Productivity software

Business Collaboration: 4 Ways to Achieve More

A new report from Forrester Research finds that while businesses continue to adopt enterprise collaboration tools in 2011, they're not seeing a wide range of benefits from them.

According to the report, which polled 934 collaboration software decision makers, 64 percent say they're seeing between zero and four benefits. Forrester tracks 12 benefits of using collaboration technologies.

The benefits that businesses are reaping mostly relate to travel (62 percent) and corporate communication (58 percent). Report author and Forrester analyst TJ Keitt says this is mostly because these two areas are the easiest ones for businesses to track.

Reviewing travel expenditures before and after deploying a collaboration tool, for example, is easily monitored, he says. "Things like improving innovation or making information workers more productive are potentially too ephemeral or too process-specific for a business to get a good handle on. Thus, a company might be receiving these benefits, but there's not really a good way to tell."

So what can businesses do to get more value from collaboration technology? Forrester recommends taking the following four steps as you consider and roll out the tools.

1. Map how employees currently do their jobs.

Before selecting and implementing collaboration tools, understand what challenges your employees are currently facing, the report recommends. Are there communication issues? Is the progress of projects slowed because employees have trouble finding what they're looking for? To answer these questions, the report recommends observing, interviewing or surveying workers.

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Artwork: Chip Taylor
To ensure honest answers, encourage candid conversations be reassuring employees that nothing they say will be directly attributed to them, the report says.

2. Clearly outline the issues that collaboration tools can solve.

After interviewing and polling employees, categorize the issues you have uncovered into four categories: those which technology solutions can address, those that require business process reengineering, ones that are cultural and those that are a combination of the above. Focus specifically on the ones that technology solutions can address, Forrester recommends.

3. Consider workplace issues when selecting the tools.

Forrester found that the number of respondents that reported reduced travel, faster decision-making, lower time-to-market and improved project management as benefits increased as they added more collaboration tools. The magic number you should aim for in order to see benefits is four or five, according to the report.

If the need is for a simple, ad hoc conversation tool, for example, you may want to consider a stronger instant messaging implementation. Be sure to highlight your requirements to vendors during the RFP process, the report says.

Additionally, invite end users into the technology decision-making process. They can help you test tools to ensure they address your business process needs, according to the report.

4. Set policies and processes to ensure adoption.

The success of your implementation depends on the adoption of the tools. Work in conjunction with the business to set policies that help employees use the tools, the report says. This could mean promoting incentives for participating in the community and uploading documents to the team workspace.

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You will also need to develop methods to measure benefits to the business beyond something such as travel reductions, the report says. Also key to success: leading by example when using these tools and by holding meetings to share information.

Kristin Burnham covers Consumer Technology, SaaS, Social Networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com

Read more about web productivity in CIO's Web Productivity Drilldown.

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