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

The last year has been quite interesting with a constantly shifting landscape of social media, visual collaboration and unified communications. Social collaboration, a combination of these, is becoming a significant trend and driving the behavior of key manufacturers and software companies. At the same time, businesses of all sizes are beginning to see social collaboration as a key component of their communications strategy.

Point in case, Cisco announced Cisco WebEx Social earlier this week. Originally marketed under the Cisco Quad brand, WebEx Social is an attempt at 2 key things: 1) Expand the incredibly well known Webex brand into the social enterprise space and 2) Create a “hub” for an organization’s collaboration efforts. At the same time, there are rumors of Microsoft looking to acquire Yammer, another provider of social enterprise software.

Cisco and Microsoft are following suit behind Salesforce.com’s continued expansion of their Chatter social platform, Jive Software’s IPO and popularity (another social software company), and about a dozen or so smaller companies vying for a company’s social business.

The key trend emerging is about interaction and communication. As organizations continue to explore social collaboration, they have to ask themselves a key question. What kind of interactions do we want to foster? Organizations can either focus on internal communications by making sure employees can collaborate in the most effective way possible. Or, they can expand those interactions outside the company, making collaboration with partners, vendors and customers possible.

With those questions answered, a company can look to implement the aforementioned “hub.” With this in place, employees have a single starting point for all of their interactions; they can interact with people through IM, chat, and ultimately launch a web conferencing session, voice call, or video conference. This level of integration provides a seamless way for employees to move from one form of collaboration to another. It provides a new meaning for unified communications and will help drive adoption of the technology in addition to foster a team environment.

At the end of the day, all of these technologies are pretty amazing. But, what are the true business benefits? How do employee interactions increase productivity and aid the bottom line?

For one, the cliché “two minds are better than one” holds true; employee interactions with partners, customers and other employees increase productivity through knowledge sharing. As employees interact, they share different tips, think creatively and produce ideas that can improve products or processes and ultimately drive true innovation. All of these aspects have a direct, and dramatic, impact on a firm’s bottom line.

In the coming weeks we will explore in more detail how these different types of interactions can improve an organization’s performance.  Stay tuned!

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

Part Two: Unified Communications, Unified People
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.

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.

There can be no dispute about the benefits of training to both employees and the companies they work for. Training helps employees keep up with the latest advances in their trade, makes them feel supported and appreciated, and results in improved job satisfaction. Companies reap the benefits of highly skilled workers and gain a competitive advantage; an effective training program can help differentiate a company from its competitors, giving it an edge.


So why aren’t more training programs regularly administered?

There are several road blocks that can prevent management from implementing regular training sessions; time and scheduling constraints, cost of securing training personnel, budgeting and administrative challenges, and more. But the companies that administer training programs successfully have a secret to getting the best results: unified communications (UC) technology, including video conferencing and video streaming systems. These solutions allow personal, one-on-one type training, and participants can remain at their PCs, mobile devices, or local conference rooms.

There are many advantages to using visual collaboration solutions for training employees, including:

  • The ability to effectively train a large group at one time.
  • Everyone included in the training session receives the same information from the same instructor(s).
  • Subject matter experts may be brought in from anywhere without having to travel to company locations.
  • Costs associated with hiring corporate trainers and experts to travel on site are reduced
  • Training sessions conducted over video can be archived and viewed again; a visual library of all captured sessions can be created.

Visual collaboration systems provide the catalyst to efficiently disseminate information throughout the company. The technology delivers an interactive, compelling learning environment that rivals the impact of in-person sessions, but at a greatly reduced cost. Companies that have successfully integrated this technology provide a higher quality user experience that in turn benefits the company as well as employees.