Here are nine steps to help you improve collaboration processes in your organization.

In Part 1 of Aberdeen's posts, we discussed the business needs for collaboration to provide businesses with strategic guidance on how to use collaboration. Based on our most recent report on collaboration, Real-Time Collaboration: Innovate Your Business and Increase Revenue, we found that the top 20% of our respondents had the following performance in 2010:

  • 24.5% increase in revenue in 2010
  • 104% quantifiable Return on Investment (ROI) for a company's collaboration deployment
  • 0.05 days (1 hour) to share critical information throughout a company

What did these organizations actually do differently compared to all other organizations? We studied the processes, organizational structure, knowledge and data management, performance and technology adoption trends of over 150 companies to find how these Best-in-Class organizations pursued collaboration in their enterprise.

Collaboration Revamped

Step 1: Identify an Executive Champion

Best-in-Class organizations were over twice as likely to have an executive champion to support an enterprise collaboration effort. As companies seek to drive an enterprise-wide collaborative effort that involves all employees, Best-in-Class organizations drive visibility to that effort through high-level executives who have cross-departmental responsibilities. However, this doesn’t mean that top-down management alone can ensure the success of a collaborative environment.

Step 2: Ignore the Executive Champion

Once executive visibility is gained, line-of-business employees have to take the reins. Employees shouldn’t ignore the message of an executive champion supporting collaboration, but they do need to internalize the message to the point that they are collaborating because it supports their own needs. In other words, employees need to believe in the collaborative effort for its own sake rather than be told to do so from a top-down approach.

Companies dependent on a top-down approach for using collaborative tools tend to see an initial uptake of usage, which is seen as success. However, this uptake quickly disappears if employees cannot equate these efforts with their own personal or departmental goals. Over 70% of Best-in-Class organizations work cohesively and organizationally between departments with no direct reporting relationship, compared to only 40% of all other companies (representing the bottom 80% of Aberdeen’s respondents).

Step 3: Optimize Internal Collaboration Processes

The processes associated with optimizing internal collaboration are centered around three different  areas: applications, content creation and aligning collaborative activities to business goals. Best-in-Class organizations are more likely to focus on and formalize these activities compared to all other companies.

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Step 4: Integrate Collaborative Tools with Enterprise Applications and Tools

On a more tactical and departmental level, work is often managed through enterprise applications ranging from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to Business Process Management (BPM) tools. As Best-in-Class companies seek to optimize employee interaction with these management software tools, they integrate collaboration applications with other collaborative work tools.

Step 5: Integrate Mobile Technologies and Analytics into a Collaborative Environment

These quickly-changing technologies represented the cutting edge in collaboration, yet over half of Aberdeen's audience already considered mobility to be a part of their collaboration solution. In comparison, only 29% of companies had social community and analytics tools, but Best-in-Class organizations were 2.5 times more likely than Laggards to have these visibility and metrics-driven tools in place to better understand their social networks.

Step 6: Manage Data-driven Information

The management of documents and files cannot be ignored as companies seek to enter a more social and real-time collaborative environment.

From a tactical perspective, these social tools were more effective when they were integrated with more traditional collaborative tools. Even though document management, asset management and file transfer solutions have existed for a number of years, Aberdeen research found that a majority of Best-in-Class organizations had these technologies. In comparison, less than half of non Best-in-Class companies (the bottom 80% of respondents) had these capabilities.

Step 7: Manage People-driven Information

Best-in-Class organizations showed a strong focus on social information and technologies compared to all other organizations. This information gathering started with an archiving of all collaborative activity, including chats, conferencing, blogging and other social media. A majority of Best-in-Class companies had this comprehensive archive and half of these organizations also had the ability to search all social and collaborative content.

Best-in-Class organizations have progressed from pure archiving to a more intelligent approach to social network analysis and intelligence, including user-generated metatagging of people and information. This capability was a key component in instigating collaboration, especially among end users who were not familiar with each other.

Through the ability to quickly determine skill sets and interests, these tagging capabilities allowed employees to identify each other in ways that were more meaningful than titles like "Regional Director" or "Systems Analyst." Half of Best-in-Class organizations had this capability compared to only 3% of Laggard respondents.

Step 8: Create a Secure Collaborative Environment

As organizations develop a collaboration strategy, they must also be concerned with the security and compliance aspects associated with their collaborative solutions. Although consumer tools, social networking and cloud-based SaaS services have made many collaborative tasks easier to complete, these technologies must also be seen under the same lens that all communications, interactions and meetings are held to. Best-in-Class companies are over twice as likely as all other companies to enforce governance, risk management and compliance (GRC) standards associated with their industry when they manage their collaborative environment.

Step 9: Define Quantitative Goals for Business Collaboration

From a metrics perspective, a majority of Best-in-Class organizations track both product innovation and employee engagement metrics associated with collaboration. By aligning these key business goals to their technology-based and organizationally-aligned collaboration solutions, these companies gain greater visibility to the value gained from collaboration.

Respondents were also asked how they defined the ROI associated with their collaboration solutions. In general, travel reduction, increased revenue and employee engagement ranked high in metrics considered for collaboration ROI. However, Best-in-Class respondents considered another set of metrics that were not necessarily considered by Industry Average and Laggard respondents including operational efficiencies, product development and improved sales cycles.

By figuring out how their current collaborative and social efforts aligned to their sales pipeline or their ability to bring revenue-producing products to market, Best-in-Class organizations gained a deeper understanding of how collaboration led to business improvements.

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Final Thoughts

By implementing these nine guidelines, Best-in-Class organizations developed a mature social and collaborative environment that demonstrated business value in a useful and practical manner. However, depending on your organization’s current collaborative tools, organizational framework and social maturity, you may not be ready to take on all of these guidelines at once.

To help prioritize your efforts, Aberdeen will provide specific recommendations in Part 3 of this series for companies just beginning their social and collaborative efforts, those that are familiar with these concepts and even organizations seeking to stay on the cutting edge.