
In addition to this core infrastructure, Dan Lejeune, Regional Channel Member, Cincinnati area, Polycom, shared some additional advances that not only make telepresence possible, but make it a strong solution for businesses looking to advance their collaboration abilities and improve operational efficiency.
- Growth of unified communications portfolios and infrastructure
- Improved networks and availability of bandwidth
- Accessibility of telepresence within enterprise, SMB and service provider networks
- Mainstream acceptance of visual communications
- Advancements in high-definition voice and video technology
So, not only is the infrastructure in place to support telepresence solutions, but cultural and global expectations are further pushing the desire for these services. In essence, people’s comfort with using video to communicate — largely thanks to consumer software such as Skype — has made video phone calls a common activity for many, and thus a growing expectation in business settings.
Thanks to this combination of technology support and end-user acceptance, we are at a point when telepresence solutions can truly be widely adopted by businesses to save time and costs in critical areas. As found in the July 2009 Wainhouse Research report, Benchmarking the Benefits of Videoconferencing Deployments, enterprises and SMBs alike see similar benefits from implementing videoconferencing solutions in six key areas:
- Travel: 30% cost savings
- Time-to-Market: 24% reduction
- End-User Downtime: 25-27%
- Training: 22-25% cost savings
- Recruitment: 15-19% reduction in time spent
- Sales-Related Costs: 24-26% reduction
Often, the first area identified — reducing travel costs — is the impetus behind organizations installing telepresence solutions. However, as shared by Brian Gilman, Global Director, Enterprise Solutions, Polycom: when asked how they want to further deploy, many IT directors will admit that though they’ve successfully reduced travel costs, they are only using their current system at 20 percent capacity and don’t see any additional uses.
Interesting note: Gilman’s entire segment of the day was delivered via Polycom’s HDX 4000, from his home office using a standard cable modem.
Optimizing Your Business with Telepresence
This is, as seen in the Wainhouse research, a somewhat shortsighted approach. According to Gilman, there are several stages in video deployment. As organizations move through the stages, additional benefits are realized until the true goal — achieving a collaboration culture at your organization, no matter the geographical location employees and audiences — is reached.
Image source: Polycom
Gilman shared several hypothetical situations to illustrate the benefits that organizations can realize through telepresence outside of travel cost savings. Consider how much time and money your organization could save in the following scenarios:
- Your organization allows employees to work from home and communicate via videoconference, thus reducing office space needs by10 percent.
- A 3-day training program for 100 employees becomes a virtual event, rather than your organization paying for hotels, flights and daily cost-of-living for those individuals.
- Top candidate job interviews are completed via video and recorded for review by executives.
- Development time for a new product is reduced 10% by holding high-level feature/functionality review meetings over a telepresence system, rather than mailing samples back-and-forth or sending R&D personnel to manufacturing facilities.
- HR and sales trainings are recorded and saved on an employee intranet and viewed by employees within an allotted timeframe. Instructors are able to see who has completed trainings via a content management system.
So, at the end of the day, we learned that in addition to time- and cost-savings, telepresence solutions can provide organizations with a competitive edge in multiple areas, including:
- Ability to gain a competitive advantage over competitors through innovation and time to market
- Improvements in employee morale due to work/life balance options, which can reduce turnover and increase productivity
- Improved external communications, resulting in customer/partner satisfaction and long-distance trust building
- Social consciousness — environmental benefits are achieved through reduced travel, both long-distance and from work-at-home employees
What telepresence solutions are you considering for your organization? What benefits do you hope to realize?
Are you a business leader in Northeast Ohio interested in learning more about collaboration, cloud computing and other advanced technologies for your organization? Join us for the Modern Technology Lessons Summer 2011 Roundtable Series. This three-session series includes Path to the Cloud (7/19), Mobile Device Explosion (8/10) and Intuitive Collaboration (9/29). All three events will take place at our future headquarters, 1801 Superior Ave. in downtown Cleveland. You can attend all three or any combination of sessions. Click here to learn more and register.