The Trouble With Online Collaboration Tools

Everyone wants to collaborate using IT. The problem IT leaders cite: A lack of integration among the tools, and frustrated end-users.

Collaborative technologies are great and all, but right now we’re not terribly satisfied with them at our business. That’s the report from more than half of 400 CIOs and IT decision makers surveyed by Avanade, an IT consulting firm, about the use of collaborative technologies.

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Examples covered in the survey included e-mail, instant messaging, video conferencing and intranets. In most cases, respondents gripe about a lack of integration between the collaborative applications, which in turn frustrates end users, says Larry LeSueur, Avanade’s vice president of technology infrastructure solutions.

“Only 11 percent of them had some strategy around how to implement these technologies with their existing environments,” he says. “It’s not that e-mail isn’t driving value or that IM isn’t. It’s that both those technologies aren’t integrated.”

As a result, he adds, end users deal with too many windows on any given workday. “The information worker really bears the brunt of these technologies not being integrated,” LeSueur says.

CIOs also struggled to identify the value of collaborative technologies with hard numbers, like ROI. “It is the hardest thing to quantify,” LeSueur says. “Sometimes you can get a hard number, but that only tells a piece of the picture.”

It’s also tough to measure worker productivity gains as a result of these technologies being present. But while collaborative technologies don’t always give the business (or more specifically, your CFO) the hard ROI typically demanded for IT investments, 95 percent of CIOs say they see an increase in worker productivity, LeSueur says. That alone should encourage further investments.

“Right now, it can be hard to justify,” says LeSueur. “But in the end, they know these technologies are paradigm changing,” he says.

Best Practices for Adopting Collaboration Tools

Start smart. Before you invest in collaboration, take a sober assessment of your other productivity applications (even e-mail). If complaints exist, you may want to tie up those loose ends first.

Emphasize integration. Try to think of collaborative technologies as one big picture or even as one application. More and more, vendors design systems to be agnostic toward other software.

Play up soft benefits. Hard ROI will be tough. One simple way to quantify value can be speed: Perhaps a group can use an IM chat room to devise work plans in an hour instead of taking a day using e-mail threads.

In Search of Better Collaboration Technologies

The Avanade survey found that just 45% of U.S. companies say they are currently satisfied with the impact of collaborative and communication technologies. One contributing factor: Only 11% have a fully documented and implemented collaboration and communication strategy across the enterprise.

Planned Fixes: 71% of U.S. companies say they need to add new technologies to enhance their digital collaboration capabilities. For examplem, 79% will implement enterprise search tools, compared to 59% that say they have these implemented today. And 68% will implement virtual work spaces, compared to 48% that say they’re using them today.

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