by Mary Brandel

3 Tips to Get a Payoff From Collaboration Tools

Apr 26, 20134 mins
Collaboration SoftwareIT LeadershipSmall and Medium Business

To reap the value of collaboration tool investments, CIOs study employee behavior, create incentives and embed capabilities in current workflows

Three CIOs offer advice for how to reap the value of collaboration tool investments.

1. Favor the Carrot Over the Stick

Paul Zyla, Vice President and CIO, AgStar Financial Services: As a mid-market company supporting 630 end users, we need to be fiscally responsible, and tolerance for mistakes is low. Therefore, one collaborative tool we’ve implemented over time is instant messaging (IM), and each rollout has given us new reasons to promote its value. We initially promoted IM as a more effective collaboration tool and a substitute for email and phone calls.

As we rolled it out to more areas, we noticed that people also used it to see whether someone was in the office, based on their status. In that sense, IM enabled better face-to-face communication by eliminating wasted trips to an empty desk. As our understanding of IM’s value evolved, we were able to tailor our message to better meet the needs of our users.

When it came to videoconferencing, we opted for a big-bang implementation that stressed the value of reduced travel. We reinforced this idea through contests and incentive campaigns. For example, we developed a simple application within the videoconference interface that calculated the travel mileage saved among meeting participants. Attendees who submitted their results were entered into a biweekly drawing for a gift certificate. This incentive helped our users engage and become more fluent in videoconferencing capabilities.

2. Integrate With Existing Behaviors

Joe Sniado, CIO, Standard and Poor’s Ratings Services: We’ve found that if the collaboration tool seamlessly integrates into the day-to-day workflow of an end user, adoption will take off. By its very nature, this requires an evolutionary process. For example, when we implemented a custom tool to help our teams prepare for ratings committee meetings, our primary focus was to build a platform to support our S&P ratings process and enable it through collaboration rather than simply introducing collaboration services independently.

We do a significant amount of analysis to ensure that any collaboration tool we implement supports a defined business process. This prevents the creation of standalone systems and collaboration capabilities outside the existing workflow-management systems. Throughout the development process, we gather feedback via prototyping and other user-centered design techniques.

We also try to identify patterns in how the collaboration tools are naturally used in order to find a workflow solution based on how people actually interact. We start by identifying communities of practice, and then we look for similarities across teams to get a more complete understanding of our user base. Lastly, we prioritize and align the highest-value collaboration services that can be incorporated into the workflow in a way that’s intuitive and productive for the users of the system.

3. Think Real-World

Veresh Sita, CIO, Colliers International: When we implement a new collaboration tool, we prefer to start with pilot groups, including people with a natural affinity for collaboration. This helps us test our initial use cases, develop new ones and trumpet the value of these tools to more skeptical user segments.

We also re-engineered our training content to be less tool-centric and more task-centric. We give the user a real-life scenario, such as a call from a customer asking a specific question, and show them how to answer that question using the collaboration tools at their disposal, like enterprise search. We could have simply trained the user on the tool’s search capabilities, but without the context it’s harder to apply what they’ve learned.

We also created incentives to ensure participation. For example, we deployed an internal system best described as LinkedIn for commercial real estate. To drive up adoption and usage, we provided an incentive: The only way for a salesperson to be found on our website is for them to update their profile in the internal collaboration system, including their skills and top clients. By tying activities to outcomes that users care about, we were able to get people to collaborate via our tools.

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