I stumbled across an old HBR article the other day called Introducing the Collaboration Curve. Despite the World of Warcraft analogies, it raised a few very interesting points that not only relate to video conferencing but to the value of collaboration itself.

The first point the authors discuss is the “network effect” which states the value of a node in a network rises exponentially as more nodes are added to it. Essentially, “the more participants –and interactions between those participants – you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.”

This makes sense for video conferencing solutions. What value does video really have if you can’t connect to anyone of relevance? Twenty years ago only executives of large corporations had video conferencing solutions and the technology was generally only used for high-level strategy meetings. Even if a business partner had video, differences in platforms, firewalls and network exchanges most likely prevented a successful connection.

However, new trends in interoperability and cloud video services are allowing participants to connect via video anytime, anywhere, on any device. As a result, more and more organizations are adopting video solutions and the value of video communications has been increasing exponentially. Almost every call I have with a colleague or partner is over video nowadays, granted I work at a video company, but it’s just as easy, if not easier than picking up the telephone. All I have to do is type in a name and click a button; there’s no hassle of looking up and then dialing a phone number.

But how does the network effect relate to collaboration?

This is the true insight of the article. The collaboration curve, or the network effect on collaboration, holds “the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value.”

But what exactly does that mean?

If an organization gives one person the opportunity and tools to collaborate, the likelihood of a breakthrough idea is minimal because this person doesn’t have anyone else to connect to. However, give two people the opportunity and tools to collaborate; they can connect with each other, brainstorm, and the likelihood of a breakthrough idea increases. As more and more people within an organization are given the opportunity and tools to collaborate, a larger and more diverse group of participants is created and the likelihood of a breakthrough idea has increased exponentially.

This is social collaboration at its core – casual interactions among colleagues, business partners and even customers that enable creativity and drive innovation. Unified communications and video conferencing solutions connect geographically disperse employees; expanding the reach of collaboration beyond a single location.

The perpetual wondering of what your colleague looks like no longer crosses your mind because you are able to see them over video. A relationship develops from the casual face-to-face chat at the beginning of a meeting because it’s kind of hard to hide behind the mute button and finish up an email while waiting for everyone to join the call.

The value of the collaboration curve lies here; when colleagues and business partners with different backgrounds or areas of expertise are connected effortlessly. Ideas are bounced back and forth for a second opinion from an impartial third-party and value is created through new products or processes that can revolutionize a company or even develop a new market.

With collaboration becoming more and more social, we will be looking at the effect of social media on society, culture, and group dynamics. What better way than to start with the 2012 Olympics in London, a social media hot spot.

NBC’s coverage of the Olympics includes tape-delayed broadcasts of live events that are available in real-time to fans around the world via NBC’s live video streaming service and various social media web sites. It would seem that in the age of up-to-the-minute news and sports coverage, NBC may suffer a decline in TV viewers of the games.

Actually, social media’s influence may be helping the network earn higher ratings. Social media adds to the hype of Olympic competitions, drawing viewers in and giving them a forum to discuss and comment on the performances they have seen; the energy of enthusiastic sports fans is moving from the stadium to web sites.

The organizer of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), recognizes the place social media now has at the Olympic games, and condones its (appropriate) use by athletes. The IOC encourages athletes and other accredited personnel to “take part in ‘social media’ and to post, blog and tweet their experiences,” according to its published guidelines. Facebook created a page for athletes to communicate with their fans called Explore London 2012. Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Instagram all have Olympic themes as well.

Social media allows fans to get into more detail of the games than the networks can provide. Users share stories, pictures, and videos. Sarah Hughes, an American figure skater and 2002 Olympic gold medalist, is attending the games in London this year. Ms. Hughes, who has a following of thousands on her blog and social media web sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, is chronicling her experience at the games. She gave IVCi a first-hand account of the influence that social media is having at the Olympics this year.

“Many athletes competing in London have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, which is letting them have a more direct connection to fans and supporters. Athletes are posting personal pictures and sending real-time updates, sometimes even from the warm-up area right before their competition. Social media has added a whole new dimension to the Olympic experience, making the games even more exciting,” said Ms. Hughes.

For example, those interested in gymnastics can follow USA Gymnastics on Twitter and receive updates on competitions, access instantaneous analysis by sports reporters, and read athletes’ commentaries. In addition to having her own web site, Gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas is featured on several YouTube channels, has a Facebook page fans can ‘like’ and uses a Twitter account to communicate with fans.

We are just beginning to see the impact social media has on the Olympics and other major sporting events. Athletes like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Roger Federer all have major followings online. The Olympics is setting a powerful precedent: when it comes to sporting events, let the social media games begin.

Photo courtesy of www.icenetwork.com

Every organization has its reasons for looking at video conferencing and the impact that the technology can have on the organization. If you have gone down that path or are planning to, you’ve likely identified some sort of gap or shortcoming in the way your business communicates either internally, externally, or both. Below are a couple of standout pain points that could be pointing you to a video investment.

Ballooning Travel Budget
The travel expense benefit is about as old as video technology itself, but it continues to be a very compelling benefit. If you review your travel numbers and consistently see travel expenses increasing it may be time to take a look at the specific nature of these trips and identify how some of them may be replaced with video. Many organizations (including IVCi clients) have reported savings of over six figures by cutting just one regular executive meeting a month. That’s huge! Those are the types of savings that can greatly enhance a firm’s bottom line and make stakeholders quite happy.

Teams are in a Silo
Collaboration across cross-functional teams can be critical to the success of an organization. If you find that different teams within the company are not working together or even communicating their projects, video may be the answer. If product development simply isn’t connecting with marketing and sales, how do they know the viability and potential market for the new product they are designing? Many may blame a lack of team cooperation on geographic diversity. While this may be the case, video conferencing solutions can easily connect these teams face-to-face to ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards a common goal.

High Turnover of Talented Workers
Recruiting top talent is both time consuming and expensive. But, it’s even more expensive when those employees leave the company. Some of the top reasons employees leave include too much travel that negatively impacts their family life, a desire to work from home occasionally but not being permitted to, or remote employees who don’t feel connected to the organization. Video can address all of these issues while helping these employees complete their tasks in the most efficient manner.

Going Green Is Not Going Well
For the last several years companies have announced plans for green initiatives and some of the larger organizations have added reporting and metrics of success to their annual reports. But what happens when your announced green initiative is falling short? Video conferencing provides substantial green benefits including reducing your carbon footprint through less travel. Many manufacturers can provide a calculator that helps to determine that true reduction. Quantifiable numbers will go a long way in show the success of any green initiative.

The Competition is Always a Step Ahead
There is nothing more frustrating than having your competition beat you to the market with a new product, serve customers better, or outshine you in anyway. If you find that the competition always seems to be one step ahead, video could be part of the reason. Teams that utilize video are able to share information faster and make decisions quicker, resulting in reduced times to market for new products. In addition, organizations that have been able to leverage video in their direct customer communication will see better relationships and longer-term customer retention.

If you are seeing any of these red flags above and your company hasn’t looked at implementing video conferencing, the time may be now!

Additional Resources:
Video Conferencing Solutions

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 final post in a series discussing the benefits of social collaboration. For part one click here.

Customer needs are changing faster than the weather these days and companies have to find new ways to adapt; otherwise they will simply fade away. Pushing products or services upon customers, à la advertising or herded cattle, is no longer an effective business model. Technological innovations have changed the way consumers think, act and shop; however, they have also made it easier for companies to develop relationships with their customers.

Why should companies care about developing relationships?

Three words: customer lifetime value. The stronger the relationship a customer has with a brand the higher their loyalty, their retention and ultimately their sales. Having conversations with customers over social media and listening to their thoughts, opinions and ideas can help form a solid foundation for a relationship. Similarly, utilizing video technologies for customer service or technical support can help establish trust with consumers as video almost humanizes the company in customer eyes.

Furthermore, strong customer relationships can help drive innovation. The more companies converse with customers and the stronger the relationship is; the more apt customers are to provide honest feedback. This not only helps companies fix product flaws but allows them to stay in tune with market needs and opportunities.

Companies can collaborate with customers to create products and services that are perfectly aligned with market needs. Product development cycles can be sped up through beta versions of a product where customers provide feedback on their likes and dislikes and offer suggestions on how to make the product better. According to Nilofer Merchant in the HBR article Rules for the Social Era, “the social object that most unites people is a shared value or purpose.”

A shared value or purpose can be creating or modifying a product to satisfy a market need. People love to be the first to try something new; even more, they love giving feedback so they can say they helped create a product.  Unified communications solutions have given a new meaning to the word focus group; companies can easily set up forums for customers to give their thoughts on beta versions. This is far more cost effective, and provides better results, than hiring a few engineers and product development specialists to test all aspects of a product before mass-marketing it.

Collaboration with customers allows companies to stay agile and ahead of new trends. It helps ensure they are meeting customer needs by constantly making improvements or trying new ideas to create new niche markets. Collaboration helps companies stay relevant which really is the key to staying in the forefront of customers’ minds.

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

Part One: The Rise of Social Collaboration
Part Two: Unified Communications, Unified People
Part Three: The Power of Business Partnerships

In most organizations, highly interactive working sessions not only occur but are considered crucial to the business. Unfortunately, many times subject matter experts and other team members are located different offices. While video conferencing helps, it doesn’t quite offer the level of interactivity needed for high-pressure situations or critical projects.

Picture this: it’s almost 7:30 pm in New York and the Tokyo stock exchange is set to open in about a half an hour; but first, there’s a quick strategy meeting with the Japanese office. There’s a long list of trades that need to happen plus the futures market is looking a little shaky and needs to be discussed.

Everyone takes their seats around the center table while the call automatically connects with Japan. A document with the trades is displayed on the whiteboard and participants located in New York and Japan are making changes back and forth.

When the market finally opens; real-time ticker data is projected on the screen to the right while trade data is being noted on the whiteboard to the left. Carl is slightly stressed out and is pacing around the room watching the ticker and listening to what everyone else is saying.

How is that even possible?

Well, start with a Cisco CTS 1300. Then add a large, interactive SmartBoard and integrate it with Cisco WebEx. Throw in a projector and second display screen for good measure and don’t forget to replace the standard conference table with a few café-height tables.

The end result: An Active Collaboration Room.

This true technology mash-up provides a collaboration experience like none other. Participants are no longer confined to a chair; they can move around as needed, enhancing creativity, inspiration and innovation. Remote participants can share, annotate and create documents as if they were in person; expanding teams to include the best and brightest individuals within an organization. Complex projects are completed faster with improved quality and reduced errors driving efficiency throughout the organization.

The benefits are endless and the collaboration seamless; innovation knows no bounds with a Cisco Active Collaboration Room.

Additional Resources:
Cisco IBSG Whitepaper: Transforming Business Models by Accelerating Distributed Team Performance
Brochure: Active Collaboration Room