Social collaboration, a combination of social media, visual collaboration and unified communications, is becoming a significant trend in business today. When used together, these technologies can improve products or processes and ultimately drive true innovation which has a direct impact on a firm’s bottom line. This is the second post in a series discussing the benefits of social collaboration. For part one click here.

Collaboration technologies are continuously evolving and creating new ways for employees to interact with each other; both formally through WebEx and telepresence meetings and informally though IM or video chat. When employees interact with each other, they not only catch up on their personal lives but discuss different ideas or share tips and tricks. This type of social collaboration results in a type of knowledge sharing that can not only increase productivity but increase employee satisfaction.

The most effective organizations have a variety of employees with a wide range of expertise; from marketing and finance to information technology and operations management. Sometimes the best ideas are created through the most informal interactions, when employees are merely catching up with one another. Social collaboration, and the subsequent knowledge sharing, can assist with problem solving or create a more efficient process by simply providing a different point of view.

For example, a few weeks ago I was catching up with one of my colleagues and she began saying how frustrated she was with this new project. Essentially, she was completing a manual process in Excel which was not only time consuming but rather boring. Having a slight obsession with Excel, I offered to take a look to see if there was a way to make it easier. A few minutes later, I showed her a simple formula that allowed her to automate part of the process. Not only did this save her several hours of time over the course of the project, it saved her sanity by allowing her to focus on more engaging activities.

Additionally, social collaboration can spark a creative moment that leads to a product improvement or a new way to position and differentiate a service. Garnering information from people with different backgrounds or expertise can give employees the fresh perspective they need for a breakthrough idea. This can enhance both the employee and the firm’s effectiveness by ensuring they are engaged in the right activities.

Finally, allowing employees to easily interact over instant messaging and chat; then effortlessly switch to web or video conferencing helps increase employee satisfaction. By nature, humans are social creatures and crave interaction with others. Spending five minutes to discuss the weekend or the latest sports win allows employees to relax and ultimately recharge their batteries. As a result, they are more focused during meetings or when completing their individual tasks which leads to better ideas, better products and a more efficient organization.

This post is part of a series covering the benefits of social collaboration within an organization.

Part One: The Rise of Social Collaboration
Part Three: The Power of Business Partnerships
Part Four: Using Collaboration to Increase Customer Lifetime Value

It seems like every day there are new headlines in the telecommunications industry about unified communications, the latest acquisition, release or new cloud service. The term “unified communications” has been around for a long time; but it means different things to different people – just take a look at some major software companies or hardware manufacturers.

Microsoft has taken its Office Communications Server, transformed it into Lync, and gained significant mind and market share with the product. In addition, they have worked closely with Polycom to integrate video conferencing into the Lync ecosystem. Cisco, on the other hand, has significantly invested in Jabber which has expanded the definition of UC, as well as, telepresence.

Unfortunately, there have been some roadblocks that prevent true ubiquity of UC solutions throughout enterprise organizations.

A recent study from CompTia (an IT industry association) took a look at many of these topics. From an adoption perspective, respondents to the survey reported:

  • - Challenges in integrating UC tools with existing technology
    - Lack of ability to incorporate mobility, social networking, collaboration and video conferencing
    - Difficulty calculating a return on investment

The interesting thing about all of these challenges is that they can be easily solved through integrated cloud services. How so? Let’s take a look at each one individually.

Challenges in integrating UC tools with existing technology:
When organizations look to implement a UC solution; integrating the server architecture, managing operating systems, and maintaining new equipment can be extremely challenging. These problems; however, can be virtually eliminated by hosting a UC solution in the cloud.  With the cloud, comes an experienced team of professionals who manage the technology; alleviating many of the technical pressures. Organizations can then focus on integrating the technology into their existing environment; whether it is defining set processes to use the tools or driving a cultural change within the company to encourage adoption. The cloud also allows companies achieve the benefits of UC almost immediately with practically none of the frustration.

Lack of ability to incorporate mobility, social networking, collaboration and video conferencing:
Incorporating these technologies comes down to one thing – interoperability. Microsoft and Polycom have addressed this by linking their technologies to allow UC clients to participate in video conferences with enterprise systems; and Cisco has integrated video into Jabber to communicate to the rest of its portfolio. Connecting to consumer solutions (Skype, Google Talk); however, require cloud services which create “meet me” conference rooms in the cloud and can connect any video platform, application or appliance effortlessly.

Difficult calculating a return on investment:
As with any collaboration tool out there, it can be difficult to truly understand the cost savings/ROI/etc. In order to do so, organizations must assess the specific goals of a UC deployment. For example, is it about travel cost reduction or improved productivity? Many these benefits are hard savings that can be easily tracked and reported with a cloud service. By connecting travel to a video management system, organizations can easily see the trips that were replaced by video which translates into cost savings and increased productivity.

The bottom line is that cloud service providers can help an organization review their UC needs and challenges then deploy scalable services to make adoption seamless and ROI attainment clear.

When most of us think about oil, we are mainly concerned with how much it will cost to fill up our cars with gasoline. What we don’t consider is how gasoline actually arrives ready at the pump – the refining process that breaks crude oil down into a variety of consumer and industrial products. This process is the domain of commodity brokers – individuals who make their living putting together deals between buyers and sellers of petroleum products to feed the public’s inelastic demand.

Commodity brokers are often headquartered in one office, with several satellite locations located across the globe. Brokers must communicate with other energy brokers, traders, and clients throughout the day, while simultaneously watching movement of the markets. Communication – not to mention access to information – can make or break a deal.

Brokerage firms are turning to unified communications (UC) solutions that include video conferencing solutions to facilitate the deals that take place among numerous participants in dispersed locations. For example, UC solutions are used to:

  • Improve communication among the firm’s headquarters and satellite offices. Brokers in remote locations such as Omaha, Nebraska or Houston, Texas can maintain a presence in the New York City headquarters by remaining on video on a main screen that is visible to everyone. This creates the feeling that the remote brokers are part of the New York team, and information about clients, commodity prices, and deals can easily be shared at a moment’s notice.
  • Improve relationships with clients by strengthening rapport and building trust. Much of the communication among brokers is conducted via instant message and email. This method is effective, but lacks a personal touch. Even when there is communication over the phone, clients may not feel entirely comfortable with a transaction that is worth millions of dollars if the broker is an unknown entity. Once introductions have been made over video, and video is used as part of the communication mix, trust is established and maintained and as a result, deals are facilitated.
  • Monitor the fluctuation in petrochemical prices that occur daily on the New York Mercantile Exchange and other markets. Data from the Mercantile Exchange remains depicted on a main screen the entire day, reflecting prices in real-time.

Video can be used to achieve impressive results in the world of commodity brokers when used as part of a cloud-based UC solution that includes integration with voice, instant message, and data. When communication is improved and deals are facilitated, the result is thousands of dollars in commissions – amounts that easily and quickly justify the cost of the investment in technology.

Hospitality professionals know when they need to turn on some serious charm to attract customers. Given the economic environment in recent years, tourism and business travel have declined, leading to a reduction in occupancy rates, daily room rates, and REVPAR (revenue per available room). Competition is intense for the available customers – the question is, how do hotels, resorts, and casinos not only bring in new guests but ensure repeat business?

Ensuring excellent service is a given. To truly differentiate their establishments, hotels can utilize unified communication (UC) technology to transform not only the customer experience, but also improve the operating efficiency going on behind the scenes.

UC solutions, including video conferencing systems, are used to create the ultimate customer experience by:

  • Providing hotel staff with the ability to communicate efficiently in real-time, between all remote properties equipped with UC and video conferencing equipment.
  • Holding one general meeting for all hotel managers across locations, ensuring the consistency of information that is covered; topics may include customer service, housekeeping, and maintenance. In addition, the hotel staff at multiple locations can be managed from one place, greatly increasing the efficiency of operations.
  • Delivering interactive group training sessions to new employees, reducing the time and costs associated with covering the same training material at each property.
  • Addressing high turnover rates typical of the hospitality industry by facilitating the human resources recruiting process.
  • Allowing guests to easily hold face-to-face meetings with remote business associates, thereby not missing a beat while traveling. Content such as presentations, videos, and data can be shared with several participants over multiple locations.
  • Setting up video conferencing rooms that can be rented to companies looking to cut down on travel expenses. Video allows guests to hold their meetings in real time, with various partners around the globe.

UC integration can provide the hospitality industry improved and more efficient operations, better collaboration through real-time communication (with reduced travel costs), and improved guest satisfaction. The resulting guest experience is really quite charming.

Moving products to market quickly is the key to success for many pharmaceutical companies. Shortening the product development cycle ensures that companies benefit from the limited patent life that is typical for new drugs, and are compensated for the costs that are incurred during the developmental phase. Unified Communications (UC) solutions, including visual collaboration technology, enable communication with remote parties, creating the effect that all participants are sitting face-to-face, at the same table or in the same room.

UC solutions allow pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs sooner by:

  • Enabling face-to-face communication with remote parties during the crucial drug trial process.
  • Enhancing the quality and speed of decision-making, resulting in a reduction in travel related time and expenses.
  • Facilitating training, project reviews, and remote trial observation.
  • Allowing experts to collaborate more frequently with global subsidiaries.
  • Facilitating the ability of researchers and others participants to hold meetings with physicians, patients and government agencies.
  • Allowing all parties involved in the trial process to collaborate efficiently, and receive instant feedback.

The real time collaboration made possible by UC solutions allows pharmaceutical companies to more effectively partner with remote parties on research, promotion, and dissemination of new products. By enabling pharmaceuticals to bring products to market more quickly and efficiently, these companies realize revenue and profits earlier in the product development phase.